Thursday, February 26, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI"

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)

Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Carl Foreman (Uncredited Originally) and Michael Wilson (Uncredited originally) based on the novel by Pierre Boulle



I know some war historians, professional and amateur who bring up such things as the real prisoners-of-war in the movie having built numerous bridges and built them everyday, as they got destroyed everybody. But, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" isn't war, it's a movie. And it's not about the mundane activity of building a bridge per se, it's about how these soldiers built this bridge. At least that's what I remembered. It seems that way because the building of the bridge and then the destroying of the bridge is such a viscerally striking and memorable part of the film, especially for film people who really know the accomplishment that the film documents. Shot in what's now Sri Lanka then-called Ceylon, simulating the look of Burma during WWII, the movie curiously doesn't begin that way, with a shot of workers digging graves along railroad tracks. An American, Commander Shears (William Holden) takes a lighter from one of the dead in order to bribe his way into being sick and not fit for duty for the moment. He will try to escape shortly after Colonel Nicholson (Oscar-winner Alec Guiness) arrives with his battalion. What's striking is how much the battalion will only listen to Nicholson and when he insists on such civilities on obeying the Geneva Convention meaning that officers don't do hard manual labor. Commander Seito (Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakama). This battle of wills is a struggle between one mad men against the other. One who's willing to kill in order to get what he wants, the other willing to die, and neither man has to break. Once Nicholson finally wins the battle of wills and survives the hotbox, he gets his soldiers in line and starts building the bridge, then they start building it on the correct spot, and better than the Japanese ever could. The idea, at least in Nicholson's mind is that, even during capture, the British soldiers will remain soldiers and be the best example and produce the best they can, even while they may be and remain prisoners-of-war. It's quite an undertaking to build the bridge, and they in fact do. This is not a special effect, something that younger audiences may not fully realize or contemplate. It's actually startling the film got made at all. Not just because of the technical construction achievement and the incredible set up of recording the bridge's construction, which also means that they had to shoot the film is some form of sequential order, something that's rarely possible and especially with an epic like this, highly ill-advised, Holden makes his way through to an army hospitable, only to find himself going right back to the island as he's the only person who survived being there and knows enough of the area that he could hypothetically help them go in and take over the camp and destroy the bridge. The strange thing is just how personal we get into the characters personality and perspectives. It's hard to remember that David Lean never did make an epic before this film. "Lawrence of Arabia", "Doctor Zhivago", "A Passage to India", all those films would come later, but up until now, this had been the David Lean of "Brief Encounter" and "Great Expectations". He was interested more at this point in the revealing of great characters, particularly in those so willing to believe in their own perceptions of reality that once reality hits in, it can in essence vehemently destroy them, whether it's a love affair fantasy that can only be for an afternoon or the belief that one could love you more than they actually do, or that the building of a bridge can somehow be a greater accomplishment than the war that's doomed to destroy it. In some sense, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is those favorite David Lean types but on a larger scale, much larger. The sentiment of what that bridge means is far more important than the bridge itself to Nicholson, which is what inevitably helps Seito get won over by him and trust him that his determination and command of his troops is more powerful and effective than his methods.

Yet none of this matters if the film doesn't look and feel real. They build a real bridge in the middle of the jungle just to blow it up. There were epics before, scenes that amaze us, but many of them were on sound stage. You burn the sets from "King Kong" and you got the burning of Atlanta in "Gone with the Wind", "The Bridge on the River Kwai" looks and feels like another world, both real in the location and surreal in the actions of the characters, a combination that can only happen in the military, but it's also one that has to be found and not simply created. This hadn't been shown on film before and rarely has such an accomplishment, both as a piece of entertainment, nor as cinematic accomplishment been seen since. It won seven Oscars including Best Picture, as well as every other accolade it seems to be able to get, only Hayakawa's Supporting Actor nomination lost that year, to Red Buttons's performance in "Sayonara", a more traditional military sprawling Hollywood epic, about Japan that was shot mostly in America and is nowadays mostly forgotten. Shame that was Hayakawa's only Oscar nomination for one of the first major Asia stars in Hollywood. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is the great cinematic accomplishments of all-time, a masterful example of every part of the filmmaking process and proof that we'll never stop whistling the Colonel Bogey March will probably never leave your mind after hearing it whistled so much.

Madness. The madness of war, the madness of filmmaking, just pure madness.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2014 POST-OSCARS ANALYSIS! "BIRDMAN" runs table, ARQUETTE demands equality, EVERYTHING IS LONG AND NEVERENDING although NPH is AWESOME, the OSCAR PRODUCERS are "Eh". (And the Academy's conspiratorial actions against me continues)



OSCARS
or
(The Predictability of My Inaccuracy)

Supposedly, my inaccuracies, but really, the six Awards I didn't predict, were in fact, correctly predicted, but as always, the friggin' Academy, despite knowing full-well, that I am a completely accurate predictor of all the Academy Awards and yet, they altered the results of just a few categories, to make it seem like I didn't know what I was talking about. Well, someday I will prove the many ways that the Academy has done me in, but, until I can fully produce this, we're going to assume that the presented results were indeed the actual results.

Anyway, I'm starting to get tired of these Neil Meron & Craig Zadan produced shows. Yes, the musical numbers, especially Lady Gaga were great, but the show ran long, and Neil Patrick Harris, I really love you, but too much of you, and it was a general drag of a show. I hope next year, we get new producers; I was getting tired at the end, and I never get tired. Better producing next year.

Anyway, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" pulled off Picture, Director, Screenplay, which was a huge upset, (Although it wasn't eligible for WGA, that's partly why we were a bit confused by that one; it only had a Golden Globe win going in.) and Cinematography. It's the big winner of the night, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, second Mexican in a row, to win Director, but he ties the record with 3 Oscars in one night, very shockingly too; he ties that record with Billy Wilder, Peter Jackson and the Coen Brothers. Very unexpected, especially since, everywhere else, they had been spreading the awards out. And no, Richard Linklater, amazingly has never won, Wes Anderson, also, went 0 for 3, and I don't know why the Academy really didn't spread them out, and that is annoying. Sean Penn's joke at the end was right, "Who gave this son of a bitch a green card." (Jokingly, they worked together on "21 Grams" remember)

Who else won, actually everybody. Check this 8 Oscar nominated Best Picture films, each one, won an Oscar!

AMERICAN SNIPER-Sound Editing
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE-Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography
BOYHOOD-Supporting Actress
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL-Production Design, Costume Design, Score, Makeup & Hairstyling (Tied with "Birdman..." for most wins with 4)
THE IMITATION GAME-Adapted Screenplay
SELMA-Song
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING-Actor
WHIPLASH-Supporting Actor, Sound Editing, Film Editing

That hasn't happened, since they expanded the Best Picture category. You have to go back to '07, when "Atonement", "Juno", "No Country for Old Men", "There Will Be Blood" and "Michael Clayton" each won something. Other winners, Julianne Moore, finally got her Oscar, for "Still Alice", "Interstellar" won Visual Effect over three superhero and a bunch of apes. "CitizenFour" as expected won Best Documentary, "Ida" became the first movie ever from Poland, believe it or not, to win Best Foreign Language film, even if Pawel Pawlikowska, was one of many who hogged the mike long after being played off. (And I wasn't as big on the speeches in general, sometimes too much is a bad thing, and too many really good speeches, especially running long speeches, yikes.). The Short categories, mostly went as expected, "The Phone Call" winning Live-Action, "Feast" winning Animated, and "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" winning Documentary Short, the big surprise, although some predicted it, other than Original Screenplay was "Big Hero 6" winning the much disputed Best Animated Feature film category, upsetting "How to Train Your Dragon 2". "The LEGO Movie" came with their own Oscars this year, and the Best Song performances, were all pretty good. (Maybe not the Diane Warren one, but other than that). And Lady Gaga's "The Sound of Music", while, I think kinda, again, the producers making up an excuse to celebrate a musical, was the best of those they've done, and Julie Andrews coming out to present Score to Alexander Desplat, very cool and classy. And glad "The LEGO Movie" crew brought their own Oscars, really cool and strange performance there from, seemingly everybody.

The opening number was okay too. I wish there were more surprises like that. As to the show, I gotta tell you, the buildup, to me, was never, the show. That hurt it too, because, in a predictable year, it's probably okay to have all these extra performances and stuff to keep us interested and running gags, and occasional skits, but- I'll tell you, if you follow me on Twitter at @DavidBaruffi_EV, now usually, I will sit closely watching the show, in another room, and then during commercial come to my computer, and tweet one or tweet somewhat humorous thoughts I might have. This was the first time, I was consciously leaving the room while the show was still on. Just,- some of the performances, some of the speeches that went on too long, Nothing was bad, but it wasn't great, and if you're going on this long, this many performances, and Neil Patrick Harris, who's funny, but he's not exactly the greatest time-filler like Ellen DeGenerous, not a natural stand-up, especially in the beginning when, he literally announced, like ten or 12 presenters in a row it seemed. With a new joke each time, sorta. Again, I'm blaming the Producers, they could've easily worked around that; there's ways of doing that.

And I gotta be honest, this was the first year, where the show was so unpredicable, that honestly, delaying the awards at all this year, was just a bad idea. I don't know how this played to the laymen, but those in the industry and followers of the industry, we were just trying for months to figure out who wins the damn thing, and I really wanted this to, either be a quick Oscars, or have it at least feel like one. Two musical numbers in the beginning, before the commercial was bad,- it just did not feel like the show, that I wanted, or that I think a lot of people wanted or expected, this year.

And btw- I gotta say, bad enough Joan Rivers, wasn't in the In Memoriam,- I know she wasn't an Academy member, but neither are the film critics they honor (Thank Whoopi Goldberg for that) but OTRC. If you don't have cable, like I don't, you're stuck, sorta watching- 'cause you're not really watching it, it's not watchable, but OTRC, "On the Red Carpet" they do the coverage locally before the big red carpet arrival show, and it's unwatchable. Even for Red Carpet, entertainment shows, it's so mind-numbingly cliche and cheesy, and very unknowing frankly,- This year, I couldn't even bother. I left it on and left the room, peeked to double check when the Oscars started.

It's such a buildup, the Oscars, I get it but, sometimes, it's okay to go simply, and this would've been a good year for a more simple Oscars. One that focused on the films and instead of going for broke.

Anyway, it was an underwhelming show, good, but not really great. Congratulations to all the winners, glad to finally see, people like Julianne Moore finally win, Alexandre Desplat finally winning after eight nominations. Lubezki won his second straight Oscar for Cinematography, that's a very rare accomplishment. Common and John Legend won Best Song, only the third time, btw that a rap song has won, after Eminem's "Lose Yourself" from "8 Mile" and 3 Six Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow". Also, somebody brought this oddity up, all four Acting winners, played characters that were teachers. I don't know how that ended up happening, but there we go; used to be play a teacher, and get a nomination and lose mostly, few exceptions, but play a teacher now.

Anyway, it's time to put the Oscars behind us. No, the puzzle that this Award season has been still doesn't neatly fit together we we thought or hoped it would after the Oscars. "Birdman..." broke the streak of needing an Editing nomination in order to be a Best Picture winner. A lot of award show predictors and trends went out the window, but some held on. I continue this shtick of acting like I was right all along and the Academy is screwing me over. So, as the moon floats over Las Vegas and I take out the trash wearing sunglasses at night, 'cause of whatever-the-hell is causing my eye to fuck up this week, and take out the trash, before heading to bed. Or finish watching a bunch of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on Netflix, whichever comes first. (In case you're wonder about the strange tone of this paragraph, that's the style I'm copying.) Anyway, I hope you all a Happy Oscar Sunday, 'cause tomorrow, it's all over for now, and that's a good thing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

MY OFFICIAL 2014 OSCAR PREDICTIONS! (LAWYER'S NOTE: David Baruffi reserves all rights to change/alter any all predictions, prior to, during, and after the Awards are handed out. These predictions are in no way official, nor are they predictions.)



Happy Oscar Weekend Everyone!

I know you all have been waiting for this all this time and months for my Oscars predictions, which, as many, many of you know, since I started this blog, I'm the only prognosticator that has correctly predicted every Academy category correct, each and every year.

Thank you, thank you. I appreciate the applause.

Here's the evidence of the last three years btw, to show, that indeed, my 100% accurate Oscar predictions over the years.

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/my-official-2013-oscar-predictions.html
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/02/my-official-2012-oscar-predictions-note_23.html
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-official-oscar-predictions-note_24.html

Yes, it's-eh, very difficult to be blessed with this impressive combination of knowledge and psychic ability. It's- really-eh, I don't necessarily wish this kind of power on anybody, but it is a burden for me, and a pleasure for all of you. I have gone through every single category, analyzed each one thoroughly, considered the voting trends of the Academy membership, payed attention to all the precursor awards and we, as always present to you a complete breakdown and analysis of every Oscar category and how and why we've determined what will win.

Well, that's enough oohing and awing, and being impressed at my immaculate record and abilities, let's get to what you all came here for, my OFFICIAL 2014 ACADEMY AWARD PREDICTIONS!

(LAWYER'S NOTE: David Baruffi's Oscar Predictions are in no way "Official", nor are they "Predictions", nor do they have any particular association or relevance with the Academy Awards, the Oscars or the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. David Baruffi reserves all rights to alter and/or change any/all predictions at any point prior to, during and/of after "The Oscars" telecast from now until the end of known time, or until the aliens from planet Uliherzner come and enslave the human race, and test new makeup and cosmetics products on us and give us a lifetime supply of free Starbucks with a coupon. David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews does not endorse, condone, any selections that any David Baruffi may or may not select regarding Academy Award predictions that a David Baruffi may predict. David Baruffi is in no way affiliated with David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews. David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews does not condone or encourage gambling of any kind, illegal or otherwise including but not limited to sports, casino games, office pools for the Academy Awards or other award shows, underground catfish fighting, midget punching, or student body president election results. David Baruffi and all those affiliate with David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews (Which, again, David Baruffi is not apart of and never has been) have in no way used any undue or otherwise illegal actions to sway, influence or fix the results of The Academy Awards or any past or present award shows through use of bribery, chicanery, ballot box stuffing, terrorism practices including eco-terrorism, computer hacking, waterboarding, blackmail, or through selective random acts of writing out citizens arrest tickets for illegal jaywalking in the Twenty Mile Zone.)


BEST PICTURE
American Sniper-Pro: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Pro.: Alejandro G. Inarritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole
Boyhood-Pro.: Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sullivan
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Pro.: Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson
The Imitation Game-Pro.: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman
Selma-Pro.: Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
The Theory of Everything-Pro.: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten
Whiplash-Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, and David Lancaster

The eight nominees instead of nine I noted as suspicious as it seemed to insinuate that, more than usual, the Academy seems to be assured and consistent of their picks of the best films. Although, that said, "Selma"'s lone nomination in this category and only Best Song, is peculiar. Now, here's where it gets tricky, most of the awards have, in some been split amongst the awards. "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" seems to be winning the Guilds, upset wins at PGA and DGA, while "Boyhood" however has been consistent with Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, etc. It seems to be a split between these two, and a very close race, but because of the preferential ballot, and this splitting, there's a possibility of an upset. The most likely candidate for that is "The Grand Budapest Hotel", which surprisingly defeated "Birdman..." at the Globes, and is projected to pick up a good portion of technical awards. It seems to be everybody's third choice. "Birdman..."'s lack of an Editing nomination is very curious however, no film has won Best Picture without at least a nomination for Editing since "Ordinary People", that was over 30 years ago. However, it seems to be winning, everything else, especially amongst the Guilds. It's a little unlikely that any other scenario would get in, although "The Imitation Game", "American Sniper" and "Whiplash" can't completely be counted out, but they're paths to victory are small at best, and a few things like "The Imitation Game"'s lack of any wins at BAFTA of all award shows is very peculiar, especially for a British film. I'd almost say flip a coin, this will be close.
PREDICTION: "Boyhood"


DIRECTING
Wes Anderson-"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Alejandro G. Inarritu-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Richard Linklater-"Boyhood"
Bennett Miller-"Foxcatcher"
Morten Tyldum-"The Imitation Game"

Here's what's holding this up, and it's gonna probably be either Inarritu or Linklater, presuming Wes Anderson is probably most likely gonna win for Screenplay, and we'll get to that category later. These are two films that are really considered director accomplishments, and despite Inarritu winning the DGA, the year has been so strange, even the normal prognosticators have been unusually unreliable this year. Linklater won the Critics Choice, won the Golden Globe in an upset, and the BAFTA in an upset, and Inarritu won the DGA, also in an upset, this is what's really bizarre, everywhere we thought the other was gonna win, the other would win. So this is just seeming tricky and unpredictable. Bennett Miller's nomination is unusual considering "Foxcatcher" didn't get into Best Picture, first time that's happened since they increased the Best Picture nominees; I think "Foxcatcher" was probably the ninth nominee, but what I really think through was the first place votes for Best Picture; I suspect that film got screwed by a lot of 3rd, 4th and 5th place votes, 'cause the Best Picture category is front-loaded towards first place votes, hence a lot of people liking it, liking the skill to get nominated for Directing, but then didn't get first place votes. Anyway, Miller's no shot at winning, Tyldum's got no shot at winning, and- after that, I think when all else fails you gotta trust the Guild, but this has been a strange year. There's been a Director/Picture split at the Oscars, for the last two years, there's no reason to think it couldn't happen again.
PREDICTION: Alejandro G. Inarritu-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"


ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Steve Carell-"Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper-"American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch-"The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Eddie Redmayne-"The Theory of Everything"

This is the only race that's really somewhat competitive and it's mostly between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne. Keaton, most thought was the heavy favorite going in, won the Globe, won the Critics Choice, but then the turn hit when the Guilds came up and Eddie Redmayne took the SAG and then followed it up at BAFTA, although the latter wasn't an upset too much, that win at SAG, when everybody figured Keaton would have a statistical advantage with the Screen Actors Guild, just really screwed a lot. Curiously though, "Birdman..."'s success everywhere else, means that hypothetically "Birdman..." caught on at the right time for the movie, but somehow Michael Keaton didn't get in on that, which is just bizarre. It's not unusual for a Best Picture winner to not have an acting award, but it is rare, so the thinking is that, if "Birdman..." does what it's been doing everywhere, except BAFTA and win Best Picture and possibly Director, and other awards, then Keaton might have enough votes to pull off the win, similar to Adrien Brody's upset with "The Pianist" for instance as that film caught on late and pulled off three major award upsets and probably was a week of voting away from winning Best Picture that year. Now the other scenario is a split vote leading to someone else winning. Most project Bradley Cooper being the most likely to pull that off, but I wouldn't rule out Steve Carell either. He got into Lead Actor, probably through Lead and Supporting Actor votes, so there's support for his performance, but then, the question becomes, how much support comparatively. It's not impossible for a performance like that to win, Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" for instance, or Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs"; the only problem is that those two were favorites going in. I think it's too hard to overlook Redmayne's win at SAG, and "The Theory of Everything could be a real spoiler overall, especially after it overachieved at the BAFTAs.
PREDICTION: Eddie Redmayne-"The Theory of Everything"


ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Marion Cotillard-"Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones-"The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore-"Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike-"Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon-"Wild"

This is Julianne Moore's Oscar. Everyone else is also-ran, she's won literally everything up 'til now and they want to give it to her anyway. The only scenario that I was worried about going in was Marion Cotillard's surprise nomination for "Two Days, One Night" being as spoiler and I still think that's the only nomination that has any possibility of an upset, but that nomination has not been combined with any upset wins or any real upswell of support. Granted, Cotillard has done this before, with a foreign film performance, sneaking in and getting the Oscar, which she did with "La Vie en Rose", but at this point, as hard as that nomination had to be, that went through a lot of hoops to get in, Cotillard was up for two different films, one was in English and streaming on Netflix, it's a foreign film that wasn't on the Oscar shortlist, 'cause they clearly something against the Dardenne Brothers, but at this point, it need some other upswell or odd win to really get the momentum, and it's not there. (Note: I do suspect a late upswell for Felicity Jones, but I'm sticking with Julianne Moore unless I hear it's become more present than we suspect.)
PREDICTION: Julianne Moore-"Still Alice"


ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Robert Duvall-"The Judge"
Ethan Hawke-"Boyhood"
Edward Norton-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Mark Ruffalo-"Foxcatcher"
J.K. Simmons-"Whiplash"

Again, this one, J.K. Simmons is winning it. I don't even really see where an upset might come, maybe Edward Norton or Ethan Hawke is somehow "Birdman..." or "Boyhood" starts to pull away, but if anything, "Whiplash" might actually have more momentum that both of those films overall, comparatively. Robert Duvall might get a sentimental vote; he's 84; he'd be the oldest winner if he won, but nobody liked "The Judge" and he won before for "Tender Mercies". Eh, we're trying to pull out scenarios, but it's Simmons. They love the film, they love the performance, again, longtime character actor who everybody in Hollywood knows just how talented he actually is, and now that he finally has a role with enough heft to give him an Oscar, they want to give it to him. I don't really see how that can be topped.
PREDICTION: J.K. Simmons-"Whiplash"


ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Patricia Arquette-"Boyhood"
Laura Dern-"Wild"
Keira Knightley-"The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
Meryl Streep-"Into the Woods"

For those keeping track btw, Meryl Streep, this is nomination number, nineteen; the record was 13, so, again unbelievable. Just to give you an idea, Emma Stone has only been alive to witness ten of Meryl Streep's Oscar nominations, just over half. (Keira Knightley, btw, not much more than that.) Uh, that said, she's filling out the category this time. Um, that said, Patricia Arquette is the favorite and all signs are pointing to her winning. No real upset scenario out there, even if there was say a "Birdman..." push, or a push for "The Imitation Game", (Which there hasn't been at all), um, it doesn't look like anybody else can win. Laura Dern, might have the best possible show, it's a little unclear how much they like "Wild"; I actually suspect that's a film that members might like more than the nominations indicate, but it's really not enough.
PREDICTION: Patricia Arquette-"Boyhood"


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper-Jason Hall
The Imitation Game-Graham Moore
Inherent Vice-Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything-Anthony McCarten
Whiplash-Damien Chazelle

The Writers Guild is the one major Guild Award that's strangely not an accurate award predictor. They have strict rules and often times films aren't even eligible in the categories, so these awards are slightly. "The Imitation Game" won the WGA, and I've heard from some insiders this was a better script than it was a film, it won the Scripter award, BAFTA went to "The Theory of Everything", that was an upset as "The Imitation Game" got killed at BAFTA going 0 for 9, very unexpectedly, and that was probably the award they were most likely to win, but on top of that, there's three nominees here that weren't up for WGA's including "The Theory of Everything", P.T. Anderson's "Inherent Vice", also snuck into what most thought would be "Gone Girl"'s nomination, but the real kicker is "Whiplash", because that was nominated for WGA but in Original Screenplay, not Adapted Screenplay. The Oscars made, somewhat of a strange ruling and it's not particularly that's consistent in their history. Chazelle had written/directed "Whiplash" as a short film a couple years earlier before turning into a feature, now that's actually a fairly common practice, especially for a young filmmaker. "Short Term 12", "Martha Marcy May Marlene", just a couple examples off-the-top-of-my-head, of features films that were originally made as shorts and then, we're elaborated on when a bigger budget became available and it was remade as a feature by the same filmmakers. It's actually a common practice, you know, to pitch a feature is to make a short to sorta, show the tone of what the feature would be. Previously, especially when it was the same filmmakers making the film, that was considered an Original Screenplay, but somehow the Academy for reasons that haven't been made clear, decided to put "Whiplash" into Adapted Screenplay. It's a very bizarre ruling, considering the way similar situations have been ruled in the past, and I can see both sides of this, (I imagine the film was first conceived as a short instead of a feature film turned to a short, so when Chazelle expanded the script, they're calling that Adapted) but it's actually a lucky break for the film, 'cause Original Screenplay is loaded this year, with the Top 3 films that most think are the clear-cut Best Picture favorites, so it had little shot as an Original, but with a decidedly weak Adapted Screenplay field, and assuming it probably got a combination of early votes and late votes from before and after the ruling, "Whiplash" is in an unusually good position here to pull off an upset. "American Sniper", also got a WGA nod, and has shown up in other Screenplay awards, this might be a spot it could win if they really want to honor the film with a major award, but with the split votes between the British films, the more I look at the category, I think it's either "The Imitation Game" or "Whiplash", and I suspect "Whiplash" is the one that most of Hollywood wants to honor more.
PREDICTION: "Whiplash"-Damian Chazelle


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Boyhood-Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher-E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness
Nightcrawler-Dan Gilroy


Tough category to predict this year. My gut tells me "The Grand Budapest Hotel", yet, I know there's a strong anti-Wes Anderson in parts of Hollywood. It doesn't extend to the Writers, 'cause he the WGA award this year, he's been nominated in this category a few times, and this is the most likely position in which he'd win and that they'd want to honor him. "Nightcrawler", lucky to get in, "Foxcatcher" could pull off an upset here, but very unlikely, it's really between "Birdman...", "Boyhood" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Strangely, I actually think "Boyhood" has the most trouble, 'cause Linklater has also been nominated twice here, with no wins, and I typically think of Linklater as a great writer, even before I think of him as a great director, "Boyhood"'s script is really, not the strongest part of the movie, curiously, it's much more of a directing accomplishment. Although, some could say the same for "Birdman..." directing more than writing, however, does that mean that the script is weaker than the others? Either or those can win if something pulls away, but...- again, not seeing it, seeing write for Writing for each of those films over Awards season.
PREDICTION-"The Grand Budapest Hotel"-Wes Anderson, Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness



ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6-Dir: Don Hall and Chris Williams; Pro.: Roy Conti
The Boxtrolls-Dir.:  Antonin Scacchi and Graham Annable; Pro.: Travis Knight
How to Train Your Dragon 2-Dir.: Dean Dubois; Pro.: Bonnie Arnold
Song of the Sea-Dir.: Tomm Moore; Pro.: Paul Young
The Tale of Princess Kaguya-Dir.: Isao Takahata; Pro.: Yoshiaki Nishimura

The lack of "The LEGO Movie" really is strange when you think back on it; there was a decent shot the movie had an outside shot at Best Picture. Still though, I think the animation branch likes to seek out the "animation" aspect moreso than other aspects sometimes, and that's led to a few curious nominations over the years. That said, when "The LEGO Movie" has lost, it's usually to "How to Train Your Dragon 2", and I actually think there's just as much support for that film. I suspect that that film, might have shown up on Production  Design ballots and maybe in one or two other weird categories. The other really likely possibility is "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" winning. This could be one of the last times the Academy gets to honor Studio Ghibli, and Isao Takahata, is a legendary animator, most known for "Grave of the Fireflies". Um, could be "Big Hero 6", that one seems to be getting some praise as well, and "Song of the Sea" as well, that's the Irish animator Tomm Moore, they nominated his film "The Secret of the Kells" once before, (although personally I never understood that nomination myself, but they do seem to like him. That's a possibility too, I think. I'm a little worried that there is starting to become, too much of honoring your friends in this category though, lately. Animators honoring some of the more personal favorite animators around though, (And I think there's a thought not to nominate people who didn't come from animation, typically, that's a bit of a trend as well) that might be some trends to look at in the future. For now though,...
PREDICTION: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"


DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Citizenfour-Dir./Pro.: Laura Poitras, Pro.: Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier-John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam-Dir.: Rory Kennedy; Pro.: Kevin McAlester
The Salt of the Earth-Dir.: Julian Ribiero Salgado and Wim Wenders; Pro.: David Rosier
Virunga-Dir.: Orlando von Eisiedel; Pro.: Joanna Natasegara

Okay, we're just gonna let go of the biggest snub on Oscar Sunday for now, but it would sure be interesting to see "Finding Vivian Maier" or "The Salt of the Earth" win, what Charlie Siskel (Gene Siskel's nephew) or Wim Wenders (Who was close to Roger Ebert) might say if they went up. Personally, I'd love to finally see Wim Wenders win an Oscar, but I strongly suspect that those two films are the longest shots in the bunch. "Last Days in Vietnam" and "Virunga" have been campaigning like crazy in Hollywood, so I suspect this might be closer than we think, and I wouldn't eliminate the possibility either that there could be an upset, but even before the nominations were announced, many suspected this was a two-film race, and "Citizenfour" has beaten almost of these nominees when they've been up against each other. Hard to bet against that.
PREDICTION: "Citizenfour"


FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE
Ida (Poland)-Pawel Pawlikowska
Leviathan (Russia)- Andrey Zvyagintsev
Tangerines (Estonia)-Zaza Urushadze
Timbuktu (Mauritania)-Abderrahmane Sissako
Wild Tales (Argentina)-Damian Szifon

Boy is this a tough category. I've heard from a few sources that this is really close, and somebody at Goldderby, I think it was Pete Hammond, I might be wrong on who I'm crediting, but somebody said that this is a four-film race, and that the voting is really coming down to the wire here. This is the Estonia and Mauritania's first nominations btw (And yes, the country is technically the nominee, not the directors of the films; they only accept the award, which is stupid btw). If I have to guess, well- I think we know two of them, the favorites are "Ida" and "Leviathan". "Ida" got into Cinematography, some think that's a clue, but that's actually deceiving, there's only about a fifty percent correlation between whether a Foreign Language film nominees gets nominated for something else and it then winning for Foreign Language Film. (And Cinematography is not a good predictor award in this regard) but "Ida" is a favorite, "Leviathan" from Russia, is coming on strong and it's pulled off a couple unexpected upsets here and there. That said, so has "Wild Tales" and that's the one with the most buzz right now, the Argentinean film that's borrowing a bit of Tarantino's plot structure with multiple narrative storylines, that's getting some late buzz as the screeners are coming out. And I suspect, although I'm not 100%, I suspect it's "Timbuktu" that's probably the 4th film in the running. Abderrahamane Sissako directed, "Bamako" a few years back, which is really strong film, among others; he's very well-respected, and I've heard nothing but good things about "Timbuktu". (And you should be wary of a country like Mauritania, which doesn't have a film history tradition getting into this category). "Tangerines"'s nomination is actually interesting, they took credit for a film from a Georgian filmmaker, a combined effort between those two countries, in a bit of a surprise move from the country, and Georgia's submission "Corn Island" also made the Oscar shortlist, so I suspect people like that one as well, and "Tangerines", it does look like the apple in the box of oranges, or the tangerine, I should say. It's also a fairly uniquely-visioned film as well, I've heard. The only one I've seen is "Ida", and I'll be honest, I thought it was overrated, but I've also always with Pawelikowska's work in the past, but if we're going by the name that maybe most of the Academy members know, Pawelikowska's been directing in England most of his career, with films like "My Summer of Love" and "Last Resort", and his previous one, "The Woman in the Fifth", which I really hated btw, but, "Ida" is one of his better films. Also, Poland, believe it or not, has never won an Oscar for Foreign Language Film, and that's actually bizarre considering how many great films and filmmakers have come from Poland, but they're 0 for 9, and that includes some great films like "Katyn" and going all the back to Polanski's "Knife in the Water". So if there's a sentimental vote, that might be it, but I've never gotten the sense that Foreign Language committee has ever thought that way in their lives. Hmm. Well, this is as good a category to predict an upset as any, especially since the category's unpredictable anyway.
PREDICTION: "Wild Tales"



CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Robert Yeoman
Ida-Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner-Dick Pope
Unbroken-Roger Deakins

Poor Dick Pope. Believe it or not, I was the only one it seems who apparently didn't notice Cheryl Boone-Isaacs gaff during the nomination announcements (And btw, I'm okay with announcing more categories every morning, I actually like that, but Ms. Boone-Isaacs, get somebody else to do it next year. You've got 2,000+ actors in your membership, and you suck at it; you've never done it well. Just wake up Kathy Bates next year of someone, just don't go up and announce them all again yourself. Come out, to do Best Picture, at the end, that's enough; let the professionals do the rest.) Anyway, eh, Lubezki, won the Award last year for "Gravity" and he'll probably win the Oscar this year. If there's an upset, and a hopeful one at that, it'd be "Unbroken" and Roger Deakins, finally winning, This is his 12th career nomination, yet to win. That said, really hard to bet against Lubezki. The good thing Deakins has going for him, is that Lubezki won the ASC Award, and that's a 100% predictor of the Oscar, but it just seems really unlikely. Lubezki's at the top of his game, and camera movement in "Birdman..." is just really distinctive. Sorry, Roger, (sigh) again. 
PREDICTION: "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"-Emmanuel Lubezki


COSTUME DESIGN 
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice-Mark Bridges
Into the Woods-Colleen Atwood
Maleficent-Anna B. Shepperd
Mr. Turner-Jacqueline Durran

The Costume Designers Guild have a tendency to be a little bit sporatic as they give out mutliple awards for the kind of film that's made, for instance "Birdman..." won their prize for contemporary film but they weren't up against anybody. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" won for period piece, but "Into the Woods" won the prize for Fantasy Film. That's a little help, both of them fellow nominees, "...Budapest..." beat "Inherent Vice" and "Into the Woods" beat "Maleficent" that should narrow it down a bit. (BTW, Anna B. Shepperd is the only credited nominee for "Maleficent" but Jane Clive was also nominated with Shepperd from the Guilds, and I'm not sure why her name's not listed on the Oscar website or if, for some reason her name's not there. I've contacted the Academy about that, I'll let you know if I hear anything) "Mr. Turner" was not nominated for a Costume Designers Guild, and that's a bit of a mystery in a few categories. Mike Leigh is beloved, but his films usually, even when it doesn't look like it will, will sneak into at least one major category, but that didn't happen this time. The problem is, this category and costume designers in general has a tendency to go their own way at times, sometimes picking the most obscure and unexpected choices as winners. Upset wins in recent years from "La Vie En Rose" or "Marie Antoinette" for instance were huge upsets that few predicted. Still though, there's sentimental value this year to consider. Both Canonero and Atwood are legends in Costume Design, and both have three Oscars on their mantle; this would be the tiebreaker. Durran and Bridges have also won as well, but very recently. I don't see "Inherent Vice" really pulling an upset here, but Mr. Turner could pull ahead if there's enough vote-splitting, but I also think, this being an Academy-wide vote, that the love for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" seems a little bit too much for all these other films to overcome in this category.
PREDICTION-"The Grand Budapest Hotel"-Milena Canonero


FILM EDITING
American Sniper-Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
Boyhood-Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game-William Goldenberg
Whiplash-Tom Cross

Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised by the "Birdman..." snub, since, while the editing was intricate, it was necessarily the most complex editing jobs. That said, it is strange it's lack of nomination, although it didn't win at the Eddies either, with the ACEs going with "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in the Comedy/Musical category, and there is a lot of editing in that film; we might be missing something there. "Boyhood" won the Eddie Award for Drama though, although a lot of people are wondering about a "Whiplash" upset here, and I tend to think there's something to that as well. This is a strange year where all five nominees are also Best Picture nominees, usually some kind of action movie comes into play as a nominee, and editors will tell you, by far, the toughest thing to edit are chase sequences. (Actually, that bodes well for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" now that I think about it.) However, without a really obvious "The Bourne Ultimatum"-type nominee here, the next thing editors might think about as being difficult are films with music, and having to make sure that the sounds matches up, (That's not a Sound Editing or Mixing skill, that's a Film Editors skill, remember) and in that case, "Whiplash" has momentum and capability for an upset here. "Boyhood", also has some tricky editing, because of the combination of footage, over periods of time and bring them together, but I'm not as sold that was as difficult as it seems myself. The comparisons, would be more like a found footage documentary or perhaps, something like "Hoop Dreams" or the "Seven Up" films, and the Editors occasionally have nominated something that out there, but they rarely win. "American Sniper" probably has the most traditional kind of editing to win in this category, but I'm not sure how well-liked it is. "The Imitation Game"'s nomination here is odd. There are a few tense moments where the editing is important, but maybe an "Edge of Tomorrow" would've been more fun to put there and really make this interesting. With this category extended to the entire Academy, I think this is a more wide open category than we think. I really think it's between "...Budapest..." and "Whiplash", and the more I think about it, the more I'm talking myself "The Grand Budapest Hotel", The only thing is, I can't remember the last time a comedy won Editing. (I looked it up, not counting "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because of the technical accomplishment that was, you got all the way back to 1960 with "The Apartment".) Even "Annie Hall", won Best Picture and Director, and is often regarded as being saved in the Editing room, wasn't even nominated for Editing, and that's a real rarity. The last time a Best Picture winner didn't get an Editing nomination, was 1981, with "Ordinary People". That doesn't serve well for "Birdman..." fans,
PREDICTION: "Whiplash"-Tom Cross


MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Foxcatcher-Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy-Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Oh, those crazy, unpredictable and hairstylists. I still don't know why they only nominate three films, there easily could've been five, but no matter. Let's start with the obvious, Rick Baker, is not nominated, so there goes that. Eh, Bill Corso, probably the biggest makeup name here, he won for "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" years ago. Mark Coulier is Meryl Streep's longtime hairstylist, he won for "The Iron Lady" a few years back, other than them, mostly new nominees here. This category has a recent history of unpredictability; I famously flopped on all three nominations last here, which just doesn't happen in general, but this year, I think they did well. The makeup for "Foxcatcher" is impressive, and not just Steve Carell's lauded nose, there's subtle work on Ruffalo and a few other actors that's quite impressive, but usually this category means most, and that's where this category becomes a toss-up. Both "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Guardians of the Galaxy", both won two Awards from the Make-Up and Hairstyling Guild, and they've also split other awards elsewhere. It's definitely between those two. The only thing I really have to go on, if you dig into the Guild award is that "Guardians..." did lose the Contemporary Hairstyling category to "Birdman..." while it won for Special Effects Makeup and Contemporary Makeup. "The Grand Budapest Hotel", went 2 for 2, taking Period Makeup and Period Hairstyling, and I think that's the key, 'cause while there's really impressive makeup in "Guardians..." it's such a special effects movie that I think it's difficult to tell, what was makeup and what was special effects added later sometimes. The Drax character played by Dave Bautista for instance; I thought that was a special effect when I first saw it; I didn't realize that he was mostly makeup, and while that's impressive, they like to pick a film where the makeup is more showcased and obvious, even if it's subtle. (Or in the case of last year's nomination for "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa", when it's very obvious) "The Grand Budapest Hotel", it's subtle but it's also quite that there is a striking amount of really good makeup work, numerous different characters and time periods. It's also the most beloved/nominated film of the three, so even if you aren't going by that, it's got too many other things going for it.
PREDICTION: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"


ORIGINAL SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game-Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar-Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner-Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything-Johann Johannson

You know, when the nominations came out, I had Hans Zimmer winning this, fairly easily, despite Alexandre Desplat getting two nominations and Johann Johannson's win at the Golden Globes, which btw, is one of the very few things we have to go on. "Birdman..." almost assuredly would've won for Antonio Sanchez had he been eligible; he certainly would've been nominated, probably knocking out "Mr. Turner", which, I'm not sure who had that one in their predictions, but that's probably the only one that I think is out of the running. I've heard people who hate Hans Zimmer say they love the score from Hans Zimmer this time, so I'm shocked that he's become a longshot. Desplat's in a weird position too; and I think there's enough people who want him to vote for Alexandre Desplat, who by the way, this is his 8th nomination and has never won, amazingly, and he easily could've ran this category this year, he had about eight scores that easily could've been nominated this year, but now, they're split between two films, and two very different kinds of scores as well; that hasn't even been brought up that part. A more traditional film score in "The Imitation Game" and then a more unconventional score in "The Grand Budapest Hotel". I think both music awards are a bit of a crapshoot this year, and I frankly just don't know, here, so I'm just going with the last one of these that won, and that was BAFTA, so I'm going with the momentum, 'cause I really don't have another tea leaf to go on. Desplat won there for "TGBH", and frankly, that's the one I'd probably vote for anyway, I can't see why other Oscar voters wouldn't think the same way.
PREDICTION: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"-Alexandre Desplat


ORIGINAL SONG
"Everything is Awesome"-The LEGO Movie-Music/Lyric: Shawn Patterson
"Glory"-Selma-Music/Lyric: John Stevens and Lonnie Lynn
"Grateful"-Beyond the Lights-Music/Lyric: Diane Warren
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You"-Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me-Music/Lyric: Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
"Lost Stars"-Begin Again-Music/Lyric: Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisbois

Another tricky category with no real Guild Awards attached, and frankly unlike some years, there's enough good songs here where it's not a runaway for anybody. I won't say great job to the much deservedly maligned music branch this year, but, I'll give them a good job on this one. That said, despite Diane Warren's seventh nomination, I have a hard time imagining she'll pull off her first win here; I know she's campaigning, but "Greatful"'s not one of her best songs. The two biggest favorites are "Everything is Awesome" and "Glory" from "The LEGO Movie" and "Selma" respectively. Well, if somebody wants to pick the film that got snubbed elsewhere, well to most that's both of them, so that doesn't work. If they're voting on, best use of the song, in the film, then "Everything is Awesome" probably has the advantage, but if it's the most important song, then it's probably "Glory". If were talking most emotional use in a movie of the song...- actually that's where the third choice, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You", has been coming in and some have predicted that for an upset. Frankly, if they want to honor Glen Campbell, this is pretty much it as he's devolving into the effects of Alzheimer's, and that is actually quite a beautiful song. Personally, I think I might vote for "Lost Stars" out of this bunch, but they honored a John Carney film here last time with "Falling Slowly" from "Once", and that was a better movie and a better song, (Although use of the song in a movie, it's right up there with "Everything is Awesome" actually) And I'd like to see Danielle Brisbois get an Oscar. The only thing that troubles me, is exactly how often has a comedy song won this category? Not a comedy movie, a comedy song, and the answer is not often. "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets" in 2011 was the last one, and there was only two nominees that year and even though it deserved the win, they still ended up changing the rules afterwards (And the Muppets were overdue to win, and I'm actually really stretching comedy song with myself with that song). Before that, you can go down the list, "Blame Canada", "Hakuna Matata", "Be Our Guest", "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow",... stretching the definition of a comedy song as far as possible, you'd have to go back to Stephen Sondheim's song from "Dick Tracy", "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" and then, good luck after that. Probably "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" from "Butch Cassidy..." or "Talk to the Animals" from "Doctor Dolittle". So, based on what few predictors and trends I can find, hmm, don't be too surprised by a Glen Campbell upset here, but I think Common and John Legend are gonna give "Selma" something.
PREDICTION: "Glory"-"Selma"-John Stevens aka John Legend and Lonnie Lynn aka Common


PRODUCTION DESIGN 
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game-Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana McDonald
Interstellar-Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
Into the Woods-Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner-Production Design: Suzie Davies: Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

This is quite a good category this year. Any other year, "Mr. Turner" might be an upset here, considering just how difficult some of that was to replicate. "Interstellar" I'm pretty much eliminating 'cause a lot of the voters try not to go with films here where the production design looks mostly like it was special effects. Also, both "Interstellar" and "Into the Woods" lost the Art Directors Guild Award for Fantasy Film to "Guardians of the Galaxy", which isn't even nominated. "Mr. Turner" didn't get a ADG nomination, but "The Grand Budapest Hotel", did win the Period Film category against "The Imitation Game", and it's won most every award up 'til now, and frankly this is an easy pick. I'm more amazed that this is the first time a Wed Anderson film has ever been nominated in this category. Production Design is so critical to his films, especially his scripts; it's bizarre that it's only now being honored.
PREDICTION-"The Grand Budapest Hotel"


SOUND EDITING
American Sniper-Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies-Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Interstellar-Richard King
Unbroken-Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

We go through this every year, but it's easy to forget, Sound Editors are the people who are creating the sounds, while Sound Mixing is the use of those sounds, the distribution of them on the screen. So these people, create the sounds. Now, traditionally, we look around for, the most sounds, as opposed to the truly new inventions of sounds or recording of them. This is why most are looking at "American Sniper", especially since, this is the most popular film in the category in the category, one of only two Best Picture nominees along with "Birdman...." although I don't know if people will notice the sounds from that film. That said, Richard King, the great Sound Editor for "Interstellar", he's won three of these Oscars already, and I have to think that, that movie probably had the most innovative sounds created of the bunch, and if there's any momentum for that film at all in the Academy, it would probably be here. It was an underperformer all year across all awards, but there is some who might be fans, and the difficult thing is trying to figure out is how much the Academy really like "American Sniper". It was a late-comer and it seems like they like it, but it's probably the film that I suspect has fallen the most since the nominations came out, and while it's breaking records at the box office, I don't suspect it's as well-liked as some thing. I gotta trust the Guilds though, and they split Foley for "American Sniper", "Birdman..." won the Feature Music award and "Unbroken" won the Dialogue/ADR category, but I suspect that the Foley award is the big one.
PREDICTION: "American Sniper"


SOUND MIXING 
American Sniper-John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano and Thomas Varga
Interstellar-Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken-Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano and David Lee
Whiplash-Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Okay, this is where the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing does make a difference. Now, yes, mostly even though it is the Branches of the Academy that determine nominees, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing and very similar and that often means the nominations between the categories are very similar, however, something that does distinguish Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is when a film has a distinct amount of music involved. Usually, this means a musical, but "Whiplash"'s nomination here, is a clue. combining those numerous sounds of drums and into this orchestral note, makes "Whiplash", not an anomaly here, but a very distinct contender. Usually these two awards almost always go together, but when there's a difference, like "Chicago", "Les Miserables" recently, it's usually when music is involved. Since, under my predictions, they'll honor "American Sniper" in Editing, they don't need to honor it in Mixing and frankly, the majority of the Academy prefers "Whiplash" anyway. Also, it doesn't help "American Sniper" that it didn't win the Guild Award here, which actually went to "Birdman..." and if there's a "Birdman..." run, in could be an upset in a category like this or Sound Editing that propels it later. However, "Whiplash" wasn't nominated by the CAS, Cinema Audio Society, normally a bad sign, but I think the movie has picked up momentum since, and the fact that it did get into the Oscars is also a clue. "Whiplash" also won the BAFTA for Sound, so people are noticing it. This looks like an upset at first, but this is actually an easy call.
PREDICTION: "Whiplash"


VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier-Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy-Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
Interstellar-Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past-Richar Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

One of the Gold Derby editors looked up this bizarre statistic that no superhero movie, and no "Planet of the Apes" movie, of any kind, has ever won the Oscar for Visual Effects. Well, that's- if that stays true, then "Interstellar"'s got this. No Best picture nominee here to fall back on, although "Interstellar" probably got a good number of votes for us to presume it's the favorite going in, although I guess you can argue "Guardians of the Galaxy" but, I'm either way, I'm not so positive in that presumption. Anyway, it's between "Interstellar" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", the rest are also-rans, and the VES Awards gave their big prize to "Dawn..." although "Interstellar" did win one or two things here and there, but I think the vote is split, and I think there's some who would like to make up the award to "Dawn..." because they didn't give the award to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" a couples years back, some thought that was a mistake. It could happen, that lost to "Hugo" which was a 3-D movie, and that was part of a run where 3-D films kept winning here, "Hugo", "Life of Pi" and "Gravity" last year, but there's no 3-D nominee this time, there isn't that to fall back on. I'm not sure a lot of people liked "Interstellar" in the Academy; I know I liked "Dawn..." much more than I like "Rise..." even, and I think there could be people looking for an excuse to go against it, and they've got a good one here. I think this is really is a toss-up. "Interstellar" won at BAFTA and Critics, Joe Letteri is a legend is special effects, but he's won like five times, maybe they'd rather spread the wealth. Some don't like Motion-Capture performances, there's good and bad reasons on both sides. This is really down to a coin flip.
PREDICTION: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"


ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Bigger Picture-Dir.: Daisy Jacobs; Pro.: Christopher Hees
The Dam Keeper-Robert Kondo & Dice Tsusumi
Feast-Dir.: Patricia Osborne; Pro.: Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton-Torill Kove
A Single Life-Joris Oprins

This is always a fun category, but not always a predictable one. Last year, the biggest upset came out of this category when "Hublot" upset "Get a Horse". Disney's got a new one in here with "Feast", that's projected as the favorite, although "The Dam Keeper" and "The Bigger Picture" are also getting a lot of support and votes as well, particularly "The Dam Keeper"; that's the most likely one for the upset. The only past winner here is Torill Kove, the Danish animator, she won for "The Danish Poet" back in '06; I think she's a bit of a longshot here. "A Single Life" is the one I hear almost as much praise about as any, that's a Canadian filmmaker, didn't look like much to me, when I looked at a trailer, but I'm hearing that this is a really inventive short, but most don't have it in the running, and I think it's because of the short running time. It's like four minutes long, and while this is a short category, one that short can get nominated if it's good, but usually a winner in this category has some heft, (Short films, btw, Oscar rules, 40 minutes or less) and some of the more prominent winners, "Peter & the Wolf" for instance from Suzie Templeton, was over half an hour, which is very long for animation btw, that's a little longer than the average, but six minutes, minimum, 6-10 for a cartoon, maybe fifteen, something that really feels like a full story. I think that's why "The Dam Keeper", which at eighteen minutes is the longest of these nominees, has been pushed up as a favorite; not just story, but technical animation skill, including most animation is also sometimes considered. And it's a close race here, between "Feast" and "The Dam Keeper", and I'm looking around for an upset, but I'm gonna stick with "Feast", because it seems to also have a similar emotional of the last Disney short that won in this category, "Paperman", which won a couple years ago, and Hollywood in general, is really thrilled that Disney is really devoted to re-establishing their animated shorts division, and frankly, they've been doing a really tremendous job with that with these last couple shorts, and I think they'd want to reward that.
PREDICTION: "Feast"


LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Aya-Oded Binnum and Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham-Dir.: Michael Lennox; Pro.: Ronan Blaney
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Buerre de Yak)-Dir.: Wei Lu; Pro.: Julien Feret
Parvaneh-Dir.: Talkhon Hamzavi; Pro.: Stefan Eichenberger
The Phone Call-Dir.: Mat Kirby; Pro.: James Lucas

Oh. I'm been staring at this category for a few days now. There's always some kind of pattern to how to pick this category, but somebody that can fly out the window. "The Phone Call" right now is the favorite, although"Boogaloo and Graham" won the BAFTA award although, take that with a grain of salt, 'cause in general there's very littel correlation between what short films are eligible for awards, anywhere, including the Oscars; there's a whole process you need to go through and- I don't even want to get into that, but this isn't as much, they went through every short film that was made or released in a given year and these were the best five; you have to submit your film for each short. (And frankly, there's so many short films made every year the Academy couldn't do that, honestly, there's just way too many too sort through.) I think we can eliminate "Butter Lamp..." 'cause it's a bit more avant-garde than the rest of the titles. "Parvaneh" is also getting a few votes that's probably the one that might be the more-eh, important-feeling film of the bunch. Personally, I'm tempted to pick "Aya", which is the one that looks the most interesting to me but I think based on, the projections and the few things I've been hearing, I think "The Phone Call," which I thought initially was the favorite because it has the biggest stars in it, Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent was parts in it; that's not always a guarantee sign, but it also seems to be the popular choice anyway. There's a few upsets out there, I'd be wary of "Boogaloo..." and "Aya", but it looks like "The Phone Call", pretty much. I'm not 100% on this by any means, but I just have trouble with visualizing the other scenarios. Too much trouble to ignore.
PREDICTION: "The Phone Call"


DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1-Dir.: Ellen Goosenberg Kent; Pro.: Dirk Wilutzky
Joanna-Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse-Dir.: Tomasz Sliwenski; Pro.: Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper (La Parka)-Gabriel Serra Arguello
White Earth-J. Christian Jenson

And finally the category for Who Can Depress the Hell Out of Us the Quickest, better known as the Documentary Short category this year. Jesus Christ, suicidal veterans, a terminally mother writing a blog to her kids a family who's son suffers from Ondine's Disease and has to breathe with a breathing machine, a man who works as the slaughterer in a slaughterhouse, and the joyous one of the bunch, an immigrant family who's spending the winter in North Dakota and work on the oil pipeline in the middle of literally nowhere. That's the five nominees this year; no wonder nobody pays attention to this category. This category's unpredictable in general, um, in general, it's looking like "Crisis Hotline..." is the favorite at the moment; that seems to be the one picking up the steam; HBO is behind that one, so it's probably the one that's being pushed the most. "Joanna" and "Our Curse" are the two that most sorta suspect are second choices; I suspect "White Earth" is probably the real sleeper here, but most suspect it's between "Crisis...", "Joanna" and "Our Curse". I think the HBO machine gonna pull this one out though and frankly, "Crisis Hotline..." happens to be the only one of the nominees I've heard universal acclaim for anyway. If "White Earth" wins, I'll be pissed that I didn't take those odds though, but I know better than to just play a hunch.
PREDICTION: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"






Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #9: ORIGINS OF THE LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW



Live from New York,- or wherever the hell you are, it's the internet, doesn't really matter and this, isn't even really live. I hope you all took advantage of that "SNL 40" special for the homework, they had plenty of examples of sketches from different eras that covered similar material and subjects to compare. Good. I don't understand why Eddie Murphy's bit was so short. Well, it's been a major week, ironically in Variety/Late Night since our last class. "Saturday Night Live"'s 40th Anniversary, and a little more in the realm of what we're talking about today, some very shocking of Jon Stewart's decision to leave "The Daily Show...". We've talked a bit about "The Daily Show...." and we'll talk more about it again, but, that was really, really startling news this week, still getting over it.

Anyway, late night talk shows. It's a host, a monologue, minor sketch, 1-3 guests and then goodnight. So, goodnight, we're with class today. 

Sit back down! I'm just kidding! Jesus, really, you thought that?! Alright, let's talk the origins of the late night talk show, and there are considerable, notable differences in how the show is approached, but essentially, most of these approaches start with the emcee. We said this before, but essentially the host will drive the format of the format and the show becomes a representation of the host. You really don't find permanent talk shows nowadays where there's a host but it's somebody else's vision, behind-the-scenes. Anyway, the modern talk show, started when Steve Allen, accidentally invented it on radio. Doris Day was late for an interview and he had to fill time, so he took the microphone, out into the audience (Yes, there were live audiences for some radio shows) and he started interviewing and reacting to them. That's when the light bulb kinda came in, that people would be simply interested in conversations. That's the real crux of talk, it's the talking to somebody, and idea that we're also being a part of the conversation.

Still, the first and most obvious thing we think of when we think of the late night beginning with "The Tonight Show..." and Steve Allen took over that spot in 1953, which was really kind of an overdone version of a local show he was already doing, but it was Pat Weaver, who created the "Today" show for NBC, who then came up with "Tonight", and it really was Weaver who foresaw the idea of variety-talk format, thriving in the late night hour, and strangely, it's really for the most remained NBC's domain ever since, and when you really go back, they say nothing's new, history keeps repeating, you can really a trace a lot of what we think of as Late Night Talk to Steve Allen, and the person who took over "The Tonight Show" when NBC put Allen up against Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar.

Allen, created like "The Man on the Street"-type interviews, and things that we kinda recognize as staples of late night, "Headlines" for instance, is a variant on him just reading things in the paper....- This is something that really gets on my nerves with Primetime, how everybody complains that, it's all the same and nothing that's ever new and fresh, very little is new and fresh in late night talk. Most of it, is somehow derivative of something from this far back, and we're literally, even something like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" as being a new approach, we're talking minimal distinctions, personality, approaches, perceptions, timeliness, we're not talking drastic differences, This really goes down, how you approach the format. Steve Allen, comic, all-around talent, old school, able to take anything and make fun, sometimes too much in a way that was belittling with rock'n'roll, Jack Paar came in, and was very different. Much more laid back, not really what you would consider a comedian, but he was sharp. He invented the monologue. Before Carson even, and he was the one, who really like to focus on the interview aspect. He was the first one to have political people on, there was a formality to the show, Allen was more by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Yet Jack Paar was rebellious. He fought and won a war in the press with Walter Winchell of all people, and even walked off the show for over six weeks after a contract dispute. Seriously, he was pulling some Dave Chapelle shit, like 40 years earlier. Seriously, very little is new, very little. He was hard to control, and remember, it wasn't until Carson took over, when any of the networks really seriously tried to compete with their own talks shows. NBC really pinned their spot down, and that's really why, when something happens at Late Night, and it usually happens at NBC, it really happens there.


Anyway, once Carson really solidified what we think of "The Tonight Show", and his big shift, and there were a few, the monologue, the quick bit/sketch in the middle, a guest or two after, he really pushed the shows towards an entertainment-based show. While it was entertaining, even in it's early, it really kinda thought of as a nighttime compliment to "Today", that was really the compliment, but once there started to be serious competition, particularly from shows based in L.A., "The Joey Bishop Show", "The Merv Griffin Show", for instance, and they would get the Hollywood guests, this led to Carson moving the show to Burbank, and really turning this into a purely entertainment show. This is when, the show moved almost exclusively to a more comedic tone, overall. Not every show did that, but a good portion, some have tried to mix as much as possible the combination of informative material with comedy. Then, and now, and it's not particularly new. Bill Maher, for instance, with both "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time..." is basically his variation on the formula from "The Dick Cavett Show". Get a few different guests, have them stay out, have this more intellectual conversation with them, although in Maher's it's his version of it. He's more brash, he's HBO, it's more combative of an approach. This is the real, synergy, when you get a good host, or a really great host 'cause he will take the talk show and mold it into his image and if he's talented the image will ultimately work to some extent. It's those differences that separate Johnny Carson from Magic Johnson. It really is. Do you want to focus on comedy more, or musical performances more, or sketches more, is it an in-depth interview, is it a more thoughtful interview, are you talking to random celebrities, etc. etc. This is why, Craig Kilborn left "The Daily Show..." for a better job at CBS and nobody thought much either way, and now Jon Stewart is the end of an era. It's not just what they did, it's how they approached the talk show format.



Sometimes, it's as simple as an attitude, sometimes it's timing, sometimes, it's aiming for a different and more unique audience. Mostly it's just using the tools of the past to create the kind of talk shows that the host wants to create. The monologue, is it a Mort Saul/Jack Paar, comedic look at every stort in the newspaper, is it an investigative and thoughtful look at the hypocrisy of the news like John Stewart, is a more free-flowing, stream of consciousness routine like Craig Ferguson, or do you not have a monologue, do you go right into the interviews? I mean, there aren't too many choices, they're all a variation on things that happened before. Is Andy Richter a sidekick/foil, is it Regis Philbin, is a robot skeleton named Geoff? This is where we get into the details and minutia, and how little those distinctions are. I mean, Jay Leno's right, every time somebody new comes in, they think they're gonna do it completely differently. They'll move the desk, to the bad over here, or all these changes, but no, after a while, you realize it's done like this for a reason. When you see and it hasn't been done, like right now, with John Oliver, who chose to focus, not only investigative news stories, following in "The Daily Show..." footsteps of satirizing the news by seeming like a real news broadcast, (Which actually crossed the line to where it became legitimate journalism, really) but they then chose to focus intently on stories that most everybody else, including "The Daily Show..." just couldn't get around to, and they got around to analyzing them more intently that anybody else. It's a spin on a something that came before, but from a new perspective. Much of what Jimmy Fallon's been doing and getting credit for, Ellen DeGenerous has been doing for years, he's just taking ideas and bits that she's been doing and filters it through his perspective. He'll tell you, he's said it a few times, how much he's been inspired by Ellen's show. I even said it a few times, "I think he'd be better for daytime than late night", this was when he started on "Late Night..."" It's just like sketch, the more you go back, the more similarities you see from those earlier shows.

And that leads us, into your homework. Last week, three sketch shows, compare and contrast with the past, this week, three talk shows. Yeah, I'm sure you all saw this one coming. I want you guys to compare two talk shows of today, just what consider, distinctive aspects of each show, this could be, a running sketch, an approach to the monologue, a way their conducting their interview or interviews, some shows like a Cavett or Maher or Graham Norton in England, they're more like a roundtable almost, and compare them to a late night talk show host from the past, who was doing something similar. This can be, David Letterman sticking himself to a wall to Steve Allen, getting ice cream poured all over him. Find some of your own, and see how they've change over time, see how they differ in approach based on the host, and just find any similarities or differences you can. Okay, three different shows from today, compared to three different shows from the past. Alright, okay. That's class today, Everyone.

Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow. And for those hearing impaired who couldn't hear me, "GOOD NIGHT AND HAVE A PLEASANT TOMORROW." 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #103: "BEGIN AGAIN", "FINDING VIVIAN MAIER", "JERSEY BOYS", "A MOST WANTED MAN", "PRIDE", "22 JUMP STREET", "THE SKELETON TWINS", "BELLE", "CHEF", "MOOD INDIGO", "WATERMARK", "MACHETE KILLS", and MORE!

Whew! Sorry for the delay this week, lots of movies, lots of reviews, this week, and lots of stuff going on in the entertainment news. First of all, Award season and Oscar predictions going way off, everywhere, is just making everybody confused. Yes, like always, I'm gonna start working on my Oscar predictions shortly, and we will have full coverage as per usual of the Oscars here. The most in-depth analysis and predictions of every category, not just the major ones.

Meanwhile, the biggest shock in the Late Night merry-go-round occurred this week, as Jon Stewart unexpectedly announced that he's stepping down. I'm sure we will be discussing Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show..." place in the television landscape and culture at some, and frankly, I think we're still in shock about that one, and- some may remember I put "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on my Top Ten List of Television shows of all-time on my polls over a couple years ago, and we're gonna be talking about late night talk shows later on our TV Viewing 101 class later, so the timing is coincidental, but that definitely, in middle of these award shocks, that shock, really took out everything.

Alsp RIP Jerry Tarkanian, our family used to know him, 'cause he sued a nightclub owner that my Uncle was the bookkeeper for years ago, because it was called "The Shark Club", and he thought they were using his name. That wasn't where the name came from, but since he sued and we settles to give him some money for the rights to his name, and since they had it, they opened up "Tarkanians", the bar/nightclub where my mother was the bookkeeper. Both of those were decades ago, but still. Plus, he turned UNLV into the basketball program it is today, on probation. (I'm kidding, we're not on probation right now) That's a sad loss, the best coach my alma mater ever had.

Anyway, time for us to get to this week's edition of the RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with the Oscar-nominated films, "Begin Again," and "Finding Vivian Maier"!


BEGIN AGAIN (2014) Director: John Carney

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I had a couple thoughts after watching John Carney's "Begin Again", one is that it's not as good as his last film "Once", although that movie warned us in the title about how rare that film is, so I'll give a pass on that. The other thought that occurred to me while watching "Begin Again" was that Keira Knightley was probably nominated for the wrong film. I know that's a strange thought, but there was something off about her work in "The Imitation Game" that made it seem unnatural. Here, she seems more believable as a character. "Begin Again" takes off first when we see Gretta (Knightley) goes up and performs a song she's just written, to a mostly uninterested crowd. She doesn't even really seem like she wants to be there performing. Then we meet the one guy in the audience, who was clapping, a former record producer, Dan (Mark Ruffalo). He's recently been fired from his own company, divorced and barely recognizes his own daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) when he picks her up from high school, and looks like he's a few steps away from homeless, which he kinda is. Yet, when he sees Gretta perform, he doesn't see a girl in an emotional crises with a guitar. He sees the girl, the cello, the bass, the drums start to play; he can see the arrangement in his head and visualize a hit song. The song is the Oscar-nominated "Lost Stars", and it's the best of many pretty good songs in "Begin Again". The story isn't too complicated, it follows Dan as he must convince Gretta into making an album, which inevitably gets conceived as a concept album recorded all around New York City. Gretta's not a music unknown; she's written for years, and recently broke up with Dave (Adam Levine, from Maroon 5) a rock star who decided to explore feelings for another woman. He's the first one that hears this song and ends up recording a pop version of it, while Gretta and Dan use a more stripped down alternative version. I'm recommending "Begin Again" because I like the music, which is the crux of the film, the performances as well, especially Knightley actually; she's very believable as a singer here, and the movie itself, is a little bit smarter than other movies would be. For instance, when it finally gets revealed to Dan that Gretta dated this big rock star, his reaction, or lack there of, is not the one I'm sure most people would've expected, like this a huge shock. I can think of ten cliches where this movie could've easily gone wrong, it avoids most of them (In fact, I purposefully insinuated a couple here, just to show you how they don't go in that direction). Dan's reaction is one of somebody, who's not at all shocked or surprised, or worried, and that's correct here. It's not as poetic as we hope from Carney, but he knows this world, and is passionate about music, and knows the ways that it can inspire others.


FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2014) Director: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel

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You don't really have found art in the medium of film, but it is something that comes up occasionally in more personal and individualistic artistic mediums. Recently John Maloof, bought a bunch of negatives at an auction that belonged to somebody named Vivian Maier. Nothing on google could be found on her. He was working on another project in the spare time so he put the negatives aside but then he started posting them on a website, just to see if there was any interest; he thought they were good and suspected someone else might think so as well. Turns out, Vivian Maier has over 150,000 known photographs, even some movies, and suddenly, this mysterious person who even the genealogists have an impossible time finding, has rewritten the history of street photography. As more and more of her work gets discovered and developed daily and printed daily, showcase and displays of her have become more and more popular. Trying to piece together who she was however, is a project. A second Google search months later, came up with an obituary, and nothing more. Turns out, she was some kind of hoarder and packrat, and a nanny. "Finding Vivian Maier" is a bit of oxymoronic title, I'm still not particularly sure after seeing the movie they've found much about her, and even now, much of what they did find is mysterious. She took care of numerous kids, many considered her a mother presence when she was in their lives. She even worked for a young Phil Donahue very briefly but she have always have a camera around her neck, and would often go out and seek images and photos. At one time, she seemed to be doing investigative journalism by making a movie of scenes around a recent murder. She had an accent that indicated she was French, but actually she was from New York City, and the accent was apparently fake. Few called her Viv, some insisted she's only be known as "Miss Maier", there's multiple spelling of her name out there, and once she seemed to joke about being "Sort of a spy". She has relatives and apparently made trips out to a village in France, where she even developed some of her materials, and to many people surprise, she did seem to want to pursue showcasing her photos. She also seemed to have very erratic behavior. At least one of the kids she watched, she was clearly physically abusive towards, and her behavior n general indicates some major familial trauma. We know her father wasn't around long, and in her will, she specifically left nothing for any surviving members of her family. She was also a spinster and there's no indication of any romantic relationships she may have had. "Finding Vivian Maier" is frustratingly incomplete, and the best way to describe the movie. It's a very good film, and a good story, but it's also a mystery that's still being written. Hopefully there will be more investigatory work done and we'll find out more about this intriguing new and mysterious artist, hopefully this is the kind of documentary that might have a sequel in five or six years, but if not, we have something very frustrating a bunch of work from an amazing artist and very little known about her. You know, it's one of those things, the first of an Emily Dickenson poem are "I would not stop for death, so he kindly stopped for me", the first words are "By Emily Dickenson", that kind of frustration from an art perspective. We know about most artists, "By Vivian Maier" is followed up with, "To Be Continued.... hopefully."


JERSEY BOYS (2014) Director: Clint Eastwood

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The curious thing that missing from the filmed version of the musical "Jersey Boys" is ironically, the musical aspect. I actually do have a Frankie Valli story by the way, my great grandmother on my mother's father's side, according to legend, actually babysat Frankie Valli when he was really young. Most of my family is from New Jersey; I was born and grew up all my life in Vegas, so I'm also a Jersey Boy as well. (What? No one's actually from Vegas, trust me.) And an Italian Jersey Boy too, so Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are definitely in my cultural sweet spot, and I'm quite a huge fan of there's. Also I'm quite familiar with the production of "Jersey Boys", in fact, Vegas has it's own stage production of "Jersey Boys", one of many-, I believe there's, five or six different places including Broadway where "Jersey Boys" performs nightly and has just been an amazing runaway hit all over the world. It's a bit of an unusual show actually; it doesn't have quite the perfect arc of a traditional musical, 'cause it's really about the beginnings of their career and the relationship between Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, recreating his Tony winning Broadway role, as our many of the actors in the film.), Tommy Devito (Vincent Piazza) and inevitably Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). First on the streets of Newark, often the prisons of the New Jersey state penal system, and the mob spots, usually run by Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) who Tommy worked for when he wasn't in prison. Everybody was in and out of prison except for Frankie, who was encouraged by everyone to keep working on their voice. A constant theme is the notion of there only being three ways out of Newark, go to jail, get in good with the Mafia, or become a star, so they worked on becoming stars, and through amateur talent scout/bowling pin picker-upper Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) they start to get them connections in the music industry, and soon, they go from hustling to inevitably Tommy basically robbing them a million dollars and Frankie having to call in his marker to Gyp to find a way to keep Tommy around. Tommy Devito by the way, is a name in Vegas, a notorious one, who isn't typically allowed in casinos. Oddly, I don't have a story about him, but anyway, the movie is missing the musical part, and that's really a shame, while this is an incredible story with a lot of dark elements and personalities to it, the show itself, is much more upbeat than this is. I enjoyed the film, but it's almost like Clint Eastwood decided to make "Jersey Boys" through the guise of "Mystic River"'s motifs. Eastwood's a bit of an odd choice for this material, although he has a lot of experience with music (He scores most of his films), and he's been in musicals before, and he directed "Bird" years ago too about Charlie Parker, which some consider as one of his very best films directing-wise. I'm a little more critical of that film myself too, but really, you rarely even notice that they're as successful as they are in this film, until the very end of the film when it comes, and I kinda get that if you're taking this approach, the sense that, essentially no matter how big they got they never really left the streets of Newark, and actually that's fine. It's not a great adaptation of the musical though, Eastwood's directing and the screenplay is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Erich who also did the book for the musical, and Valli and Gaudio were on as executive producers, and it's interesting, 'cause it feels authentic as a movie, just not as a musical. I wish there was enough of the fun of the show, there's one great musical dance number at the end, but there's a few perplexing choices with the movie, and it's that conundrum that holds it back.


A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) Director: Anton Corbijn

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I know some people and critics really find inspiration in the work and film adaptation of John Le Carre's novels. I haven't been that inspired by them; I know he works in the spy genre, but sometimes I feel like everything is so subliminal in his work that unless you actually were a spy at one point, it's almost impossible to understand. I went through "A Most Wanted Man", twice and felt that again. I appreciated the film but I had a difficult time embracing it, and I'm still not completely sure I've gotten everything figured out. It begins with a great sequence where a young half-Chechean, half-Muslim youth, Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin) emerges from the port in Hamburg, Germany, after escaping from Russian prison. Hamburg is where Mohammad Atta famously planned the 9/11 attacks and since then, Hamburg has become a hotbed of spy activity particularly on the Muslim population. Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last starring role) is the leader of one of the spy agencies perpetuating Hamburg, and the leader of the most secretive one. He's seeking to keep an eye on Karpov as he seeks out asylum, not that Gunther thinks he may be a major threat, but that he may be the metaphorical and possibly literal key to get some of the more major names, including Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) a high-profile local Muslim community leader, which may or may not be a cover for more covert activities. His father is corrupt and he uses a banker, Tommy, (Willem Dafoe) to try to get some of his father's money, and also get the help from a human rights activist, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). Gunther's got his own objective of following Issa, while also circumventing a CIA operative, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) as well as a German spy leader, Dieter (Rainer Bock). I think if I were to describe this movie, I would say that, everything was interesting, but it wasn't necessarily compelling, and that's the film's most fatal flaw. It isn't a film that naturally engages the audience, and that's troubling. Anton Corbijn is a director with a tendency to do that, sometimes effectively like in "The American", but I think part of it is the subgenre. Spying isn't like other professions, where you can really, kinda just see the main characters at work and get a sense of them, and therefore, and this is why I kinda this is a Le Carre issue, what you really mostly is a confusing mess of people going in all directions, and by the time you figure one thing out, the part about having not figured one thing, figuring out the rest feels like work instead of entertainment. "A Most Wanted Man", is still interesting enough to recommend and when you really study it, there's some special filmmaking there, but overall, I had a very difficult time wanting to dig into that much. Maybe that's me, it actually very likely could be, but some things get lost in the profession and when you almost need to be an expert to understand it, you're either become an expert or just become disinterested; I became more disinterested than I did become an expert.


PRIDE (2014) Director: Matthew Warchus

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"Pride"'s only caught limited attention over here in America, but the movie ran through the BiFa Awards (Britian's equivalent to the Independent Spirit Awards) and it earned three BAFTA nominations. The film is actually more American in structure as it tells the unlikely forgotten tale about the '84 Mineworkers Strike in Britain. This is the one where Margaret Thatcher went all- well, all Margaret Thatcher on the Miners, and wasn't particularly fond of the homosexual community either. Radical political activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) instead of choosing to remain on the narrow homosexual agenda, decides to start LGSM, Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners, after seeing how the police have abandoned their usual mistreatment of the homosexuals and begun terrorizing and using illegal processes against the striking miners across much of the country. At first, it seems like an unlikely alliance, even after collecting the money to donate the funds, they have a difficult time findings a miners group to accept the funds, but eventually, in Southern Wales, they meet up with Dai (Paddy Considine), one of the heads of the Dalais Valley Miners Club. At first, he thought the L stood for London, but seeing their inspiration, and willingness to help, this new-formed alliance is tenuously agreed upon. This leads to intriguing clashing of cultures. There's one rather predictable and laborious, no pun intended, arc about how some of the miners and their families think of the embarrassments that are involved in being associated with a bunch of homosexuals, and they're the ones on the union's board, naturally. There's a lot of other arcs however, maybe too many. The best ones involved the miners, like Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and Cliff (Bill Nighy) who's relationships and worlds become more open once they embrace the gays. Interesting, our first entrant into the gay community is Joe (George Mackay) a young man, who almost seems to get swallowed up by them after walking through a gay pride parade, but who eventually becomes the LGSM photographer, and while we occasionally go back to his storyline, his role is merely a contrived entrance for us to get into the movie. Still, despite some of the more predictable aspects, many of which I'm told did in fact happen, "Pride" is a fairly enjoyable movie. I think it takes a while to get going, that'd be my major complaint, 'cause it does a while for us to really get to know and why we have to care about everyone here, but they are people and events worth talking about, and while they probably could've skewed more towards realism than they did, I didn't mind the directions the film went. There's a lot going on, and the title, "Pride" has a lot of multiple meanings in the end as well. The film works on enough levels to recommend, especially some of the performances btw, some of those were really special and really push the movie to make it better than it probably would've been on paper.


22 JUMP STREET (2014) Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

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After "Muppets Most Wanted" this is the 2nd film in a short period of time that begins with an opening about how a sequel is never as good as the first, and both times, they've delivered on that promise, although there's still a lot to like in "22 Jump Street". I was a fan of the original TV show, long ago, and really enjoyed the movie, which definitely took some liberties and reworked the original idea of the series into a very funny comedy that looked at the shift in high school social behaviors over the years. Now, Schmidt & Jenko (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) are going to do the same thing, only they're gonna go undercover this time and pass as college students, as they're now a little too old to be believable as high school students. They also moved to the abandoned church across the street, and got a budget for nicer sets and more destruction of property, at least until they overuse it. It seems like the same plot, a new drug has infiltrated the campus, this one's called Wi-Fi and after one user is found dead, they seek to investigate. Schmidt investigates and befriends the college's star quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell) and both of them get along well, as Schmidt and Jenko try to join the football team and Zook's fraternity. Meanwhile, Schmidt starts getting somewhere with Maya (Amber Stevens) who was the dead girl's roommate, who according to the law of sequel romances involving newly-introduced female characters (Movie Rule #578) se female character will inevitably be somehow involved in some aspect of the characters life, work, or other periphery plotpoint, leading either to se character falling in love causing complications to the plot, sometimes also involving her death (That last part mostly applies to "Lethal Weapon 2" and all films named "Death Wish"), which means, that she's the daughter of their commanding officer, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), something that Jenko didn't put together until it was too late. There's also some strong supporting work from Peter Stormare and Jillian Bell, as well as the ever-reliable Nick Offerman (Man, I'm gonna miss "Parks and Recreation" when that's done) and basically you end up with a funny meta-sequel that, much like the original film, makes a good deal of fun of movies and sequels. It's a bit of a, one plot point, after another being brought up, winking at the camera about the fact that their in a movie; the only thing that I recall being missing was a knocked over fruit stand but they probably didn't have the budget for it. It's funny, "22 Jump Street", there's great chemistry from Hill and Tatum, the story wasn't that bad actually; I'll recommend it. The team of Lord & Miller are definitely two of the funniest around right now, and they know the directions in which to take their films and make them funny, it's just not nearly as funny as the original, and that's okay for me. They do seem to intend to make more films later, I can't wait 'til "Jump Street Generations" much later, myself, and-eh, I'd watch another one if they made it.


THE SKELETON TWINS (2014) Director: Craig Johnson

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I really didn't come into "The Skeleton Twins" expecting much, but I actually got one of the better films I've seen this week. It's a subtle dark comedy, but it's very maturely written from the young Craig Johnson; this is only his second feature as a writer/director. It's not the most unusual story; there's plenty of good adult brother and sister stories, "You Can Count on Me" comes to mind (Boy, I gotta tell ya, I'm amazed how often that movie gets referenced; I gotta remember to rewatch that). Still this one, it's got funny moments, some dark moments, I know Christy Lemire made fun of it, but I actually am a fan of Starship, and I do mean the '80s Starship, but really the movie is about to suicide siblings who are both, major fuck-ups in their lives, which has gone on their separate ways for years and now that they're back together, they're fuck-ups together, but they're more able to handle it with the help of each other. When we first meet Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig, in probably her best acting performance to date, I've never seen this side of her before.) she's about to swallow a handful of sleeping pills, only to be interrupted by a call from an L.A. hospital informing her that her brother Milo (Bill Hader, also best performance from him; don't think this is a long SNL sketch we're getting here; these aren't comic taking a dramatic role, these are actors who happen to be able to do some comedy in this film) has tried to kill himself. She make the red eye flight to L.A. and takes Milo home where he's introduced to her husband Lance (Luke Wilson), who until now, he hasn't even heard about. Lance is a good guy, works doing some kind of landscaping job that Milo takes to tithe him over, and he's a bit of an outdoorsman. Maggie is a dental hygienist who's taking SCUBA lessons from Billy (Boyd Holbrook). Why is she taking the lessons? It's hard to explain without going into too much detail, in fact, I'm gonna purposefully leave a few pieces of information out here, but she does sleep with Billy. Milo, while back in town, decides to seek out an old lover of his, Rich (Ty Burrell) who's struggling with both a marriage to a woman and a teenage son, but there's still a spark between them, or at least Milo hopes there is. There's some parallels in these relationships that I'm not gonna get into but the paths these character arcs take are surprisingly sharp. Despite a few early sequences like an unexpected brief visit from their mother, Judy (Joanna Gleason) who's got pictures of her new family that are a little more half-sketched than the rest of the movie, it's really a great balance between the tones. There's scenes in the movie that could've really gone over-the-top, and with these two actors they really could have, but the comedic moments are correctly subdued. Much of them are what they are, these little sibling in-jokes that people have with each other, and often Lance is completely out of the loop, no matter how much he tries to get in on them, it's outside of his realm. This could easily have gone wrong in many different ways, and it doesn't, and that's a real credit, to the script, but even more than that, the directing and the acting, especially Wiig and Hader. This movie needed these performances from these actors and while I don't think anybody is particularly surprised that they were capable of these performances, but to see that they're smart enough to give these specific performances here, and trust from their director with these performances, it's really a pleasure to see.  


BELLE (2014) Director: Amma Asande

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Thinking back on "Belle", there's a lot to admire about the movie, but in the end, while it is a bit of the same British aristocracy power behind the throne kinda film, priviledge vs. love, and whatnot, but with an interesting new twist. A little too much on-the-nose dialogue, but it's delivered well. Based on the real life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who was the mulatto daughter of a British Naval Officer, Capt. John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and an African West Indies slave. Lindsay gave her her name, and insisted she be accepted into the family, the Mansfields. Despite some early objections from his Aunt and Uncle, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) they accepted her, and she grew up treated mostly as a sister to their other niece, Mary Murray (Sarah Gadon). When they're of age, the natural path in this world, is of course for them to go out and seek a husband. There's a few candidates for each of them from the Ashford family, brothers Oliver and James (James Norton and Tom Felton) and their matriarch, Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson) is very interested in combining the families. The thing is that Dido is actually the heiress, but is of course not particularly appropriate for advancement in the class; she's not even eating at the dinner table when guests arrive. However, Lord Mansfield is Lord Chief Justice, which is essentially an equivalent to the head judge of England, and he's trying to take up a protege, John Davinier (Sam Reid) who's interested in Dido, but is a reformist, who's working on a case about a slave trade that could hypothetically make the slave trade illegal in England. This was the Somersett's Case, that was a major ruling, and-, you know I had to look that up, not because it's not something I know, but I had to look a lot of this up. The people involved, the characters, and it's actually a good movie, and it's a good lesser-known story actually, but that said, uh, I'm- I've been sitting at this computer trying to write this review for two days; I'm not kidding. I'm way behind on everything else now, but there's something about this movie, and I think it was a screenplay and, maybe a directing issue, where we fall back into, you know, Jane Austen, Henry VIII, world, so much, that even though we're following an interesting character, it comes like every other movie that this film looks like. There's so many aspects of this story, and, almost none of them are driven home. There's a lot of dangling our feet into the ponds of what's going on, but really, this film falters the more you think about it. I'm still gonna recommend it, but there's something disturbing that this movie, and it was a African British, female director too, with a really rich subject matter, and- you know what it is? She tried to get a sense of what it would be like for Dido, and how she would be and feel in her life, and in going for that, she really kinda forgot about her story a bit and....- That's it, really; too far in one direction that isn't the strongest one the film should've done and that's-eh, just a real shame pretty much.


CHEF (2014) Director: Jon Favreau

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I think if you look at Jon Favreau's latest project, there's a real clear symbolic metaphor for him, of basically his career in recent years. He used to host "Dinner for Five", and if you ever want to find that show, I think all the episodes are on Youtube, and it's a great series btw, so food, has always played somewhat of a part in his work, but recently, he's gone from writing "Swingers" to big budget blockbusters like "Iron Man" and one of the very worst films in recent years, "Cowboys and Aliens". It's clear that he felt a need to get back to something soulful, and heartfelt, and what's more soulful than good food. Good food from a good food truck probably. The food truck revolution, if some of you guys aren't aware, started really taking off here on the west coast a few years ago; one of the movies culinary advisors Roy Choi is one of the major players in it. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a once-great chef, who's still great but is going through a major lull in his professional life. He's working for Riva (Dustin Hoffman) a restaurateur who's limiting his creative potential and has been forced to cook the same food, without specials and changes for years. He's divorced from his wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and he's constantly too busy for quality time with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Alright, it's cliche, and even the internet war with a notorious critic Ramsey (Oliver Platt) after a few bad reviews, he has to start over, and that's when "Chef" becomes a touching road trip story as Percy joins Carl on the road along with his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) as they discover America and Carl rediscovers his passion for food through the oddysey from Miami, through New Orleans, then Texas and back home in L.A. and the food of the areas. "Chef" isn't anything particularly new, but it's well done, and I enjoyed it. I'm a bit of a foodie myself, part of it I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes of the restaurant and food truck business, as well as the food itself. You know, would I prefer a film that might've been a more innovative story or plot- actually, you know what, in this case I don't. "Chef" doesn't want to be anything more than it is, and that's enough, and frankly that's all you want. There's some really great performances, a lot of good actors, a simple good story, it's frankly the most purely enjoyable film I've seen this week. Simple is good, whether it's food or movies, and "Chef" is simple and good.


MOOD INDIGO (2014) Director: Michel Gondrey




Ugh. "Mood Indigo" is stylistically surreal, pointlessly so. Really pointlessly so, and that's one of my biggest pet peeves; something that I've always been troubled with by much of Michel Gondry's work over the years, his obsessive need to be quirky and unusual. Ever since his best film, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", but that movie had a point and a reason for all of it's strangeness. Kaufman's surreal for a reason, Gondry's surreal because he can't stop himself and by the end, his films typically lose all power because of it. You can't just be, cute for the sake of being cute. His best recent film, "The We and the I", bare, very bare, it's amazing what he can do with little, kids on a bus, improvised dialogue. And now, from the bus to a train wreck. It starts with a room full of typewriters in perfect alignment, and then everything had a quirk to it. The cake, the doorbell, the wedding, what did any of it have to do with anything? It's Gondrey's first French film in his native France in a while, and it's a wonderment. Not much else though. Based on Boran Vias's novel "L'Ecume des Jours", (Although it takes a lot of liberties from that novel, I've heard) basically the story, if it was at all relevant to the film at all, involve Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tautou). Colin is a lifelone bachelor chef, I think, who falls in love with Chloe but she suffers from a strange illness where she's got a flower growing in her lungs. Colin then, has to give her flowers forever to help her live. If you understand that without looking it up, good for you. And I've been told this was a shorter version, only 94 minutes, than the original which was two hours long; I can't imagine how other shit was in this movie, but it does feel like a chopped story a bit, but even if it didn't, like, how much overload of pointless imagery can you have? I gave Gondrey's last film, the animated documentary, "Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?" a horrible review, it made my worst ten list in fact, and "Mood Indigo" might be worst. I mean, "Is the Man..." was a failed experiment, this was just nothing. Rage and beauty signifying,... not even nothing, just style over substance, style over everything. This gets so much worst the more I think about it. It is so abrasively, this is like the visual equivalent of the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I mean, some idiots gonna watch this movie and see all the production design, the special effect, the Terry Gilliam-esque whimsy, the inventiveness,... and they're gonna look at this movie and think this is some kind of special achievement or a masterpiece of this kind, but it's so without purpose. It takes you out of, whatever movie there is here, and there isn't much, It's just jarring that you go through all the trouble to make a movie, even a whimsical movie, it's just one thing after another, not progressing the story, not done for any reason whatsoever, again, and again, and again, and again,... and again. This is killing with kindness and I felt like I was being smothered by a perfume-scented pillow. This was just awful. Really, awful.


WATERMARK (2014) Directors: Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky

1/2



 First there's a beautiful long take of water, or the lack thereof, maybe a few shots of people interacting with the water, or are unable to, and then an occasional talking head, talking about the necessity of water and it's current or historic place in the human evolutionary ecosystem, and then repeat, with another impressive shot of water. During most of the talking heads, I went to the bathroom. Alright, no I didn't, but I wish that was true. This is- god, some of these movies are just awful this week,- you know, when your doing a documentary, even an environmental documentary, you need to try, to entertain the audience. I mean, yeah, water effects the people and land around it, whether it's there or not,- I know, no fucking shit, really?! Water effects everything!? (Eye roll) I mean, that's what this film was. Yeah, there's these great long takes of helicopters shots through the canyons that have been formed for thousands of years and all that, and, yeah, those are great, and the other things were, you know somewhat educational, but the minute you get interested you jump to another part of the world and another, eh, set of talking heads and another story about water. I mean, they have one story about how the L.A. Aqueduct was created by one guy campaigning and then getting the Owens Lake to be redirected into Los Angeles, through the aqueduct system, and then, right as that happens, within years the aqueduct, is dried up, that story is so interesting that it could've been a whole movie. I wished I was watching that movie frankly. There was a documentary last year that was Switzerland's entry into the Foreign Language Oscar category called, "More than Honey" and it was about bees and it also went around the world looking at the ways bees have effected the planet, and it was a great film 'cause it really wasn't just these random and generic stories put together, everything drifted well, everything had a point, it didn't just linger and move on to something else, it was visually interesting and it taught and it was entertaining as well, "Watermark" is a lot of teaching, but the class is asleep, and no amount of beautiful long takes through desolate canyons, and waterfalls, no matter how amazing will save it. You know, I get that in a copy of National Geographic if I wanted to just look at great images like that, you know?


MACHETE KILLS (2013) Director: Robert Rodriguez

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You gotta love a movie that continually find new ways to kill people using a helicopter. Seriously you gotta love that. I was a big fan of the first "Machete" film and this one is almost as good, and just as entertaining. The movies are a combination of pure fantasy id-driven fantasy and pure unadulterated storytelling. Robert Rodriguez when he's on his game, isn't afraid of "What's the sickest, strangest, most shocking, weirdest fucking thing that can happen next?" and then, go with it, and have it happen. Plausibility, logic, realism, fuck it. Throw all that out the window when it comes to Machete (Danny Trejo) or in this "Machete Kills". Which is as strange a sequel title you can find. (It's not like he didn't kill in the first movie, right?) Anyway, Machete kills a lot, but he's also unable to killed as many people will try throughout the film. After one of these failed assassination attempts by a corrupt Texas Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler), he's called in by Mr. President (Carlos Estevez) as he has to take out a Mexican revolutionary/drug cartel leader Mendez (Demian Bichir) who's pointing a missile to the United States that's attached to his heart. After getting some help from CIA agent Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) After first going through Mendez's prostitute mistress, Cereza (Vanessa Hudgeons), and having to escape her madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) who, certainly must go to a very interesting sex shop to get some of her wardrobe (I'm pretty sure it's the one Love Boutique next to the Deja Vu Showgirls on Industrial, just off of Desert Inn, although it could also be special ordered) Meanwhile, in trying to transfer Mendez to America to find the person who can turn off the heart-grenade-bomb, meanwhile on top of being chased by Desdemona, La Cameleon (Walt Coggins/Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas) a notorious hitman/women/whatever is hot on their trail. Not to mention, stumbling into Voz (Mel Gibson) a notorious uber-billionaire who's build military weapons and is seeking out to end the world and restart the human race in space with a specially select few. To make sense out of any of this film, is pointless. It's over-the-top, and off a cliff, around Saturn, off the board and nothing but net. Pure imagery, pure craziness, pure fun. "Machete" is really a throwback to the blaxploitation era of films, just taken up to extremes, and it's just amazing fun. I want to see "Machete Kills in Space", I want to see this character continually go on more mythic and unbelievable and full of ridiculous-timed sex scenes with cartoony over-the-top absurd violence, these amazing bloodsplattering deaths and the movie getting more and more outrageous each time, I really enjoy these films. The image of a scarred proud Mexican like "Machete" in an astronaut's outfit, getting ready to go into space, as an Italian, makes me excited and proud to watch, I get Rodriguez vision and perspective. I enjoyed and I really don't know why this film got so panned; it's just more "Machete" fun to me, anytime.


A MAN ESCAPED (1957) Director: Robert Bresson

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I'm always a bit, standoffish with Robert Bresson films. Instinctively, I know I have to watch them, but personally, I'm not as taken with the techniques as some are. Not that the films aren't this amazing pieces of cinema and aren't true seminal masterpieces of the craft, but they often fell to me like chores more then they are pieces of entertainment.  His films use amateur actors, usually in black and white, they're not flashy, and they're so interpretative, that you can make about ten different parables regarding them, and frankly I mostly think they're more straight narratives than he let's on. This one, "A Man Escaped", might be the barest of all his films. It's based on the Andre Devigny memoir, and it's full title translated to English is: "A Man Escaped: or The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth". Devigny, or in this film, he's named Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) and he's a French Resistance fighter, who's a Nazi Prisoner of War, and is on their death row, and all that entails for him, and nobody else. We get his voiceover and what little he sees and does predominantly, mostly a cell, and not much else. A small window, high above, reachable be a small corner shelf. A wooden door, a few other things that slowly but surely help him escape. It's a bit like watching "The Shawshank Redemption" from Andy's point of view, and there's no Red, there's no walking around, just a lone determined man, in a solitary cell trying to get out, without being caught. He talks through the walls and windows sometimes to people, often there's best compatriots that he's never met or seen, and sometimes they get sent to death before he ever does. Bresson focuses on these small aspects of life. Well, they're not small, really they're everything, especially to a man for whom, that's all he's got. A peephole and a shiv, that's all. We get the bare details and bare details only. Yet, the movie is enthralling in their minimalism, like all Bresson films are. It's hard to give a rating to any of his films, in many ways they all feel the same, and it's really kind of a preference more than anything else that let's me prefer, say "Mouchette" over "Au Hasard Balthazar" or "Pickpocket". "A Man Escaped" is definitely a great film as well. I just don't know if I can ever be so engaged to be fully engrossed in his work. Actually, part of it is that I don't want to be so engrossed in his films, as I'd rather be engrossed in others, but that shouldn't be a reason to avoid them. And "A Man Escape" is one of his most intense and thrilling, and is probably more influential than most of his other films.


SUCKER PUNCH
(2011) Director: Zach Snyder

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For about a half-hour of "Sucker Punch", I had, little-to-no idea what was going on. It seems like one of those dreams within a dreams that Billy Wilder famously chastised Louis Malle about, but then I came across a scene in the movie that I instantly recognized. It involves the character Baby Doll (Emily Browning) has entered some kind of temple, probably Buddhist in nature if I was guessing, and she's then informed by Wise Man (Scott Glenn) the five objects she would need to complete her mission, and he then hands her a samurai sword, a weapon of a choice. You know how I recognize this scene? Cause I wrote this scene. No, no, no, no, before anybody thinks, "David, what-the-hell are you talking about? Is this infringment, am I accusing Zach Snyder...! No, no, none of that happened, okay "Sucker Punch" is clearly an idea of his, this isn't my vision on screen, but I do know this scene. I wrote it in seventh grade, and instead of Baby Doll, and a Wise Man, it was Bugs Bunny and the other character was a mysterious figure that I don't believe I actually ever named, but it was a short story in a 7th or 8th glass Creative Writing class I had with Mister Allison. Bugs Bunny was tasked to go through the Himalayas to find The Abominable Smowman, and the opening involved him getting this task, and choosing a weapon, and informed of the dangers on the way. I know you're looking at me weird, but let me explain, it was an assignment called "Hero in a Hat" and I drew at random Bugs Bunny as my Hero, The Abominable Snowman as my villain, and Sword as my weapon, and he was doing this for money, $10,000 I believe. You see, I was so annoyed at the project that I came up with the only scenario in which combining all these ideas made sense. In the end of my Hero in a Hat story, Bugs has almost gotten enough money and is about to kill the Snowman, when suddenly everything turns to black. When the lights go back on again, and these are literal lights that go back on, we are back at the beginning with the scene of Bugs getting his mission and choosing his weapon and Tommy is sitting in front of television pissed off. That's right folks, that was my way out of this assignment, I made it a video game. I was inspired by the Bobby Ewing in the shower "Dallas" season that was all a dream but after I thought making it a dream would also not make much sense and just be an easy way so, I made it a video game, and basically after that Mr. Allison had to go back and re-edit all the logic problems he thought I was made with that story until I revealed the ending, I basically had carte blanche for the rest of the class as I had basically outsmarted his project. "Sucker Punch" is also a video game. Only, when I wrote my short story, I knew enough to skip over basically, the entire playing of the video game, as that would only be frustrating, boring, and possibly give away my surprise ending. "Sucker Punch", doesn't do that; it instead, although it does it really well, I will say, it then shows Baby Doll going on her mission, which begins, in this case, with destroy a bunch of machines that move curiously like characters I've seen in some kind of modern-day Mortal Kombat game. It's even looks like a video game sequences between levels sometimes, and Baby Doll's golden tint lighting from cinematographer Larry Fong is quite amazing. The story, if you can call it that, basically follows or is inside Baby Doll's head, and then inside her head a couple times but I'll simplify it. She's in a mental institution which she then imagines is some kind of brothel/nightclub world where she and a few other orphaned girls, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone) Blondie (Vanessa Hudgeons, ironically a brunette, for some reason. I guess irony, but still...-) and Amber (Jamie Chung) and basically enslaved and force to perform and dance for the corrupt underground characters like "High Roller" (Jon Hamm) or "The Mayor" or whoever else comes to this underground club. Baby Doll organizes the prison break and is apparently a very powerful dancer that hypnotizes the audiences long enough for the other girls to grab the objects needed and during these dances, there's music that's on repeat and is in some kind of trance where she and the other girls have to go on these metaphorical mission through special effects-land. A runaway, WWI or WWII, whatever it was, etc, other classic video game scenarios/worlds. (And btw, the way the music is used is also video game. Most video games always had background music, a different one for each level often, it could just as easily be Bjork as it is Jefferson Airplane, or another cover of The Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" as it can be, Mario down in the Pipes. Frankly, I don't know why we couldn't just see Emily Browning dancing in lingerie three or four times, but that would technically be a musical and this is a video game. And that should really tell you how fucked up this idea is of taking a video game plot structure and insisting on trying to make it fit into films; it hasn't worked yet and it won't work. Zach Snyder is a really talented director, and the visuals are stunning, but it is watching someone else play a video game and after awhile, it's just frustrating and boring. It's something nice to fall asleep to, with the good music and visuals, but so is MTV, or whatever-the-hell channel actually plays music videos. CoolTV, I guess. It's a bit great trash conceptually and the look is fantastic, but this concept, it really doesn't translate, and whether it's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" or "The Raid" movies, or "Sucker Punch" or anything else, is doesn't work, and I don't know why we keep doing it. I was 13 and knew to skip over the uninteresting level-playing of video games, and go straight to the end where it got interesting, others apparently don't. Maybe they should've had a Game Genie growing up, I don't know. I will say that of all those movies, at least this one was the most fun to look at. I'd rather see Emily Browning dancing in her underwear like everybody else in the film, instead of seeing her slay a baby dragon to get magical lighter, and maybe that makes me weird. But I really don't think so.


THE BUTCHER BOY (1998) Director: Neil Jordan

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Neil Jordan's "The Butcher Boy" is often compared to such films as Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"; it was around the same time as there was other films that also took a critical look at childhood anger and angst, that bursted into violence in some ways, in one way or another that was somewhat common undercurrent theme in the nineties in particular. This one, based on the Pat McCade is about a young sociopath named Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens, in his debut performance). I say he's a sociopath, 'cause he is, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't had it rough. Quite the contrary. His mother (Aisling O'Sullivan) was suicidal, sent at one point to an institution, while his father, (Stephen Rea) is a talented trombonist, but most of the time is a violent dying drunk who in front of the TV in the living room too long. He and his friend Joe (Alan Boyle) get into a lot of trouble in their youths, at one point, Francie is sent away to boarding school, where he becomes a choir boy and even starts speaking and seeing images of the Virgin Mary (Sinead O'Connor, yes that, Sinead O'Connor in a rather intriguing casting choice.) He's mostly angry at Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw) who suspects that Francie isn't particularly a good person, and is affront towards him and his bullying actions. Joe becomes friends with her son while Francie is away while Father Bubbles (Brendan Gleeson) dresses Francie privately in drag as he's amazed at his devotion and changing ways. When he comes back, he tries to befriend Joe again, but he's moved on, something he simply isn't capable of accepting. He gets work at the boys dissecting pig carcasses, but he's too far gone, and is only a few extra catastrophes away from snapping. "The Butcher Boy" is a tough watch. It's told in first person and Eamonn Owens gives a truly great performance for a kid. It's actually one of Neil Jordan's better films as a director, despite it being hard to swallow the pacing and editing, choices he makes, slightly quicker, more unusual for him than say "The Crying Game" or some of his more tonal mood pieces that he's done lately. There's a lot here, but in the moment it works enough.


PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING (2012) Director: Bruce Beresford

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(Snoring sounds), Huh, I'm up. I'm up. "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding". This film must've gotten on my radar somehow because of it's director. Bruce Beresford is the Austalian-born British director most known for films like "Tender Mercies" and "Driving Miss Daisy"; he's made quite a few good movies actually. From Hollywood thrillers like "Double Jeopardy" to more personal smaller films like "Evelyn". A lot of his films have a fish-out-of-water theme, somebody in a different place than their normal lives and how they react. "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding", has a more contrived version of that, and frnakly this movie was on autopilot from moment one. Diane (Catherine Keener) is a conservative intellectual lawyer who's husband (Kyle Maclachlan) has just announced that he wants a divorce. She then packs up the kids, Jake (Nat Wolff) and Zoe (Elizabeth Olson) to go up to Woodstock, where her hippie drug-dealing mother Grace (Jane Fonda) lives her wild bohemian life amongst the group that look like they came for The Greatful Dead and never really left, although naturally, there's more to everybody than meets the eye. Wanna guess what to happens to each of these characters? I'll give you a hint, Grace, is a little bit older than a teenage girl and is a bit picky when it comes to her personal beliefs, especially when it comes to sharing those beliefs and her body with the opposite sex, and there's a character named Cole (Chace Crawford) that's involved. Diane also has a guy around, Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who doesn't match her ideal and her mother has set them up. The son, Jake, seems to always have a video camera around and on top of that cliche, there's a waitress named Tara (Marissa O'Donnell) who's around for him. If you can't figure out the arc of each of these character to one degree or less than you need to watch more movies. Oh, and can you guess which song by The Band gets played more than once? It's so, one of those movies where, basically it's by the numbers plot. Characters come into new environment or an old environment and they have memories and experiences, meet people that change them. It's tired and old, and frankly there isn't anything else even here. The movie's after 60 minutes of experiences, and twenty-to-thirty minutes, most of artificial conflicts between the artificial-but-well-acted characters. I don't even really understand what else this movie was supposed to even be. It's so generic and kinda aimless when you think about it, there really a struggle or a plot or even a situation that these characters need to overcome other than what's in their minds really. There was a great movie, years ago, made my Top Ten list called "A Home at the End of the World" which also about three characters who went up to Woodstock for a prolongued period, that film was based on a Michael Cunningham novel, he's famous for writing "The Hours", this is actually a better movie than that one, and it's the kind of movie where there doesn't seem like much conflict either, but under the surface there many conflicts between the characters and there are real events that transform their lives. There's nothing here like that. This is just the minimal shallowest work needed for a movie. I mean, alright Jane Fonda's playing a bit of a play on her image with this character, but other than that and that's not even interesting really. It's cute for a minute and then it's another great Jane Fonda performance, and, not much else.


MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITE (2011) Director: Jean Becker

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There's a lot of movies about how a relationship between two people and how the power of literature, becomes a transforming bond between them, and how each character grows because of the experience. "My Afternoon with Margueritte", it's a pretty good one, despite a little too much bad exposition dialogue in the beginning. Germain (Gerard Depardieu) is a giant of a man. Depardieu is a big lug and nobody knows how to use his mass for dramatic effect more than him. He's not overly educated and his mother (Claire Maurier, as an old woman, Anne Le Guernac in flashbacks) was a trainwreck, and an emotionally abusive one. He still takes care of her as she lives across the way. He works, hangs out talking at a bar with some of his friends. He has a girlfriend, a bus driver Annette (Sophie Guillemin), who he's lucky to have, almost embarassed to have really. At lunch, he sits in the park and counting 14 pigeons with his friend Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus) an old woman who reads books and looks over the pigeons as well. Germain is not a good reader, never really taught well, but she starts to listen to her read books by Albert Camus and others, and it enchants him. It's not a new story, there's plenty of great movies about seemingly unknowing characters who discover literature and become more enlightened. You're just gonna get that story with film people, it's essentially their story, and art is the medium that we consider so powerful, so this story comes up all the time. It can tiresome, and this movie had it's moment of eye-rolling and for the first twenty minutes or so, there's some really bad exposition dialogue, very on-the-nose. That said, overall this isn't "Il Postino" or anything, but it's a good version of that story, and I'm recommending it. I was entertained, well-acted, and I found myself actually caring at the end about the characters. Nothing special but, you don't need that special all the time anyway.