Monthly Archives: February 2013

Oscars 2012: And The Winner Is…

Like my chocolate Oscar?Find out who wins the real ones Sunday.

Like my Chocolate Oscar?
Find out who wins the real ones Sunday.

Yep, the Oscars will be decided this Sunday again. Seth McFarlane will host for the first time. A bit surprising to have the cartoonist of The Family Guy and director of Ted running the show but we’ll see if it’s sink or swim. Fist time hosting usually is. Just ask David Letterman, James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Once again, I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees. This makes it the twelfth year in a row in which I’ve done such. And I’m ready again to make my predictions for who Should Win and Will Win. Also all the Best Picture nominees as well as some of the other predictions will feature links to my full reviews of the movie. Anyways here I go:

BEST PICTURE:

For this, I will give a brief review of the nominees one by one. As I said earlier, if you click on the titles you’ll get my full reviews:

Amour– I sensed Michael Haneke would one day be nominated for Best Director after seeing the White Ribbon. He does it with Amour and rightly so. It’s both haunting and intimate. Intense and delicate. Anyone who watches will not forget it or feel some connection to it. This is the first foreign-language film to be nominated for Best Picture since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. No foreign-language film has ever one Best Picture and I don’t think Amour will be the one to do it. This is the least hyped-up film in the Oscar race and to win awards, there has to be some marketing muscle to both the public and the Academy.

Argo– This is a remarkable movie. This is one thriller of an event that happened 33 years ago and it succeeds in entertaining and thrilling the public. It’s also very smart too because it takes a good look at the political turmoil in Iran at that time. It also puts a face on the hostages who didn’t know what their fate would be. Its combination of comedy, thrills and honest human emotion is why I give Argo my Should Win pick. It does have very good chances of winning even without the Best Director nomination for Ben Affleck but I’ll let you know my Will Win pick later. I predict Argo to be the film most likely to upset my Will Win pick.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild– This is this year’s little picture that could. It was a small low-budget movie shot more than three years ago that finally made its way into the cinemas first through the Sundance film festival and then the box office. It not only drew a decent-sized crowd but amazed everyone who saw it. Great first efforts from Benh Zeitlin in directing and writing and Quyvenzhane Wallis in acting. Despite its accomplishments, I don’t think it will win Best Picture since it’s up against a lot of other films that have a lot more: both in terms of production and in crowd grabbing. Yeah, that’s where the luck for the little film that could stops.

Django Unchained– Is it just me or does Quentin Tarantino seem to be getting quite predictable these days? Not only that but I still stand by my original belief that he seems to be overobsessed with the theme of vengeance. It’s as if three stylized films about revenge isn’t enough. In all frankness, it lacks the dynamite of Pulp Fiction and it’s not as attention-grabbing and mesmerizing as Kill Bill nor does it pull unexpected surprises like Inglourious Basterds. It’s a great Tarantino film but not one of his more legendary. Plus Lincoln’s theme of doing justice to slavery made revenge on slavery look a bit like a joke. And Zero Dark Thirty made Kathryn Bigelow look like a more fearless director than Tarantino. Not this year, Quentin.

Les Miserables– Without a doubt the musical of the year, if not the decade. The decade may be young but this would be too hard to top. Adapting a big-name Broadway musical to the big screen is a very difficult task and Tom Hooper did it. I personally felt that it should be amongst those most contending for Best Picture. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The bigger buzz is for Lincoln and Argo and possibly Life Of Pi. I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel musicals have been somewhat devalued by the Academy in this century. Sure Chicago won Best Picture but director Rob Marshall didn’t have a chance at winning Best Director. Also Dreamgirls wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, which I still feel it should have. And Moulin Rouge earned a Best Picture nod with director Baz Luhrmann snubbed out. And we see it here with Tom Hooper snubbed out. It’s one of the most deserving of the Best Picture win but I don’t think the Academy will do it.

Life Of Pi– Leave it to Ang Lee to direct a masterpiece of a movie that touches us as much as it dazzles us. There were a lot of spellbound moments in this movie. Definitely the best special effects of the year. A lot of good acting including that from young actor Suraj Sharma. And definitely a lot of top direction from Ang Lee. Now some people are hinting that Ang Lee could win Best Director since Spielberg has already won two while Lee’s only one once. It could be possible. As for Best Picture, I don’t know if Life Of Pi has what it takes. Great movie but worthy of the Best Picture Oscar? I’m scratching my head right now.

Lincoln– Okay I’ll probably be the first to admit that I’ve seen better from Spielberg. If you were to compile a list ranking all of Spielberg’s movies, I’m unsure if this would make the Top 5. You too probably know he’s directed more memorable movies. I will say of all of this year’s nominees, this is the one that had the best of the three key elements: acting, directing and writing. This had some of the best acting of the year, Spielberg delivered another excellent directing job and the writing was also excellent. The efforts in recreating the United States during 1865 were no easy feat either especially in terms of set design and costuming. Also like many of Spielberg’s movies in the past, this is a precise look at war during its time. It’s because of all this I pick it as my Will Win pick. Although I am anticipating a surprise from Argo.

Silver Linings Playbook– Okay it’s not an epic recreation like Lincoln or an edge-of-your-seats drama like Argo. It is an excellent movie in terms of how they take a situation most people don’t want to deal with–mental illness– and turn it into a likeable romance. The best qualities had to be the acting. It needed excellent three-dimensional performances from all the main actors to make this work and it did. Very good direction from David O. Russell. It could be a Best Picture contender in any other year. Even I thought it was Best Picture worthy. Just this year there are at least three more movies with more Oscar boost.

Zero Dark ThirtyArgo isn’t the only movie trying to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. So is Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow definitely delivered one of the best directing efforts of the year if not the best. Even I consider her the most fearless director in Hollywood. Even more fearless than Tarantino. However I feel this movie had its best chances of winning Best Picture if Bigelow had a Best Director nomination at the least. I feel because of that snub, its Best Picture chances have sunk. It could still win due to the acting of Jessica Chastain or the scriptwriting of Mark Boal. However I feel it would be a long shot.

BEST DIRECTOR:

-Should Win and Will Win: Steven Spielberg– Lincoln– This year has seen a lot of excellent directing efforts from many directors. So many the Academy appeared to have overlooked the efforts of Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck in Argo. Affleck’s is the hardest because his directing in Argo has won him a Golden Globe, Director’s Guild and BAFTA awards. With Affleck, Bigelow and Tarantino snubbed out, there’s no real competition for Spielberg. It’s not to say that Lincoln was not that great of an effort. It still is an excellent effort but I’ve seen better from Spielberg. However the efforts of the other four nominees don’t compare. Ang Lee could win if the Academy doesn’t want to give Spielberg his third Oscar. Nevertheless it doesn’t look too likely.

BEST ACTOR:

-Should Win and Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis– Lincoln– Ten years ago, Day-Lewis was nominated for Best Actor for playing Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting in Gangs Of New York. Co-star Cameron Diaz said of Daniel: “Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t just simply play the character. He becomes the character.” I guess that’s what makes Daniel Day-Lewis stand out from other actors. You just have to see his performances for yourself: Christy Brown in My Left Foot; Gerry Conlon in In The Name Of The Father; Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting; Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. And now Abraham Lincoln. You just have to see it for yourself. The closest thing to a rival to Day-Lewis is Bradley Cooper who could get it if the Academy doesn’t want to make Day-Lewis a three-time Best Actor winner but I doubt it.

BEST ACTRESS:

-Should Win: Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty– What can I say? You cannot take your eyes off of Maya. She keeps you intrigued in what will happen ext and how she’ll respond. She has a toughness about her despite her tender side being tested at times. Jessica really delivered a one-of-a-kind role that’s hard to match.
-Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook– You can say whatever you want about Jennifer, that she’ll get it because she’s the ‘next big thing.’ Even though I want Jessica Chastain to win, Jennifer Lawrence is very deserving in her own right. I was very impressed in seeing her play a widower much older than her 22 year-old self. It was not just in her emotional acting but her physical acting too. If she wins, I will be content.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

-Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master – Okay so I admit I’m one of those countless people that like Philip Seymour Hoffman. One thing I have to say is like Daniel Day-Lewis, he knows how to become the role. As the svengali-like religious leader, he not only possessed the controllingness of the leader but the charisma of one too. I’m sure he knew that such people of great power not only had to possess a controllingness of them but a winsome charisma too. And Hoffman did it. I sensed it right there in my theatre seat.
-Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln– Daniel Day-Lewis may have owned Lincoln but Tommy Lee Jones had to be his biggest challenger in who could command one’s attention and who is best at portraying a historical character. His performance of Thaddeus Stevens could just rival Day-Lewis. There were some parts of Jones’ performance where it suggested right there to me that this could just win the Oscar. And that was even before the first awards of this season were given out.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

-Should Win and Will Win: Anne Hathaway– Les Miserables– Some of you may think Anne may get the Oscar because of her fame but that’s just jumping the gun. I saw Les Miz. Right there during that scene where she sang I Dreamed A Dream, I just sat there amazed. I sensed right there that she would win the Oscar. Those of you who saw that scene will know what I’m talking about. The closest rivalry I see for her is Sally Field as Mary Lincoln but it’s Anne Hathaway all the way.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win and Will Win: Mark Boal– Zero Dark Thirty– So Bigelow didn’t get nominated for Best Director. The next big force of the movie has to be her right-hand man Mark Boal. His scriptwriting has a lot to do with Bigelow’s standout directing efforts. It took a smart fearless script about piecing the puzzle together and the woman behind it. That’s why I give Mark my pick for the Best Original Screenplay for this year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win & Will Win: Chris Terrio– Argo– This was a year where the Adapted Screenplays had an edge over the original ones. Argo’s script had to be the best. It was a script that had to be as smart and well thought-out as it was suspenseful if it wanted to deliver such a story. It was a smart maze of a story without getting too overly confusing. It had its touching moments without getting overly sentimental. That’s why I predict the Argo script to do it. Also a win for the script could boost Argo’s Best Picture chances with Ben Affleck missing his Best Director nomination. We’ll just see.

Just One More:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

-Should Win and Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph – It’s interesting to see how there are three different contenders for the Oscar since it’s had a habit of being one Disney/Pixar film and every other film. This year’ Disney/Pixar pick Brave has a pair of rivals–Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph— and they were also done by Disney associated companies so this should be a win-win for Disney this year. I give it to Ralph because it was the most create and the most entertaining. Also the images in itself were top notch quality too.

Here are some of my predictions for the other categories. In these, I will only predict who I think Will Win:

BEST ART DIRECTION:
Sarah Greenwood – Anna Karenina
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Claudio Miranda – The Life Of Pi
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Jacqueline Durran – Anna Karenina
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Searching For Sugar Man
BEST FILM EDITING:
William Goldenberg – Argo
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM:
Amour – Austria
BEST MAKEUP:
The Hobbit
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Mychael Danna – Life Of Pi
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
“Skyfall” – Skyfall
BEST SOUND MIXING:
Les Miserables
BEST SOUND EDITING:
Life Of Pi
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Life Of Pi
BEST ANIMATED SHORT and BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT:
Click Here
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT:
Open Heart

Interesting looking over all the categories. Amour is the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture in 12 years. There were only four acting nominees being nominated for the first time: the lowest since probably the early 30’s. Usually the supporting acting categories are the most newbie-friendly. Not a single newbie in the supporting acting categories this year and seven of them have already won an Oscar. The Best Actress category had new age records set this very year for both the oldest nominee ever (Riva) and the youngest nominee ever (Wallis). Silver Linings Playbook is only the fourteenth movie in history to earn Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Interesting how the year after Martin Scorsese makes a family film, Ang Lee makes a family-friendly fantasia that also gets nominated for Best Picture. The Best Original Score nomination of Lincoln extends the record of nominations for movie composer John Williams to fifty-eight. The Best Original Song category had five nominees for the first time in three years.

As for snub-outs, hard to believe The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises weren’t nominated for anything, not even for visual effects. The Dark Knight Rises is now the highest-grossing picture to never receive an Oscar nomination. And with the final Twilight movie being nominated for nothing, the Twilight series becomes the highest-grossing movie series or franchise to never receive a single Oscar nomination. And to think last year you were surprised when Harry Potter became the highest-grossing series or franchise to never win an Oscar out of its twelve nominations. Actually should we be surprised about Twilight’s consistent snub-out? All it was about was hot guys anyways.

And there you have it. My predictions for Sunday’s Oscars. Winners to be decided there and then. Let’s hope the wins go to the right movies. Also let’s see if Seth can make the show entertaining without crossing the line.

Oh yeah, here’s a bonus:

Other Nominated Movies I’ve Reviewed

-Moonrise Kingdom
-War Witch (Rebelle)
-Ted
-Snow White And The Huntsman
-Prometheus

Oscars 2012 Shorts Review

Interesting how these past few years, they’ve released the short films nominated for an Academy Award as reels at the box office. They’ve since drawn good-sized crowds as they’ve been doing it again ever since. This marks the fifth year in a row I’ve seen them and this year’s crop of nominees are both entertaining to watch and interesting to see the visions of either the director or the animators. Here’s my rundown of this year’s nominated short films:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Adam And Dog – dir. Minkyu Lee- Unique story how a dog became man’s best friend as Adam meets the dog before Eve. It seems charmingly cartoonish at first and gives the viewer a feel. Soon it becomes more cartoonish both in drawing and in the characters of the two. Also the plot before the ending becomes a bit awkward. Nevertheless it did end well. Overall I felt something was missing in it and I don’t think it will win.

Fresh Guacamole – dir. PES-What can an animated film accomplish in two minutes? This film does a lot as it goes from cutting items for guacamole into turning it into gambling goodies and toy bits. It’s both entertaining and charming. It doesn’t even have to tell a story to entertain. Its ability to charm and entertain in its two minutes is why this is my Should Win pick. Great job!

Head Over Heels – dir. Timothy Reckart- Walter and Madge are an unhappily-married couple. They live in the same house but she lives right side up while he lives upside down as the house floats in the sky. It’s a shame since they used to dance ballet together. One day Walter tries to solve things by repairing Madge’s ballet shoes. However something goes wrong between him and Madge and the separateness grows. Its use of its form of 3D ‘puppetry’ adds to the unique charm of the story but its ability to convey human emotions much like flesh and blood people is its biggest quality that makes it shine and why this is my Will Win pick.

Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare – dir. David Silverman- Maggie Simpson is the star of this funny short where no dialogue is needed. If you’ve seen Ice Age 3 in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Maggie is left at the Ayn Rand School For Tots. And when there’s a daycare run in the spirit of Ayn Rand, you know trouble will abound. This Simpson’s short without dialogue succeeds in entertaining while remaining true to the flavor of the Simpsons show. And you finally find out why Maggie always had animosity to the baby with the unibrow. I always had a feeling he was diabolical!

Paperman – dir. John Kahrs- If you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Done in black and white with the only color being the woman’s red lipstick. It’s a charming boy meets girl story where they meet on a subway platform and boy attempts to meet girl again by making paper planes out of his inbox papers. Eventually the paper planes become his destiny as they send the message the two were meant to be. Another charming short from the Disney studios.

One thing to say about all five of the films is that you’ll notice all are done without dialogue. I find it unique that all five nominees possess that quality. Shows how volumes can be spoken without uttering a word. Pixar’s been showing that for years in the shorts they’d shown before their features. Another thing is that it’s something that none of the nominated shorts were done in 3D computer graphics. That’s a bit of a surprise for me considering it’s now all the rage for feature-length animation.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Asad – dirs. Bryan Buckley & Mino Jarjoura- Normally you would not expect a story of Somalian children being caught in the war to be a comedy but this is and it succeeds well. It does show a lot of the nastiness of war with the temptation of young children to become pirates but it has an ironically humorous ending that makes it a delight. Normally a story about a child being caught in an African civil war doesn’t sound like comic material at all but this film does an excellent job in making a comedy out of it without crossing the line. Also this film could be seen as a ray of hope for Somalia as most of the actors are in fact Somali refugees living in South Africa.

Buzkashi Boys – dirs. Sam French & Ariel Nasr- This is a story of two poor boys in Kabul, Afghanistan. One, Rafi, is the son of a blacksmith whose father expects him to carry on the family tradition. The other, Ahmad, is a young fatherless street urchin who begs on the streets. One day Rafi’s father allows him to see a game of Buzkashi with Ahmad. Ahmad tells Rafi his dreams of being a Buzkashi star and isn’t afraid to shout out his dream from a demolished castle while Rafi is skeptical for his future. One incident changes everything that changes how Rafi thinks and dreams. This story is the one of the five that most stayed with me. It was very well-played out and gets you thinking. That’s why I declare this to be my Should Win pick.

Curfew – dir. Shawn Christensen- This is a dark story that features some humor. The girl is a scene stealer even thought the man is the main protagonist. Often you’d wonder why a sister would let her suicidal brother babysit her daughter but it turns out to be the best thing for both of them in the end. It’s dark humor is what gives it its edge. Definitely the most original of the five.

Death Of A Shadow – dirs. Tom van Avermaet & Ellen De Waele- This is a haunting story of Nathan, a death photographer who photographs deaths and transfers the shadows onto his master’s wall for his artistic entertainment. We later learn that Nathan died in World War I and the master will give him his life back upon 10,000 photographs. He wants to return to life to return to the love he believes he could’ve had if he wasn’t killed by soldiers. It’s the 10,000th photograph and the aftermath that changes everything including his perspective. Very dark and haunting. Very well-directed and well produced. That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

Henry – dir. Yan England- This is a story of an elderly man with Alzeimer’s trying to remember and reclaim the past for his memory. It starts in a bizarre situation. He’s strapped to his hospital bed and can’t remember his wife Maria or daughter Nathalie. His recollection progresses through the help of his daughter, his twentysomething self and the classical music he played with his loved ones. It’s through both of them and the music that he’s able to go back in time to remember the two for their sake and for his. It’s haunting as it is touching. It is a sad story but it does lead to an ending that’s somewhat positive. Very good and very intimate as it’s honest in human feelings.

This is the difficulty of predicting a short film. The winner could be a story that makes you think like recent past winners Toyland or The Shore. Or it could be something humorous like past winners The New Tenants or God Of Love. There’s no telling what will impress the Academy.

And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions for the short films. Predicting short films in never easy. Any five can be the winner. There’s no clear favorite. Nevertheless it’s always great to see that he audience again has a chance to see them on the big screen. Also those interested in seeing some new directing talent or animating talent, here’s your chance.

Documentary Review: Searching For Sugar Man

Meet Sixto Rodriguez, the music legend you never heard before, in Searching For Sugar Man.

Meet Sixto Rodriguez, the music legend you never heard before, in
Searching For Sugar Man.

When you think of singing icons, which male icons come to mind? Elvis? Bob Dylan? How about Rodriguez? Yeah, I know you’ll be asking ‘Who Rodriguez?’ Searching for Sugar Man solves the mystery for us of who Rodriguez is while the documentary plays out the fan’s mystery of what happened to him.

Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit rock/folk singer from the early 70’s who wrote songs of what he saw and felt. His songs were a mix of folk and blues and he was already being touted as the next Bob Dylan by Sussex records: the record company that discovered him. He recorded two albums under Sussex but neither sold. Rodriguez was dropped in 1972. Yet another could’ve been that didn’t. That’s that, or so it seemed.

South Africa had a different story. People had bought both of Rodriguez’s albums and it caught on. The fact that his album was banned in South Africa at a time where censorship was heavy increased the stigma of the album and bootleg versions came about into the hands of many more South Africans. There was even talk of his alleged onstage suicide in 1973 that increased the stigma of Rodriguez that made him a bigger phenomenon than Elvis. The problem was that there was not only a lot of censorship within South Africa at the time but a lot of censoring of media of what came out of South Africa. Nobody outside South Africa knew of Rodriguez’s phenomenon there. Not even Sussex Records, which folded in 1976.

Then came the time to put Rodriguez’s music on compact discs in the 1990’s. This was done with the aid of record-store owner Stephen Segerman, who’s nicknamed ‘Sugar Man’ after one of Rodriguez’s songs, and journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom who had to write the liner notes to the disc. They try through pictures and through lyrics to get information to no avail. Instead Strydom wrote in the liner notes asking out for knowledge. That’s what triggered the determination to find out what happened to Rodriguez and learn more about his life. Boy were they in for a surprise. They post an ad on the internet asking for knowledge. They get more than knowledge from people that know him: they learn he could be alive.

Then came the call from the man himself to Segerman. Rodriguez is alive and working as a construction worker/demolition remover in Detroit. He has been married twice and has three daughters and a grandchild. He taught his children never to feel like second-class citizens despite coming from a working class family. He even ran unsuccessfully for civic office in 1989. They’re excited but they know that all of South Africa need to know what happened to him and Rodriguez needs to know of his fame. Then he finally agrees to do concerts in South Africa in February 1998 featuring a popular South African band as his backup musicians. It’s at that moment during the very first concert that Rodriguez finally learns of his greatness and South Africans finally meet their beloved musician. After the tour, it was a return for the Rodriguez family to their regular lives and Sixto back to his construction work. Only now his co-workers know more about his fame half a world away.

One thing I liked best about the documentary is that it keeps secret the fact that Rodriguez is still alive from the audience until we hear of Segerman’s phone call from Rodriguez right in the middle. Unless you have your wireless device with you at the film–and I hope you have enough manners not to use one in the theatre while the film’s running– you too will probably think that Rodriguez is deceased because you most likely wouldn’t have known who he is either. The film did a smart move in revealing Rodriguez is alive and showing us the real life Rodriguez in the middle of the film. It makes the South Africans’ mystery of the past our mystery too.

Another good quality of the documentary is that it does remind you about the music industry. It’s cruel but it still decided the winners and losers whether we like it or not. We often think that the late-60’s early-70’s was the time most accepting of new sounds, most consisting or game-changers in the music scene and less pressure to conform to looks or less need for mass promotion. Rodriguez’s lack of success reminds you that even back then, promotion and typical music business procedures were necessary to even make a legend out of Rodriguez. He could have been the ‘Dylan Of Detroit’ that people described him as but his success never happened at home. And this was at a time before independent record labels or alternative radio or even before unsigned musicians could create and produce their own music and have it on iTunes and Youtube. Was the grass really greener back then?

Another good addition in the documentary is the use of animation, pictures and Sixto’s music. The animation shows the images of the Detroit Rodriguez knew and wrote about. The pictures of Rodriguez during the 70’s give a good example of his personality. His music shows the darkness of the life he was living and the life he saw through his eyes. The combination of it makes this out to be something more than a simple music documentary. The people interviews for the documentary also added to it. It’s not just the two South Africans, Sixto and his family but record personnel who worked with Sixto, a South African band who idolized him and would become his back-up band during his 1998 South African tour, and even co-workers of his construction job.

The documentary is not just about Sixto and the fame he never knew he had but also of South Africa and why they fell in love with his music. We should remember up until 1990, South Africa was a country under the strict rule of apartheid: the separation of races. Life was hell for non-whites but life was difficult for many whites too, especially the ones who opposed apartheid. News was censored. Entertainment was limited. And speech against apartheid even from white people was a crime punishable by 3 years in prison. You think the hippies of the late 60’s early-70’s had their things to rebel against? It was nothing compared to what the young South Africans of the time had to deal with. You could understand why censored music would attract them: because they were that disgusted with their government. They even go into South Africa’s national archives of censored music, take out one of Rodriguez’s albums that was to be the nation’s official master copy and show the scratch marks of one of his songs. Scratching out songs on albums was the censorship technique used by the South African government.

The movie does not end on a completely happy note. We still learn that people other than Rodriguez are making money off of his records. We learn that Rodriguez has toured South Africa at least three more times and he has given all of his tour money to family members. He still lives in the same Detroit house he’s lived for forty years and never complained about the fame in the US he never had. In fact he’s even happy with his construction work as he says it helps keep him in good physical condition. Shows that Rodriguez is not just quite a musician but quite a person.

Has my review stimulated interest in you to actually hear Rodriguez’s music? Guess what? The documentary has succeeded in stimulating interest in Rodriguez to the point that the soundtrack of the documentary has sold. This has also led to recent reissuing of his two albums in many countries including the US and even appearances on 60 Minutes and Letterman. Guess what? For the first time his music is charting in the US! In fact this very week, Cold Fact is #78 and the Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack is #100 on the Billboard Album chart. Yeah, it’s a shame that he had to wait 40 years for success of any kind here but better late than never.

Searching For Sugar Man
is an intriguing documentary that leaves the audient engaged in Rodriguez’s music as well as the mystery the South Africans try to solve on him. In a world full of documentaries that mostly one-sided liberal propaganda being shoved down your throat, this is a welcome relief too. I went to see it because it’s heavily favored to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Boy did I get more than my money’s worth.

Note: If you want to learn more about Rodriguez, here’s his official website: http://www.rodriguez-music.com/ You can even give your email for upcoming news and tour dates. Now if only he can come to Canada!

Oscars 2012 Best Picture Review: Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts

” I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they’re gonna find it all. They gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy, and she live with her daddy in The Bathtub.”

Funny how back during the summer of 2012 there were two hit movies from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that were released: Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom. If you asked me which one would be most likely to be a Best Picture nominee for this year’s Oscars, I wouldn’t guessed Moonrise Kingdom would have the best chances. How wrong I was. I finally had my chance to see Beasts so I can see why it’s a Best Picture nominee and I now know why.

This film starts with Hushpuppy: a young girl living in an island community on the Louisiana bayou called ‘The Bathtub’. The Bathtub is a small community cut off from the rest of society by the water surrounding the island but it’s close-knit and shares in its bonds and celebrations. Hushpuppy and her father don’t have much but they’re optimistic for each other and share a close bond. The bond is threatened as Wink is missing and Hushpuppy has to fend for herself. Wink returns in a hospital gown and argues with Hushpuppy. Things get worse when Hushpuppy sets her house on fire. That leads to fight that starts with Wink slapping Hushpuppy and her responding with a punch to Wink’s heart that leaves him collapsing of cardiac arrest.

Meanwhile the ice caps are melting due to climate change and the melting ice unleashes the Aurochs: prehistoric ice-age creatures Hushpuppy learns of in school. A storm brews, threatening the Bathtub community. It’s then that Hushpuppy and Wink reunite and he keeps her shelter in his home. He even tries to calm her by shooting bullets in the sky to ‘scare off the storm’. After the storm, the two reunite with other people of the Bathtub community. Their attempt to rebuild the community is halted as saltwater has flooded the community. Even an attempt by Wink to detonate a bomb made out of an alligator carcass doesn’t succeed well enough and the residents are forced by authorities to evacuate the Bathtub to an emergency shelter and Wink to face further medical attention. All are resistant as the evacuees escape back to their homes and Wink is too violently stubborn to face surgery.

Hushpuppy knows her father will die despite whatever help he’s given and she goes searching for her mother whom her father has commonly reminisced over. She thinks she found her in an island restaurant as a waitress. Nevertheless the waitress tells her she can’t take care of her. This soon leads Hushpuppy to soon face the Aurochs and deal with her dying father. This leads to an ending that is both intense and solemn.

The film is a unique story of an environmental catastrophe threatening the life of a Louisiana bayou. A lot of images of people taking refuge may remind a lot of people about Hurricane Katrina from seven years ago. The best thing about this film is that it’s more than just an envirofiction story set in the present but also one styled to look like a folk story from the Southern US along the styles of a Mark Twain folk story. Without a doubt, the protagonist Hushpuppy is the spirit of the story and the characters surrounding her, both humans and other beings, area also as much a part of it. She was a little six year-old with a spirit of toughness. Even though she was five, she had to have a toughness for her age as life on the bayou was no ‘big easy.’ People, especially her father Wink, had to hold their own and faced constant threats. People had to be tough. This was something Hushpuppy took to heart as made evident when she tried to do her own cooking. Despite burning down her house, it showed how this was a thing Hushpuppy had to do at such a young age. That was also evident with the scene of the ‘alligator bomb’. This was something too dangerous but Hushpuppy was determined to aid because she felt it needed to be done.

Despite Hushpuppy being the lead protagonist, Wink was the key supporting role as he would have the best impact on Hushpuppy. The biggest key element of Wink was how key he was in another major theme of the movie: the sense of values most people in town in the South carried that most of us modern city folk either take for granted or overlook as we want to live however we want to. He knew how important in life it was to be tough and he passed on his beliefs to Hushpuppy because he wanted her to have that same toughness. He owned a domain that most people would label as a ‘hunk of junk’ but he always considered it his and he was determined to keep it even during times of disaster. He and the neighbors bonded together in a time of taking shelter and escaped because they all felt a huge bond of community. It was a stubborn sense of these values Wink possessed as he refused to let go of them even if he knew he was dying. These were values that he wanted to pass onto Hushpuppy. He wanted her to be tough including encouraging her not to cry. He wanted her to be responsible and hold her own. He wanted her to have a bond with the community. These were values he wanted to pass onto Hushpuppy as he knew that he would soon die and it would be her turn now. And it was evident as Hushpuppy would carry out her father’s last wish and also stay with her community until the bitter end.

The biggest efforts of the movie have to go to Benh Zeitlin with his many efforts. He directed it, he co-composed the music with Dan Romer, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar: author of the one-act play Juicy And Delirious of which the film is inspired by. What he delivers is a major accomplishment in filmmaking that paints a picture of an area and of a people as it tells a story. It tells a story of a community fighting to stay alive and together despite huge environmental adversity. Interesting that his Wikipedia bio says he was born to folklorist parents and it becomes evident in this film as the film, as I mentioned earlier, also styles the protagonist of this drama to come across as a folk hero one could recognize from fiction set in the south in the 1800’s. Ben’s only 30 and this is his first feature-length film after directing three shorts but he appears to have a promising future ahead of him despite nothing upcoming listed on his IMDB profile. Time will tell if he either moves on to bigger and better things or if he becomes a one-hit wonder director.

Even though the movie’s accomplishments are mostly Zeitlin’s they are also greatly through the efforts of young Quvenzhane Wallis. She was actually six at the time of filming but she did her job excellently but also delivering a character as tough as nails as much as she was a happy spirit. Also a delight to see a child perform a character that isn’t too cutesy. I’ll admit she will make some people uncomfortable when she describes somebody as a ‘pussy’ but she delivers a character that’s not only tough but with the charm of those folk heroes of the southern US literature I keep talking about. Sure, Benh may have directed her to be such but took Wallis to be the perfect fit and to deliver.

Also as important is Dwight Henry. Being a non-actor is an advantage for him in portraying Wink. He delivers a character who’s gritty and stubborn but loving and gives Hushpuppy a tough bond that he wants to last even after he dies. The supporting actors didn’t have as strong of roles but their performances also added to the movie whether it was their performances or even their presence as non-actors as it made the story feel that much more realistic. Also they gave personalities to people one would normally call ‘rednecks’. People deemed ‘rednecks’ are the subject of jokes and humor form the light-hearted jokes of Jeff Foxworthy to the trashy faux-reality of Honey Boo Boo but this film shows them as people with needs just like everyday people. Kind of the same way Winter’s Bone portrayed people commonly known as ‘hillbillies.’ Interesting how this film was made on a budget of $1.8 million and it wins nominations from the Academy. Buzz and awards wins from both Sundance and Cannes definitely helped it. Funny how size matters where the little guy has an advantage.

Beast Of The Southern Wild is a piece of modern folklore by a director with a folklore upbringing that becomes an accomplishment through is directing and storytelling and Wallis’ portrayal of a pint-size heroine. Those who see it will never forget it.

And there you have it. This is now the thirteenth year in a row I’ve done my pursuit of seeing all the Best Picture winners before the Oscars. Hard to believe it myself. Yes it’s tiring but it becomes worth it both for the sake of my blog and for Oscar night.

Oscars 2012 Best Picture Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a woman who means business in Zero Dark Thirty.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a fearless CIA agent who means business in Zero Dark Thirty.

-So Patrick, be honest with me. You really believe this story? I mean…Osama bin Laden?

-Yeah.

-What part convinced you?

-Her confidence.

9/11 movies aren’t very successful and rarely are they good. I don’t know if Zero Dark Thirty can rightfully be called a 9/11 movie but boy does it deliver well. Many can argue it’s the best film of the year.

The film opens in 2003 as a prisoner Amar, who is believed to have connections to Saudi terrorists, is questioned brutally by CIA officer Dan at the US embassy in Pakistan on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He is joined by a young CIA officer, Maya, who has spent her entire brief career on intelligence related to Osama. Maya assists Dan in his humiliating torture on Amar at the black site until he confesses the name of Osama’s personal courier: Abu Ahmed. Other detainees corroborate the claim with some claiming there’s a middle-man between the two named Abu Faraj. Abu Faraj is captured in 2005 and Maya is able to interrogate him under torturous conditions. He denies Abu Ahmed but Maya suspects a cover-up.

The whole scenario is one long puzzle from 2003 to 2011 where Maya is trying to connect the pieces. Maya is trying to determine the identity of Abu Ahmed and trying to track his whereabouts or even existence with every piece of communication she can find. She interrogates prisoners. She searches for clues with every further incident associated with al-Qaeda that happens. During the time she’s able to go from a rookie CIA officer to a veteran over that period.

However the dark cloud keeps on lingering. Osama is still at large and sending tapes to al-Qaeda of his latest messages for broadcast. Terrorist attacks continue like the 2005 London bombings and the 2008 Islamabad Marriott bombings in which Maya is actually in the hotel dining with her friend Jessica and colleague. Both survive despite the explosion blowing a massive hole in the street. Even Maya survives being shot at.

It isn’t until the 2009 Camp Chapman attacks where a suicide bomber kills nine CIA agents including Jessica that marks a turning point. It’s there in a meeting with all those involved including Jessica that the head is disappointed with all and even humiliated that these many years have passed and Osama is still not caught. Terrorist attacks continue. None of the traces come up positive. Agents even concluded that Maya’s claim of Abu Ahmed is long dead and now a false trail. Soon Maya receives a lead from a researcher of the identity of Abu Ahmed. It isn’t until Maya is able to get a trace to the mother’s phone and even a sense of the use of tradecraft that the man really is Abu Ahmed and residing in an urban compound near a Pakistani military academy.

Months of heavy surveillance by the CIA fail to prove that bin Laden is there. Even Maya writes the number of ongoing days on her boss’ window. Finally a mission is planned to capture bin Laden in the compound but can only receive approval from Obama if it’s confirmed he’s there. Most of the CIA agents give certainty estimates ranging from 60 to 80% but Maya is 100% certain he’s there. The raid is given approval by President Obama on May 2nd. What takes place is history in the making. What is shown in the film will surprise even those most knowledgeable of the hunt for bin Laden.

The best thing about this movie is that it’s many things in one. It’s the story of the trace for the most wanted man in the world. It’s the story of a nation on a mission that’s long, complicating and frustrating as time goes by without success. It’s the story of one woman and her search to find that man. This is a multifaceted story that packs a lot into it. We see with each passing year and each passing additional terrorist attack committed by al-Qaeda how the search for Osama has to be done and how frustrating it is. We see from the people inside the government agencies the frustration they go through to find Osama with each passing year and with each additional terrorist attack. We also see from Maya her pursuit to find Osama through her computer work, questioning of those connected with al-Qaeda and her mappings out. But we also see her own personal involvement in the matter. She witnesses and questions the tortured prisoner. She’s with her friend and colleague in a hotel when an explosion happens. She loses that friend in another bomb explosion. She’s at the camp site when the mission to catch Osama is launched. This is as much Maya’s story and the U.S.’s story as it is about the hunt for Osama.

The funny thing is no one knows the identity of Maya. Many say she’s a certain different woman. Some say Maya is actually a combination of characters. All I can say is after this movie, she will be to the hunt for bin Laden what Deep Throat was to Watergate and we may never know her true identity until 30 or 40 years or even after her death. Only time will tell.

One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty is that it has a lot of furious message board activity wherever anything to do about the movie is discussed; not just IMDB. I myself believe that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did in fact cause the 9/11 invasions and destruction. I refute the claims of the 9/11 ‘truthers’ because I’ve done my own research. I’ve known of terrorist acts before 9/11 committed by al-Qaeda ordered by Osama and of terrorist acts since. I have read the news and have kept on top of things from the start of 9/11 to the various intermittent terrorist attacks to al-Qaeda’s acknowledgement of the death of Osama bin Laden. I’m not afraid to dismiss the claims of “9/11 was an inside job” for the garbage that I see it to be.

I’m not sorry I believe this and I refuse to consider myself a sheep. In fact I consider the ‘truthers’ that declare 9/11 to be an inside job out loud to be propagandists instead of truthers. They care more about media attention through their opportunistic public demonstrations and violent destruction of public property than they do about the truth coming out. Sometimes it left me wondering if left-wingers love calling everything a lie. Hey I’m from Vancouver: the leftist crap-disturber capital of the world–Right, Harsha Walia?– and they’ve given me every reason to think that way about them. Osama and al-Qaeda carried the acts of 9/11 out. Osama was brought to justice by being killed May 1, 2011. They should keep their media whore cravings to themselves. Hey, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for free-thinking. But don’t shove it down my throat as the truth! I’ll decide the truth for myself. Besides I’ve been on message boards long enough to know message boards are so full of clowns, who needs a circus?

Also on message boards are people saying how the movie doesn’t denounce violence towards prisoners of war. Let me remind you this movie is to tell the story as it happens. It owes nobody an anti-prisoner violence message. Besides as far as war goes, we are living in a time with the closest to humane methods of war. We didn’t have ‘smart’ weapons back in the past as we do now. Up until 50 years ago we didn’t show concern for innocent civilian deaths. And back then we didn’t care how prisoners of war were treated. War was war, the enemy was the enemy and a POW was a POW. Osama had a huge network of colleagues carrying out his actions and torture was necessary. Besides have we forgotten this is prison?

Without a doubt the movie was all Jessica Chastain’s. Her performance of Maya was a very 3D role of a woman who had feelings but had to be tough both emotionally and mentally to find Osama after such a long search for him. That scene at the very end when she sees ‘her mission accomplished’ was especially remarkable. It will be no surprise if Jessica wins the Oscar this year. It’s not to say that Jessica was the only good performance. Jason Clarke’s performance as Dan and Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Jessica was also good too. Chastain’s brilliant performance however couldn’t have been done firstly without the excellent direction of Kathryn Bigelow and the writing of Mark Boal. I have to say that Kathryn Bigelow has to be the most fearless director in Hollywood and Zero Dark Thirty shows how fearless she can be in touching very touchy subject matter. Mark Boal is also just as fearless. He’s a former journalist who has written books and news articles on the Iraq War. He would also go on to write the screenplay for Bigelow’s other fearless film The Hurt Locker. Its critical accolades and Oscar success helped make a name for both Boal and Bigelow. Both team up again here and they both deliver excellently.

Another interesting note is Zero Dark Thirty’s box office run. The first Bigelow/Boal film The Hurt Locker won the 2009 Best Picture Oscar but only grossed $17 million at the US box office: the lowest gross for a Best Picture winner since 1960’s The Apartment. Zero Dark Thirty is another Bigelow/Boal film that packs a lot of punch and this time it pays off at the US box office as it currently has grossed $78.6 million as of press time and its chances of passing $100 million look healthy. Great to see.

Zero Dark Thirty takes a piece of history that we all know and gives us some things we didn’t know. The outcome is the most fearless film of 2012 and one of the best films of the year. Definitely worth seeing.