Monthly Archives: February 2015

Oscars 2014 Live-Action Shorts Review

Cinema

Most years I have the luxury of seeing both the animated and live-action shorts nominees back-to-back. This year I didn’t have that much of a luxury because of how tightly scheduled my life is right now. Actually I could’ve waited to see the ‘double feature’ the day before the Oscars but why should I wait when I have many chances in the days and weeks leading up? I had the good luck of seeing the animated nominees last week. I had my chance to see the live-action ones just a couple of days ago. I’m glad so I can make my predictions well ahead of time. So here’s my review of the shorts and my predictions:

Parvaneh – dirs. Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger – Parvaneh is a teenage Afghani girl living in the Swiss alps trying to make money for her family, especially her ailing father to afford medicine. It’s hard enough staying in refugee housing away from her family and being around young sleazy guys. It’s not clear whether she’s a legal emigre or illegal. However it’s hard to get good work. It’s also hard for her to send money since she doesn’t have the right ID to send and she’s under 18.

While in Zurich where she traveled to in order to send money via Western Union, she asks a street girl for help. She’s willing to but at a percentage: she starts at 50% but is negotiated down to 10%. At first the girl decides to just simply help Parvaneh or ‘Pari’ by just having her at her mother’s, whom she’s not on good terms with, while she’s showering. Both arrive too late as the Western Union is closed.

The girl decides to take Pari out to a party while she’s staying overnight. Pari is reluctant at first but starts getting more comfortable over time to the point she is enjoying herself. The girl has her own fun but doesn’t let Pari out of her sights. Unfortunately more drinking than Pari can handle leaves her feeling sick. Outside she’s approached by a young male trying to seduce her. Her refusal to accept only leads him to get even more invasive with her. It isn’t until the other girl comes out and attacks the male that he stops and runs off, only for Pari to find out her money was stolen by him. They are able to get the money back. The film ends on a delightful note.

The film can be seen by having a lot of themes about it. One theme could be of all the young males who think they’re God’s gift to women and hit on a girl like Parvaneh. Another could be on the theme of the relation between native Swiss and emigres. I don’t know how the native Swiss population treat emigres or foreigners so I can’t say. However seeing what became of two young girls who are complete strangers– an Afghani emigre and a Swiss street girl — and cultivate into a friendship overnight feel this may be a story with a social message. And one with a happy ending. Very well-written and well-acted. That’s why I feel this Should Win the Oscar.

Butter Lamp – dirs. Wei Hu and Julien Feret – Two Chinese men are taking portraits in a Tibetan village. They’re of various Tibetan families, children, people of authority and even a newlywed Chinese couple that live there. Many of the Tibetans wear traditional clothes. Some wear modern clothes. Some pose with props like their yak, their religious items and even a motor scooter for the couple. They pose by the various backdrop that include Tiananmen Square, Tibetan Himalayas, downtown Shanghai, gardens, the inside of the Beijing 2008 stadium (where children pose on a podium wearing plastic medals and a paper torch) and Jokhang Temple whom an elderly woman mistakes as the real thing. Most of the time it works well. In one case, a man walked off because they thought a jacket he was wearing wasn’t right. It turns out it belonged to his late mother.

During the various photo shoots, you feel that the film is trying to send a message about Tibetans in China. You feel like it’s confirmed at the end as they shut down for the day, take down the backdrop setting exposing a bridged highway under construction in the mountain area, and talk about ‘authorities’ coming the next day. It’s a very impressive short as this short does send a statement about the mistreatment of Tibetans by the People’s Republic and the encroachment of modernization in their region, especially with various Chinese peoples coming to the ‘province.’ Very good short that says a lot just by showing a common situation.

The Phone Call – dirs. Matt Kirkby and James Lucas – It stars Sally Hawkins and James Broadbent. Heather is a shy woman who works as a helpline call centre respondent with Daniel who’s just simply her co-worker. Her first call of the day comes from a man names Stan. Stan is in tears as he is a widowed man for two years. He has just taken a load of pills. Heather does what she can to find help for him but he refuses as he wants to die. Heather tries to develop conversation in hopes of getting results. She finds out more about his history with his late wife Joan and even learns about their one child, a stillborn daughter. Just as things get friendlier and there appears to be a ray of hope that he’ll want to live, a surprise happens. It leads to an unexpected ending that appears to turn for the better for both.

It’s hard to tell if it’s giving a social message or not. You could assume it’s to do about the lonely people in England or even depression. You could even assume at the end as Stan (whose real name is John) and Joan are reunited in death that the filmmaker is saying this is how it’s supposed to be or even about true love forever. Even at the end as Heather has wine with Daniel could send a message about love that’s meant to be. Nevertheless it does make for a good story that keeps you paying attention and wondering what will happen next.

-Aya – dirs. Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis – Aya is a 29 year-old woman at Tel Aviv airport waiting for a family to arrive. A chauffer to a Jerusalem hotel who’s waiting for a Danish man named Mr. Overby to arrive has to leave and gives Aya the sign while he’s gone temporarily. As Mr. Overby arrives, Aya doesn’t tell him to wait for his chauffeur. Instead she acts as the chauffeur and even has a dinner with him. As she drives him to the hotel, which she doesn’t know how to drive to, the conversation gets more personal as she learns he’s a musical judge in Jerusalem for a competition. It even gets more personal for her as she wants his attention. She does eventually reveal she’s not his driver and welcomes an intimate moment with him. You think that she has met a new love but you get a surprise ending.

I will admit I thought this would end up being political. It’s hard to blame me as year by year, many of the nominated shorts in this category end up having a political message. However this turns out to be something different. It’s entertaining too because how the story of a mismatch appears to lead to something romantic. This is my prediction on which short Will Win the Oscar.

-Boogaloo and Graham – dirs. Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney – The story is set in Belfast in 1978 and narrated by a grown-up Jamesy. Back then, Jamesy and Malachy are two brothers growing up in Belfast. Their father is a bit of a dreamer and lousy at keeping jobs and the mother is unhappy with the marriage, even constantly calling him a ‘fool.’ One day the father brings the two baby chicks. The boys immediately fall in love with the two and the chicks become the best of friends. They’d much rather have the chicks than a dog because ‘everybody has a dog.’ They’ll even make themselves partial vegetarians because of their friendship with the chicks whom they named Boogaloo and Graham.

Months pass by, Boogaloo and Graham grow up to be full-grown chickens but the brothers’ friendship with them is still as thriving as ever. However their parents announce that they’re expecting a new baby and the chickens will have to be killed. The boys refuse to accept this to the point they’ll even run away right in the middle of the dangerous inner city streets of Belfast. However just as the chickens are about to be killed, they all learns Boogaloo’s a female that lays eggs. Renamed Boogalooloo, the parents change their mind.

No question there is a political message. It’s a reminder of children that grow up in political hot spots that they face a load of dangers and ugly realities most children don’t have to face and grow up too fast. Jamesy and Malachy are boys growing up in Belfast in 1978 when political tension was at its most heated. Bombings and shootings between Catholics and Protestants were all too common at the time and children like Jamesy and Malachy were not immune. However it was a story where Jamesy and Malachy found an escape from it and they found it with Boogaloo and Graham. Having Boogaloo and Graham as pets and even friends helped Jamesy and Malachy stay children during that time. It’s a funny charming story which allowed the children to be cute without being hard to stomach. Even the boys’ talk about sex will have you laughing. A charming comedy. Also the inclusion of the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ may seem odd in a film like this but later on you’ll think it fit the film well.

This is a unique selection of short films this year. Some were political while some just wanted to tell a simple story. Some did have a dark story to it while some were more comedic. It’s always hard to predict which short will win or whether they will choose a political one or non-political one. We’ll have to see on Sunday which one wins.

Double Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6

Normally I would do single movie reviews. Additionally, I never really had plans to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6. When it comes to animated movies, I mostly go to see the one or ones that look like they have the best chances of winning Best Animated Feature. All year I thought I had it all wrapped up when I saw The LEGO Movie and nothing else. Then the Oscar nominations came and The LEGO Movie was inexplicably snubbed out of that category. That led me scramming to see both movies. I saw Dragon 2 on a DVD while I was lucky to see Hero on the big screen. Here are my thoughts:

Dragon 2

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

Making a sequel from a hit movie is always a challenge as commercial pressures will demand it. It’s sink or swim as it can either be a continuation of the original’s charm or simply a flavorless rehash of the original. Yes, the audience will distinguish between tried-and-true and tried-and-tired. We saw how Shrek burst on the scene back in 2001 but its excellence and flavor declined with each subsequent movie. Now How To Train Your Dragon has its sequel out. Will How To Train Your Dragon 2 measure up?

First off, the writers and producers did the right thing by releasing the sequel four years after the original and four years since they first started work on it as opposed to the three years between the Shrek films. For those unfamiliar with work on animated features, it takes four years to create from start to finish. The focus on the story this time is in the Fjords of Norway. The story begins with Hiccup, still awkward but well-respected. It also adds in a story where he experiences friction between his girlfriend and his father as well as an enemy he must fight.

I’m unsure if the story would remain true to what Cressida Cowell wrote in her dragon books but I do feel the story is not ‘spoiled’ as so many sequels as most sequels, both animation and live-action, are prone to do. It will continue to delight fans of the first Dragon movie too. The story was darker this time as this would include the death of Stoick and Toothless is under a spell which causes him to want to attack Hiccup. I believe the story would be more suitable for older children but one thing the story doesn’t do is lose the charm of the original. It also has its fun moments and a happy ending that should make it enjoyable for the whole family.

Now on to the technical bits. Whenever I watch a 3D animated movie, I especially pay attention to the quality of the images and effects. I know that each image has to have 100% detail in order to succeed. Any glitch or inconsistency will hurt the movie. I didn’t notice any glitches in the images. I felt the detail was very accurate from the scales on the dragon to the fire they unleashed. The characters’ mouths were always in sync with the dialogue. The film’s images also continued to give the audience a thrill-ride. Naturally when you have a film of people travelling on dragons, you would expect there to be images of the various flights and even parts in the movie that get the audience feel like they’re flying on their own dragons too. The audience will come expecting that. People come to such movies for the escape and the thrill-ride of it all. It succeeds in doing so and it does a top notch job of doing so.

I’m sure that most of you expected The LEGO Movie to win Best Animated Feature even before the nominations were announced. I did too. An interesting bit of trivia to know is that Dragon 2 actually beat out The LEGO Movie in that category to win major awards like the National Board of Review award, the Annie Award and the Golden Globe. Now with The LEGO Movie snubbed out of that category, it appears safe to assume that Dragon 2 will win the Oscar. However that snub reminds us nothing is a foregone conclusion as it is possible Big Hero 6 or The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya could pull an upset.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 was faced with the common pressures of a movie sequel but was able to overcome them to the point they again deliver a movie that’s entertaining and a thrill-ride and still maintains the charm of the original without appearing to exhaust it or stray too far away from it.

Big-Hero-6

BIG HERO 6

Now moving on from a sequel to an original. And moving from one I saw on DVD to one I was lucky to see on the big screen. This time a Disney film: Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6 is based off of characters from the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel comics that first hit shelves in 1998 and went under the Marvel name in 2008. However the story for the film is nothing like the comic series. In the comic series, the characters were all heroes commissioned and created by the Japanese government. Hiro Takachiho was a 13 year-old whiz kid who became part of the team after his mother was kidnapped and creates a Godzilla-style monster hero off of his deceased father’s brain named Baymax. The comics come with the type of over-the-top violence and imagination that you would come to expect from Japanese comic books. The comics have won a following here in the US.

Here for the film, we have a much different story. Hiro is an orphaned boy who lives with his brother Tadashi in San Fransokyo. Hiro commonly gets himself in trouble as he tries to win bot-fights for money but Tadashi takes him to his polytechnic. Hiro thinks it will be the ‘nerd school’ he thinks it is but is amazed with what he sees created by Tadashis’s friends –including his brother’s creation: Baymax, the inflatable virtual doctor which is kept at home–and tries to win a scholarship in a young innovators contest held by the school. After winning the scholarship, a fire breaks out killing Tadashi and a professor.

Hiro feels alone at first even distancing himself from Tadashi’s friends but Baymax suddenly becomes a friend-like to him despite Hiro being unwelcome at first. Later as Hiro learns more new truths about what really happened at the school that night and how his brother really dies, Hiro gets Baymax and the friends to team up to get his brother’s killer. All of them don costumes in the images of the Big Hero 6 comic book characters except Baymax who has an outfit more like Iron Man.

I don’t think the movie was meant to be a film version of the main comic book characters. Remember writers can adapt stories into whatever they want. It’s obvious Walt Disney Studios wanted to do their own story with the characters and have it as a family-friendly film. It succeeds in doing so as it creates a story that’s thrilling, entertaining and imaginative. The story also has a good message for children too as justice is better than any revenge. It also doesn’t try to be too dark in the situations involving Tadashi’s death and Hiro being an orphan.

Although this is an original film, it’s not to say it was without its pressures. We shouldn’t forget this movie comes a year after Walt Disney released the phenomenon Frozen. It wasn’t simply a hit movie. It became a marketing phenomenon and even spawned a release of a sing-along version. Already you could tell there would be pressure upon the release of their follow-up. Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly deliver to the dame length Frozen has. It has its charm and is a likable film on its own. Whatever the situation, Big Hero 6 was not hurt at the box office as it has already grossed more than $200 million and has been nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Another thing Big Hero 6 succeeds in doing is it adds to the recent resurgence to the Walt Disney Animation Studios. For decades the studios reigned supreme in the world of animated motion pictures. It had very few challengers save for Spielberg animation in the 80’s but made a comeback in the 90’s with 2D masterpieces like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. However the studios knew that the world of 3D animation was coming and it did become the case as soon Disney’s partnership with Pixar would create the 3D revolution in animated features. The flavor of the 2D movies from the main Disney Studios were running thin as they couldn’t compete with the Disney/Pixar movies. Eventually Walt Disney Animation Studios did acquire the skills and know how to create their own successful 3D animated movies starting with 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph which rivaled Pixar’s Brave that year and Frozen from last year. Big Hero 6 succeeds in keeping its comeback alive. The Disney/Pixar partnership is still there but it’s good to see Pixar now has a rival with Walt Disney Animation Studios back on its feet.

Big Hero 6 may not be a phenomenon like Frozen nor is it the best animated feature of the year. Nevertheless it succeeds in being entertaining on its own and is another plus in the comeback of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.