Monthly Archives: March 2014

Oscars 2013 Shorts Review

CinemaI saw the Oscar-nominated shorts yesterday and this makes it the sixth year in a row I’ve seen them. However it almost wasn’t the case. By the time I arrived for the first segment, for the animated shorts, news was they were all sold out and those interested had to stand in a rush line. By the time the rush line were allowed, only those with orange tickets could get in. That had me waiting for a bit longer. Fortunately I was able to get in but I was probably the fourth-last in and my friend the third-last.

Nevertheless I was able to see all the shorts. And I’m able to give you all my thoughts as well as my picks for what Should Win and what Will Win:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

  • Get A Horse! – dir. Lauren MacMullan – If you’ve seen Frozen, you’ve already seen this short. At first you think this is a Disney cartoon from the 1930’s until Peg-Leg Pete gets nasty with Mickey and punches him off through the theatre screen and into the present as 3D. The whole story is a battle between the good characters and Peg-Leg Pete which has them all going from the black-and-white past to the 3D color present with humorous results. Very entertaining and funny and that’s why I pick it as my Will Win pick.
  • Mr. Hublot – dirs. Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares – This is very unique and also quite futuristic. It’s of a robot man who has a robot dog as a pet. He’s man’s best friend but gets bigger and bigger over time. So what’s Mr. Hublot to do? The short is more focused on the animation than in telling the story. It comes off as both intriguing and quite charming.
  • Feral – dir. Daniel Sousa – This may remind some of the 1960’s French film The Wild Child. This 2D film is of a boy found in the wilds of the wood by a hunter. He is taken and raised to be a human but finds at times he has to rely on his animal skills for survival. This short reminds us that not all the stories involve humor. Some are dark. This 2D short does capture the darkness of the story and one can get an understanding of it without any dialogue.
  • Possessions  – dir. Shuhei Morita – This is a unique style of Japanese anime: not of the style we commonly call ‘anime.’ This was not too focused on the plot as it was about the style of animation and the entertainment factor. Nevertheless very colorful and very entertaining. It also included a lot of elements of Japanese culture which I really liked. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.
  • Room On The Broom – dir. Jan Lachauer & Max Lang – This is another entertaining short from the team of animators responsible for the Gruffalo shorts. Here they tell a different story of a witch with a broom whom she first uses for herself and her cat. Soon other animals find a place on it until it becomes too small and it stars to break. Features voices of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins. Very charming story which is great for all ages. It will also remind you of the Gruffalo shorts.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:

  • Helium – dir. Anders Walter – This Danish short is of Alfred, a dying boy striking an unlikely friendship with Enzo, the hospital janitor. Enzo tells him the story of a place called Helium where he’s about to head to. The place is a wonderful fantasy world. The problem is that Alfred’s condition worsens as the story nears its end. Enzo has to tell Alfred about his trip to Helium before he dies but Enzo being a janitor is not allowed in the area. The story keeps from being your typical story of a dying child that pulls at your heartstrings. Instead it aims for a happy ending. It’s as much a nice trip to a fantasy world as it is a drama. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick. It could pull an upset to the one I think will win.
  • The Voorman Problem – dir. Mark Gill – This British short stars appearing as a drama but comes off as a surprise in the end. Dr. Williams feels he’s dealing with yet another mentally ill person when he’s dealing with a man named Voorman. Voorman tells him all sorts of bizarre and eccentric things, even how he destroyed the country of Belgium. Dr. Williams tells his encounters to his wife but is in for a surprise. A bigger surprise awaits him in what would be his last interview with Voorman. The best quality is its unpredictability and surprise ending.
  • Just Before Losing Everything – dir. Xavier Legrand – This French short starts off as a melodrama that you think is about the young boy Julien. Instead things take  sharp turn as Julien’s mother Miriam picks him up and his sister who leaves her boyfriend in tears. Turns out the mother is hiding herself and her children from her abusive husband and seeks the department store she works at as her refuge. Then her husband shows up. Excellent drama that’s very true to life and you don’t know what will happen next, even though you hope for the best result. That’s why this is my Will Win prediction.
  • That Wasn’t Me – dir. Esteban Crespo – The story begins as international doctors going to work in a village in Africa only to be held at gunpoint by child soldiers and then held hostage by an angry and accusative warlord. Frequent flash-forwards to when the young boy soldier is all grown up and telling his story to an audience. The drama of what takes place and how he’s able to escape is a painful reminder of child soldiers but also a message of hope that they can find a way out. Very well-played out and passes on a good message.
  • Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything? – dir. Selma Vilhunen – This Finnish short is actually a comedy. A family overslept and is late for a wedding. they’re in a rush to dress themselves and their children. The parents get themselves ready fine but their daughters end up in Halloween costumes. They forgot their present so they take their plant instead. even after they drop it while running to the church and smash the pot, they still take the plant there. The ending is a hilarious surprise. Definitely the funniest of the five and succeeds in entertaining in the seven minutes it has.

And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions of the five nominees from both shorts categories. Any of the five can win. I remember last year the ones I thought would win didn’t. We’ll just see which ones win on Oscar night. For those that want to know my predictions for all the other categories, click here.

Oscars 2013: 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 given out this Sunday. Those of you who were offended by Seth MacFarlane’s hosting last year, it’s your fault. You should know Seth is known for his envelope-pushing humor as demonstrated over the years in The Family Guy, American Dad and Ted. And he wasn’t going to soften anything for the Oscars. That’s his style.

Anyways enough of last year. This year will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. She’s an entertainer most can trust and she even proved herself a good Oscar host seven years ago.

Once again, I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees. This makes it the thirteenth 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:

  •  American Hustle– It seems as though these past two years, there’s been at least one film the critics just love but I can’t understand why all the rage. Last year was Django Unchained. This year it’s American Hustle. It’s because it does not make a lot of sense what this movie is to be about. No real focus. Or if there is, it doesn’t make it clear to us.
  • Captain Phillips– This is the most underrated movie of the nine nominees. The best quality is that it takes a no-nonsense approach and makes one think that these moments are actually happening. The terrorists were very believable. The doctors and armed forces were very believable in their roles. And Tom Hanks was excellent. It was a shame he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor.
  • Dallas Buyers Club– This is the best of the indie films. Matthew McConaughey and Jaret Leto do great character acting in a story that will not only keep one intrigued but also have one thinking about a topic that’s still present today: a drug system slow to approve. Deserving of a Best Picture nomination but lacking aspects for the win.
  • Gravity-This was thrilling and entertaining from start to finish. It featured excellent acting from Sandra Bullock and a lot of qualities in both filmmaking and visual effects seen before. It has finished behind Twelve Years A Slave at major awards shows. However I’m well-convinced that it could win it here, especially with all the directing awards Alfonso Cuaron has won. That’s why this is my Will Win pick.
  • Her-This is an odd movie that manages to charm and actually make sense. However it doesn’t look Best Picture-worthy against the main favorites of this year. Not that it matters too much to Spike.
  • Nebraska-This is my sentimental favorite. This is another winner from Alexander Payne. However it’s up against other movies with bigger buzz and a bigger box office draw. We shouldn’t forget that sometimes a low box office performance can decrease a film’s Oscar buzz.
  • Philomena-This is an very good story with very good acting. Even the story doesn’t come out as harsh as one would anticipate at the beginning. However this doesn’t appear to be Best Picture-worthy. Not while there are other nominated films with more muscle and more juice.
  • Twelve Years A Slave-I thought it was excellent and astonishing for its brutally truthful depiction of slavery. It has a lot of human elements in the film too. That’s why this is my Should Win pick. It has won loads of Best Picture accolades but I think it may stop short at the Oscars because of Gravity‘s Best Director boost. That’s one key ingredient that helps for the win of Best Picture.
  • The Wolf Of Wall Street-Once again, Scorsese shells out a film that’s sure to create an impact and has all the making of a Best Picture nominee. However the film is too over-the-top to deserve the Oscar win. There are times in which I wonder if some scenes were included in for the sake of shock value.

BEST DIRECTOR:

-Should Win: Steve McQueen – Twelve Years A Slave – I hope in the future, Steve includes his middle name or middle initial in the credits to differentiate himself from the Steve McQueen. Anyways if I were a member of the Academy, he’d get my vote for his unflinching and brutal portrayal of slavery during the 18th century. I also give him the credit for making this film a human story as well.

-Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity – Cuaron has received most of the directing accolades this year and rightly so. Firstly because he directs a film that intensely focuses on a single character, rarely taking its eyes off her. Secondly, because he directs a film that’s intended to flawlessly look like a trip in space. He works the simulation to a tee. I didn’t notice a technical glitch at all. It completely convinced me Ryan and Matt were in space.

BEST ACTOR:

-Should Win: Bruce Dern – Nebraska – This was a tough call between him and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Twelve Years A Slave but I went with Bruce. Firstly because he played a character whom many moviegoers would feel for. Secondly because portraying an elderly man with memory loss and senility takes a lot of physical acting effort on its part. Bruce was believable from start to finish.

-Will Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club – I may feel that Bruce Dern and Chiwetel were the best leading male performances of the year but McConaughey is not undeserving of the Oscar. He portrayed an excellent role that was challenging in terms of both character acting and physical acting. he also had to lose a lot of weight for that role too. Great job.

BEST ACTRESS:

-Should Win and Will Win:  Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine Okay I know I’m making my call just a day after finally seeing Blue Jasmine but I wanted to find out what all the buzz is about and it got my answer. Cate played an excellent character whom will make us want to laugh at, look down upon, but also feel for them in the end. That was a complicated deal that Cate pulled off.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

-Should Win and Will Win:  Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club – I know his performance has been all the rage with the awards juries. And rightly so. His performance was complicated as he had to play a transsexual character that was both comical and tragic. Not only did he succeed in that, he also succeeded  in stealing the movie from Matthew McConaughey at times. Great job.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

-Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o – Twelve Years A Slave – Oddly enough, she’s not the only big screen debut performance to get nominated. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips is the other. Lupita succeeds in giving the audience a character one can feel sympathy for without guilt. You can see the torture, both physical and mental, in her.

-Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle – Jennifer Lawrence has quite the resume stacked up at the tender age of 23. Already she’s been nominated by the Academy three times including one from last year that won Best Actress. It’s a tight race between her and Lupita but I think she’ll win. Even though I want Lupita to win, I don’t think Jennifer’s undeserving. Playing that ‘Wife Of A Thousand Leagues’ was quite the character.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win: Bob Nelson – Nebraska – This was a stronger year for original scripts than last year. I took a liking to this script of all the original script nominees. Firstly because it has all the makings for a cheesy movie but it becomes a work of excellence instead. Secondly because it succeeds in having the audience feel for the protagonist. I was very impressed.

-Will Win: Spike Jonze – Her – Spike is usually known for offbeat films with eccentric scripts thanks tho the likes of Charlie Kaufman. Here Spike does one of his own. It does have an unusual story line but it is one that oddly makes sense and even offers a glimpse into the future. I just hope people don’t end up dating computerized personas.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win & Will Win:  John Ridley – Twelve Years A Slave – The original scripts may have had the competitive edge this year but the adapted screenplays were also very strong.  The best of the bunch was the script from Twelve Years A Slave. It was excellent for its intensity and brutal truthfulness about slavery.

Just Three More:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

-Should Win and Will Win: Frozen – Okay, I admit this is the only nominee in the Animated Feature category I’ve seen. I still consider it a remarkable film with funny characters, charming songs and mesmerizing animation. And to think it’s still in the Box Office Top 10 just 14 weeks after its original release! Talk about a phenomenon.

Bonus Prediction:  Since we’re on the topic of Frozen, I predict the song Let It Go to win the Best Original Song category. I can’t think of another song this year, or even in the past five years for that matter, that has been as catchy.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

-Should Win and Will Win: The Great Beauty (Italy) – Okay I admit that just like Frozen, this is the only nominee in this category I’ve seen. Nevertheless it is a great intimate story with intriguing characters and awesome cinematography. I was very impressed when I saw it Tuesday night. Hard to find a movie that will challenge it.

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

BEST ART DIRECTION:

Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn – The Great Gatsby

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

Patricia Norris – Twelve Years A Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

20 Feet From Stardom

BEST FILM EDITING:

Alfonso Cuaron & Mark Sanger – Gravity

BEST MAKEUP:

Dallas Buyers Club

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

Steven Price – Gravity

BEST SOUND MIXING:

Gravity

BEST SOUND EDITING:

Gravity

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

Gravity

BEST ANIMATED SHORT and BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT:

Click Here For Predictions

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT:

Prison Terminal: The Last Days Of Private Jack Hall

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 hope Ellen delivers another winning show.

Oh yeah, here’s a bonus:

Other Nominated Movies I’ve Reviewed:

Saving Mr. Banks

Before Midnight

Star Trek Into Darkness

Iron Man 3

DVD Review: Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a socialite with all the wrong moves, in Blue Jasmine.

Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a socialite with all the wrong moves, in Blue Jasmine.

I’ll admit I did not see Blue Jasmine when it first came out in theatres. The Oscar buzz for it prompted me to watch the DVD. I’m glad it did and now I know why it’s buzzing.

Jasmine comes off a plane from New York to San Francisco. She tells the elderly female passenger next to her the story of how she used to be a top socialite in New York but is near broke and hoping to start a new life. She appears to have impressed the passenger but we learn in a conversation to her husband she didn’t welcome herself to Jasmine. Jasmine then goes to her sister Ginger’s apartment. The bizarre thing is Jasmine hardly ever gives Ginger any contact but is now seeing her because of her dire straits. It’s funny since Ginger–whom is actually sister to Jasmine via her parents’ adoption–always credited Jasmine as having the good genes. The problem is that even though Jasmine is drowning in debt, she’s still set in her opulent ways.

Frequently Jasmine flashes back to her luxurious past with her husband Hal and her stepson Danny. Life was good for Jasmine and Hal appeared to be very successful as an investor It’s years ago when Ginger and her original husband Augie come to visit her in New York that things started to decline. First Jasmine offers an investment opportunity for Augie through Hal with the $200,000 he won in the lottery: money Augie was planning to use to start a business opportunity for himself. Augie and Ginger thought they’re being treated by Jasmine with a stay at the Marriott and their car and driver but Jasmine put them there because they cramped her style. It’s right during one of their sightseeing tours they noticed Hal kissing another woman.

It later became clear that Hal is a fraudster who would eventually get arrested, convicted of fraud, sentenced to prison and later committing suicide. Augie’s money was lost and it led to Augie and Ginger’s divorce. Ginger forgives Jasmine even though Augie is still resentful but is now dating a mechanic named Chili, a man Jasmine resents at first sight and gives Ginger snide remarks about him. The remarks cause Ginger to leave Chili much to his hurt.

Jasmine comes to San Francisco in hopes of starting a new life. She missed completing her anthropology degree because she fell for Hal. She wants to become an interior designer but has to take courses online and lacks computer skills. She reluctantly takes a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office. Nevertheless it does not work out as Jasmine finds the job too stressful for her and receives unwelcomed sexual advances from the dentist.

Things do improve for Jasmine as she falls in love with a wealthy widower named Dwight who’s a diplomat with plans to become a congressman. Ginger also meets a new love named Al at the same party. Jasmine is able to win Dwight’s affection through lies of her being married to a doctor who died of a heart attack. The lies fall through when Augie bumps into them on the street and tells the whole story, including the details that her stepson Danny is working in a record store in Oakland. Right in the car ride home Dwight calls off the engagement and leaves Jasmine on the street. She visits Danny at the record store to no avail. Danny didn’t even want Jasmine to know his whereabouts. He wants to leave the past behind which means never seeing Jasmine again.

It’s right in a flashback at the end we learn of when Jasmine confronted Hal of his many affairs. Hal confesses he wants to divorce her in favor of a teenage maid for Danny. That was when she called the police and had Hal arrested for fraud which led to his imprisonment and suicide. In the end, Jasmine has to face the music for what she did to Danny, to Augie, for her interference with the love between Ginger and Chili, and herself in general.

It seems odd at first to see a Woody Allen movie classified as a drama. We’re all used to Woody Allen doing comedies. Mind you it’s after seeing this movie that there are a lot of elements that are darker than what one would expect in a Woody Allen film. It succeeds in not being too comical and even serious in some of the harsher parts of the movie. Nevertheless there are a lot of comical elements in this film despite the situation.

If there’s one thing that it does have in common with Woody Allen movies, it’s that it ends completely unexpectedly. It’s bizarre that you think things are going to go better for Jasmine in the end. Instead it all ends up worse, she fails at making peace with whatever wrongs of the past she did, whatever improvements in her own life fell through the cracks and she’s left all alone. She’s even confronted of her real name: Jeanette. She is the type of rich phony whom could easily charm and impress anyone but had a lot to hide and hid it well at the time. In the end, she has nothing left to hide and no one left to charm. She goes from being the life of the party to a person not even one on a park bench would want to be around. It’s also surprising since Jasmine would remind some of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with The Wind. Sure, Scarlett lost it all in the end too but she still held her head high at the very end with a sense of hope. Here, you don’t see a hint of ‘Tomorrow is another day’ in Jasmine.

Sometimes I think it’s not just a story to do about a socialite who gets a reality check but sometimes I think it’s a message from Woody Allen. For all intents and purposes, you’d probably know that Woody Allen is not the type who likes to go to big Hollywood parties. He hardly even makes visits to the Academy Awards. Sometimes I think his is his statement about the social scene and the phonies involved with it. It’s also a story with a lot of good relevance. It may have been more relevant had it been done ten years ago as Paris Hilton was constantly embarrassing moment after embarrassing moment upon herself, and getting more famous off of it in the meantime. Nevertheless it still does show relevance as Kim Kardashian’s exploits still make a lot of copy, if not the same hugeness of copy as say two years ago.

Yes, Woody Allen did a very good job of directing and writing this story but it was Cate Blanchett who did the greatest effort in making the character of Jasmine. The interesting thing is that Cate succeeds in making Jasmine to be the charismatic but snooty, phony, superficial, self-indulgent, materialistic socialite who deserves to be looked down upon. But she does something else. Right at the very end, she succeeds in making us actually feel from sympathy for Jasmine. Sure she went from impressing everybody to causing great personal and financial harm to others and ending up with nobody. But for some reason, the end scene actually succeeds in making us feel for Jasmine. What was it? Her willingness to try to do better? Her coming to her senses too much too late? Whatever it was, that was something hard to do and I give Cate great kudos for pulling that off. I think that’s why she has that edge in the Oscar race.

The best supporting performance has to go to Sally Hawkins as Ginger: the sister that’s supposedly the inferior one but comes off as the winner in the end. Sally also did a very good job of character acting and made Ginger into a believable and colorful personality. Finally we see which sister has the ‘good genes.’ The female leading roles were the best of the film but the male roles were also great from Alec Baldwin playing the scamming superficial Hal, to Bobby Canavale as the ‘inferior’ Chili, to Michael Stuhlbarg as the sleazy dentist, to Peter Saarsgard as the politician Jasmine has a second-chance with to Andrew Dice Clay as the distraught ex-husband of Ginger (and I hardly noticed any of the ‘Dice Man’ in him). The women ruled the movie but the male supporting roles also added to the story and contained character flares of their own. The movie didn’t really have too many stand-out technical aspects but the scenic cinematography and the music tracks added to the movies charm.

Blue Jasmine has all the ingredients of a Woody Allen movie. Only it’s more of a drama than a comedy. Nevertheless it’s something Woody and the actors pull off excellently to make it work.