Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Super Bowl 50 Preview

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DISCLAIMER: Seeing all the hits made in the past week to my Super Bowl blog from last year prompted me to publish my pre-Super Bowl blog earlier than expected. Just to let you know my prediction could change in the days leading up to the Bowl.

Can you believe this will be the 50th Super Bowl? For some who are old enough to remember the first, it would be hard to believe. Nevertheless this American ritual will be having its 50th on Sunday February 7th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This year it’s the AFC’s Denver Broncos versus the NFC’s Carolina Panthers.

THE START OF AN AMERICAN TRADITION

1st Super Bowl

An image of play during the first ever Super Bowl where the Green Bay Packers (in green) beat the Kansas City Chiefs (in white) to become the first ever winners.

The Super Bowl actually came out of a league rivalry. The NFL began in 1920 but there was an AFL, the American Football League, that formed in 1960 and it provided some heated rivalry with the NFL. In 1966, a merger was worked out between the NFL and the AFL in which would take full effect in 1970. In the meantime, both league’s top teams would compete in a ‘World Championship’ event.

The first Super Bowl which was actually called the ‘First AFL-NFL World Championship Game’ was held on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The NFL team was the Green Bay Packers led by Vince Lombardi. The AFL team was the Kansas City Chiefs. NBC had the rights to broadcast NFL games while CBS had the rights to broadcast AFL games which meant both networks could show the first Super Bowl: the only Super Bowl which was telecasted by two networks at once.

There was a halftime show but it wasn’t the show as we know it. The show featured trumpeter Al Hirt with the marching bands of the University of Arizona and Grambling State University followed by the release of 300 pigeons and 10,000 balloons and a flying demonstration by the Bell Rocket Air Men. There was also pregame entertainment and performances after each quarter from the Los Angeles Rammettes. The game was held on a sunny day with 22º Celsius (or 73º Fahrenheit) weather and the game was won by the Packers 35-10. Interesting fact: the players of the winning team the Packers were each paid $15,000 and each player of the Chiefs were paid $7,500. Oh yeah, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial was $42,000.

Lombardi

Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi is congratulated after his team won the first ever Super Bowl. They’d win again next year.

Over time the Super Bowl would grow in both ratings and stature. The Packers’ win in the second Super Bowl, which would be the first Super Bowl by name, would add to the legend of coach Vince Lombardi. Ratings would grow considerably, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial would also grow hugely, marching band performances during the Halftime show would eventually be replaced over time first in 1976 by the ensemble Up With People–the first of four Super Bowl appearances for the ensemble– and would follow with performances by Disney, Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, Aerosmith and of course the infamous duo of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Super Bowl is now watched over 100 million Americans. In fact last year’s game amassed a record US audience of 114.4 million viewers. It’s even attracted viewers worldwide with a total worldwide audience of 160 million last year.

IT’S SHOWTIME

Okay. So what does this year’s Super Bowl have planned? For starters, let’s focus on the stadium. The host venue will be the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home venue for the San Francisco 49ers and the newest stadium of the NFL. It took over two years of construction to complete at an expense of $2 billion. It has a regular capacity of 68,500 that can be expanded to 75,000 which will of course happen Super Bowl Sunday. As of press time, it has not been decided who will sing the national anthem.

Oh yes, the half-time show. Two months ago it was revealed that ‘multiple acts’ will perform in the show. Remember the alleged financial fiasco last year that led Coldplay and Rihanna from balking out of last year’s show? Well Coldplay agreed back in December to perform this year and be the headlining act. Two headlining acts from past Super Bowls Beyonce from Super Bowl XLVII and Bruno Mars from Super Bowl XLVIII, have been confirmed by Pepsi that they will also be performing.

AND NOW A WORD…

Yes, the Super Bowl ads. Every Super Bowl provides us with memorable ads like Mean Joe Greene’s Coke And A Smile, Apple’s 1984, McDonald’s Jordan/Bird hoops showdown, the Budweiser frogs, Mr. Old Spice and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader ad. Last year is most memorable for a commercial remembered for worse thanks to Nationwide Insurance. That commercial about the boy who died in the car accident sparked a social media outrage because most felt it interfered with their enjoyment. Nationwide responded they did the ad to start conversation.

Much to many people’s relief, Nationwide does not appear to back advertising this year. Advertising for a 30-second spot will come at the expense of $5 million. Surprisingly this will be the last year Anheuser-Busch will be advertising multiple ads during the game at a steep discount as part of their contract. This is also the tenth and last year Doritos will have their ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ contest to allow viewers to air their ads. The Pokemon Company will be airing an ad to celebrate their 20th anniversary and QuickBooks is sponsoring a contest to allow ten businesses to air their commercial during the game. Also expect a lot of movie companies to plug their upcoming releases.

THE LOW DOWNSuper Bowl 50

Now enough of the hype. Let’s get down to the game. One thing about this Super Bowl is that with it being the 50th, it will be known as Super Bowl 50 instead of Super Bowl L. Also with it being the 50th, the winning team will not only hold the Super Bowl all year but will also receive an honorary 18-karat gold-plated 50 weighing 66 lbs. The game will pit the AFC winner Denver Broncos against the NFC winner Carolina Panthers. So how do they fare?

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are no strangers to the Super Bowl. This Super Bowl makes them the fourth team ever to make a record eight Super Bowl appearances. They’ve only won twice, back-to-back in 1997 and 1998. Hey, there was a big long AFC dry-spell which the Broncos broke.

This year the Broncos were one of three teams in the AFC including the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots that had a 12 win-4 loss season this year. The Broncos came out on top because of less points conceded. The season started with a new head coach in Gary Kubiak and John Elway, who helped the Broncos win both Bowls, continuing as general manager. There were 15 departures and more than 30 signings and three trades and eight signed in the NFL draft.

The Broncos started their regular season on a stellar note winning their first seven games. Their only losses came against the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. During the AFC playoffs, they were able to avenge their loss to the Steelers by winning 23-16 and won the championship against the New England Patriots 20-18.

This has been an excellent year for the Broncos. No doubt about it Peyton Manning is still on even after a tear in his foot back in November and the defense is the admiration of the league. However I saw the AFC game and I saw both the Broncos and the Patriots commit a lot of fumbles and clumsy errors. I was tempted to think neither of them deserved to qualify for the Bowl. Whatever the situation, the Broncos will have to get their game on for the big day.

Carolina Panthers

While the Broncos know how to play in a Super Bowl, the Panthers are almost like rookies. They’ve only played in the Super Bowl once and it was back during Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost to the Patriots. This year they deliver what could be their best team ever. Heck if there’s one team that could truly call this year their year, it’s the Panthers.  Winning their first thirteen games, they set an NFC record for best start of a season and one of only three teams in the NFL’s history to have a 13-0 start. Their only loss of their regular season games came from the Atlanta Falcons. On top of it, this was Cam Newton’s year as he became the first quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and rush for 10 in a single season. As for playoffs, they faced a stiff challenge from the Seattle Seahawks but won 31-24. However it was their NFC Championship game where they really put on a show by beating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15.

If you saw that game against the Cardinals, you could tell that the Panthers were on fire. They committed few errors and delivered team play like no other team. On top of that Cam Newton looked like the player of the year. However they have not played the Denver Broncos so they might know what type of defense they have. As for Panthers’ defense, they faced a setback in Sunday’s game as Thomas Davis broke his arm. Even though he’s undergoing rehab and plans to play in the Super Bowl, it’s still a question if he’ll be healed in time to play.

MY PREDICTION FOR THE WIN

This is not going to be easy. One’s experienced in Super Bowl play while one is more eager than ever. The Broncos have the top defense but the Panthers have the offensive edge. This could be a game where Peyton Manning ads to his legacy or the game where a new legend by the name of Cam Newton arrives. Sure, the Broncos won in clumsy fashion on Sunday while the Panthers were brilliant but that was one day. Super Bowl Sunday could tell a different story. So I will predict that Super Bowl 50 will be won by the Carolina Panthers 25-20. Plus it’s always a delight to see a team win a Super Bowl for the first time ever.

And there you have it. My thoughts on Super Bowl 50. Should be a delightful game. The entertainment both on the field and during commercial time should also be memorable and hopefully very entertaining. Both teams’ fates will be decided Sunday February 7th.

 

 

 

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot to offer fans of the Star Wars series including new characters like BB-8 and Rey (played by Daisy Ridley).

It never fails with me. I have the habit of ‘waiting until the crowds die down’ to see a blockbuster movie. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do when it involves a Star Wars movie, especially not Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I saw it three weeks after its release. I’m glad I finally saw it.

I won’t explain the story line like I do in most reviews, especially since most of you have already seen it by now, unless of course you’ve been under a rock. One thing about this movie is that it wasn’t just simply bringing another volume of the Star Wars series to the screen. The film’s job was also to bring back the magic of Star Wars people have come to know and love. No kidding the first three Star Wars movies from 1977 to 1983, those that are now referred to as episodes 4 to 6, captivated the world. Watch any one of them nowadays and you’ll see why.

However when George Lucas did the three prequels from 1999 to 2005, many fans felt something was missing. No doubt The Phantom Menace had huge expectations but they missed them and disappointed a lot of fans. Attack Of The Clones tried to be better but still something was noticeably missing. The scene of the fighting Yoda added excitement but it was one small added element. Revenge Of The Sith was the best of the prequels but the feel of Star Wars was still not there. I think it was best summed up by my sister who’s a huge Star Wars fan: “George Lucas knows how to direct sci-fi but he doesn’t know how to direct actors.” Good point because it’s been proven in other action movies or sci-fi movies in the past that special effects no matter how dazzling cannot overtake a lousy story or lousy acting.

Now we should remember that The Force Awakens or Episode Seven was actually thought up by George Lucas way back in the 1970’s as he was dreaming out and writing out the whole Star Wars series. Lucas made it clear after Revenge Of The Sith he will no longer direct Star Wars movies. In fact he sold LucasFilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012. The first thing Disney did was bring The Force Awakens on screen. The director they hired was J.J. Abrams who has an extensive resume in writing and directing thrillers and sci-fi like Armageddon, Mission Impossible III (his directorial debut), Super 8 and the last two Star Trek movies. Hired to adapt the story to screenplay was Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote the scripts for Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi but didn’t help co-write any of the prequels, and rising writer Michael Arndt.

The mix turned out to be the right chemistry as it was able to bring the magic of the story back to life. The recreation of the two worlds also worked excellently. There was however one challenge I feel it didn’t overcome. That was when they brought back Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. There were a few times that I felt that instead of adding to the latest Star Wars story, it almost made it seem like a ‘Star Wars reunion.’ Even adding C3P0, Chew and R2D2 in there also added to that feeling this was like a ‘reunion” I don’t know if the huge following of Star Wars had a lot to do with why I felt that it seemed like a ‘Star Wars reunion’ but that’s how I felt.

One thing I have to say is the best thing about this Star Wars story are the new elements and the new characters of the story. One thing you hope to get with each Star Wars film are new characters that are able to charm us whether it be the philosopher Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back or even villains like Jabba The Hutt in Return Of The Jedi. Here was get appealing characters like Rey and Poe Dameron and even villains like Kylo Ren. I don’t know if they will deliver the same craze Luke, Leia and Han first did but moviegoers have welcomed them to the Star Wars saga. In addition we have a plot twist in this film as Storm Trooper Finn deserts his duty to fight against the Dark Side. That’s a key element leading into Episode Eight in anticipation in what will happen next.

In addition, adding BB-8 to the Star Wars saga was a plus. Usually adding in something cutesy to the Star Wars Saga is a risk. C3P0 and R2D2 had a big part in making the first Star Wars‘ greatness. The Ewoks of Return Of The Jedi helped make the story. However Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Menace was too irritating and had a lot to do with that episode’s constant panning. BB-8 was cute but he was more the cute one would welcome and be entertained by rather than easily get irritated with. BB-8 actually added to the quality of The Force Awakens. Even the scenes where R2D2 meets BB-8 for the first time come across as funny instead of ridiculous.

It’s not to say the older elements weren’t good. They may not have stood out like the newer elements but they still fit the movie excellently. I know I talked about bringing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back made it feel like a ‘Star wars reunion’ but they were intended to be in the story from the start and intended to age 30 years. I can’t think of anyone else who could play their characters. The Dark Side and its darkness still maintained its mystery and villainous feel. The battles were also excellent to watch. Oh yes, the light saber battles. You can’t have a Star Wars episode without light saber battles. There weren’t as many this time around but they still dazzled.

I will have to say J.J. Abrams succeeds with flying colors in directing and co-writing the latest in the Star Wars saga. He’s proven in the past he can direct sci-fi and direct actors and he was the right man to take over the Star Wars series right after George Lucas let it go. The acting was not stellar but it was very good. The best acting came from those performing the ‘new roles’ like Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs. Driver especially delivered an unpredictable villain. The set designs fit the movie perfectly and were able to replicate the ships, planets and lands of the story perfectly. The visual effects were top notch again and worked the movie excellently. And of course they had to bring back John Williams as the score’s composer. Even at 83, Williams is still at it. It seems as though there’s no other composer who can do it for Star Wars and he delivers again.

Without a doubt the biggest news about Star Wars 7 is all the box-office records it’s breaking. It already broke the opening weekend record with $247.9 million: almost breaking the quarter-billion barrier. It would go on to break the North American total box office record held by Avatar on January 5th: the very day I saw it! It now stands at $879.3 million and currently sits at #2 at the box office. Worldwide it sits at $1.94 billion currently and appears poised to break Avatar’s record of $2.788 billion. Only time will decide that.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very good addition to the Star Wars series. Not only that but it brings back a lot of the Star Wars magic that appeared missing from the prequels. What can I say? Star Wars mania is back and rightly so.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Brooklyn

Brooklyn is the story of Irish girl Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who comes to America and is swept away by a Brooklyn boy (played by Emory Cohen).

Brooklyn is the story of Irish girl Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who comes to America and is swept away by a Brooklyn boy (played by Emory Cohen).

Brooklyn looks like a film that would be a favorite for a Best Picture Oscar, under traditional standards. Nevertheless it’s worth seeing.

It’s 1952 and Eilis Lacey is about to emigrate from Ireland to the United States through the arrangements of her sister Rose. It’s not like Eilis will miss much. Life in her hometown of Enniscorthy has been redundant as she works at the mercantile run by the spiteful Miss Kelly part-time and she’s also unable to win the affection of a man at the local dance hall while her best friend has better luck. So what does she have to lose?

She bids a tearful farewell to her mother and sister Rose as she departs. The ship ride is trying as she has to cope with rocky waves that make her seasick and cabin neighbors who lock her out of the bathroom. Nevertheless she finds a cabin mate whom she gets along with well. Her cabin mate is actually on her second trip to the United States returning home. She gives her advise on what to do at immigration and informs her of what to anticipate in the United States.

Once in New York she makes her home at an Irish boarding house in Brooklyn run by a traditionalist woman housing young women. She’s able to find a job at a Manhattan department store but is uneasy with it at first. She meets with Fr. Flood who helped her make her job arrangements and she’s able to enroll in bookkeeping classes. She goes to dances at the Irish hall but is surprised to learn the young man who’s interested in her is Italian. He’s smitten over her but she’s reluctant to admit she loves him. Eventually she finally does and meets his family.

Unfortunately tragedy in back in Ireland interrupts her stay in Brooklyn. Fr. Flood informs Eilis that her sister Rose died and her mother doesn’t know how to cope. Before returning to Ireland, Tony wants to marry Eilis. They wed secretly in a courthouse. Upon returning to Enniscorthy, Eilis already has a return to Brooklyn planned out but over time she feels more at home. Her best friend is about to marry, she gets offered an accounting job on an emergency basis at her sister’s business, and she wins the affections of Jim Farrell, an eligible bachelor who stands to inherit huge property.

Over time she wins the love of Jim, gets admiration from her workplace and starts falling in love with the town she left behind. It’s like the life that eluded her before she left has happened once she returned. Her feeling at home in Enniscorthy has left her comfortable to the point she doesn’t open the letters Tony send her. None of them. However a visit to Miss Kelly and what she has to say to Eilis seals her fate and where she makes her final decision.

This film is one that will remind one of Oscar winners or nominees of the past. Often you think you’re watching a film that would’ve had what it took to win Best Picture 20 years ago. However what it does is it helps bring back the magic of those films set in the past and takes one back to an easier time. Usually nostalgia pictures like these have become too cookie-cutter over the years especially as the critical ‘powers that be’ in the film world have recently been giving the lauds to more innovative fare. I will admit myself this looks like something the Weinstein brothers would have shelled out during their Miramax days. However the film succeed in making such a nostalgia film a refreshing alternative around the awards season. The film even adds a certain charm or magic that seemed to be missing in a lot of nostalgia films as of late.

It’s a question what the film’s best quality is. Whether it’s the story line or setting of the environment. However I think the best quality of the film has to be a very relatable story. Sure, we’ve seen many Ellis Island or ‘Coming To America’ stories before. What I feel is the movie’s best quality is a common story that’s relatable time over time. In fact just last week, a person I know who came here from Ireland years ago and just received her permanent residency just this month said she saw the film and it reminded her of her own homesickness and even her own frustrations of not knowing what will happen next or whether things will work out for the better. Reminiscing over the film, I think that’s it. I believe its magic is this is a common story that any Irish immigrant to the United States, whether they came early in the 20th century or in the 50’s like Eilis or even just recently, can relate to and even see themselves and their own stories in that film.

Saoirse Ronan is the perfect pick for Eilis Lacey. She has the grace and the youthfulness to play her well. She also does a very good job of playing a young woman from back in the 1950’s with the elegance and innocence coming with it. Overall, Ronan’s role of Eilis is the centerpiece of the film. Nevertheless there are good performances from the other actors despite not having as complex of roles. There’s Julie Walters who did a good job as Madge Kehoe as well as Jim Broadbent as Fr. Flood. There are even those that give comic relief like Emily Rickards and Eileen O’Higgins as Patty and Nancy, Eilis’ two laughing girl friends in Brooklyn, and James DiGiacomo as Tony’s littlest brother Frankie who knows how to steal the show. There were however roles that could have been more. Firstly, Emory Cohen was also good as Tony Fiorello and had the right charm to play him but the role lacked complexity. Also there were times I feel Jane Brennan’s role as Mrs. Lacey and Domhnall Gleeson’s role as Jim Farrell could have been more.

Nick Hornby wrote a very good adaptation for the screen despite having some underdeveloped roles. John Crowley also did a good job in direction. This film should be considered the Irish director’s North American breakthrough. The technical aspects of the film like the sets, the costuming, the hair and the make-up worked perfectly for the film as it fit the times and the cities perfectly. Michael Brook also gave a fitting score to the film.

Brooklyn may look like your common Ellis Island story but it’s a film that does all the right moves and captures the right feel that makes this film great.

Movie Review: Anomalisa

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Most animated features this year have been family-oriented blockbusters. Anomalisa provides for an adult alternative. Does it provide well?

Michael Stone is a motivational speaker who has arrived in Cincinnati for a single day to give a lecture on effective customer service. He should have it all– he’s married, a father and he’s a success at his profession– but you sense something’s missing. That becomes evident when he has images of Bella, his ex-girlfriend from more than ten years ago. In addition, everyone besides Michael has the same voice from the hotel personnel to his ex to his wife Donna and son Henry to even the waitress.

The night appears to be a disaster as he tries to reconnect with Bella in the hotel lounge only to find out she’s emotionally troubled. In the end, he’s only after sex with Bella and she leaves furiously. You can tell he’s not with it as he is looking to buy a toy for his son Henry and end up shopping in a toy store–an adult toy store– and actually buys something for him.

During the night, he thinks he missed getting his room service and goes walking down the hall for the person he wants to see. He knocks on one hotel room and comes across two females who traveled here to hear his lecture. Both are customer service employees. There’s Erica, who’s tall and blond and sounds like everyone else, and Lisa who’s shorter, a brunette and has a very different voice. Michael has drinks with the two which goes better than with Bella but he takes an interest in Lisa. Lisa is surprised as she’s normally the socially rejected one. In fact she took customer service because she’s not normally put in front desk or face-to-face sales positions. In fact her last boyfriend was a boss who just didn’t work out at all with her. She has low self-esteem, often feeling cut off from the world, and admires Cyndi Lauper for her ability to dare to be different. However Michael and Lisa connect and they spend the night together.

The following morning, Michael gets bad dreams about being sexually pursued by others. At breakfast with Lisa, he’s faced with the dilemma that Lisa may not be the one, that she maybe like all the others. He tries to do his lecture, with Lisa and Erica in the audience, but he just can’t put it together. Michael returns back to his home life and his family only to have a surprise party for him in which he doesn’t welcome and suggests his marriage to Donna is in jeopardy. Meanwhile Lisa and Erica head back on their road trip leaving the audience to wonder what will happen long after the story ends.

I am quite accustomed to Charlie Kaufman shelling out unapologetically eccentric entertainment. Being John Malkovich is possibly the most eccentric film I’ve seen outside of Clockwork Orange. Adaptation is an amusing story about Charlie’s ‘twin’ Donald. In addition, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is possibly the best ‘romance of the absurd.’ Anomalisa is possibly the least eccentric film I’ve ever seen from him. This is also very rare that I see him use animation to tell his story. Actually Anomalisa was a stage play written by him ten years ago. That explains why the film is set in 2005.

Basically the film touches on the subject of a person’s feeling of missing voids in their life and their personal belonging. We have a man who should have it all: a married father who has it made as a motivational speaker and instructor. We also have a woman who feels like a misfit and tries to hang onto things that give her positive self-esteem like Cyndi Lauper songs or her best friend since elementary school. They meet by chance and it turns out that they appear just right for each other only to have that chemistry questioned only shortly after.

I will say it did not make sense at the beginning of the film hearing Michael talk in his voice and seeing all the other characters besides Lisa talk in the same voice including Michael’s wife, son Henry, Bella and even Lisa’s friend Erica. It’s once you get into the film you learn why Michael and Lisa are the ones with different voices. The reason why all the other people have the same voice is because to Michael, they’re ‘everyone else,’ including his wife and son. Once you notice Lisa as the only other person with a different voice, you will soon understand that she is something to Michael. It makes sense over time. However this case of voices matching the role will also send a message about the morning after and what Lisa will mean to Michael.

Kaufman does a very good job of writing and co-directing however it’s also Duke Johnson who does a very good job in directing the animation. It’s a wonder why Kaufman wanted to have Anomalisa adapted to animation instead of live-action. Duke has already had experience in animation with two different shorts and an animated series of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. Here his animation fused with the story of Anomalisa does seem to come off as a bit odd at first–even seeing Duke’s style of animation does seem different at first– but it seems fitting at the end. I feel it worked out excellently. The vocal talent was also very good as both David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh were both able to provide personality and emotion to their characters of Michael and Lisa respectively. Tom Noonan also did a good job of voicing everyone else and was able to make it sound entertaining. The music of Carter Burwell as well as the inclusion of songs and lyrics from others added to the film.

Anomalisa is a refreshing break from most animated movies that hit it big at the box office. It’s a very adult style of an animation story that’s very offbeat but manages to make sense to you and impressed you in the end.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Bridge Of Spies

ST. JAMES PLACE

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, a lawyer in the middle of the height of the Cold War, in Bridge Of Spies. Mark Rylance (centre) steals the show as his subject.

Bridge Of Spies is a Spielberg drama I missed out on seeing during its original theatrical release. I only saw it once it was a choice on a flight I took heading home. It was a good choice.

The film begins in 1957 with Rudolf Abel arrested by CIA agents as he’s trying to read a secret message. He is taken away but is able to keep the message. As Abel awaits trial, American lawyer James Donovan is assigned to defend him. The US government believes him to be a KGB spy but Donovan wants to have a fair trial because an unfair trial may be used as propaganda in the USSR. Donovan meets Abel whom is very welcoming to Donovan but will not cooperate with the US Government for any revelations in the intelligence world.

Donovan knows he has a heavy task in defending Abel. He’s serious about it but no one, not even his closest family, expects him to make a strong defense for Abel. Nevertheless Donovan is persistent and continues to seek acquittal for Abel despite an angry American public, persistent hate mail and threats on the lives of him and his family. Abel is found guilty on all charges. Before sentencing, Donovan asks the judge that Abel receive a prison sentence of 30 years instead of the death penalty because he feels Abel may become a bargaining chip with the Soviet Union. Further difficulties continue as Donovan is unable to win a Supreme Court case where evidence against Abel was tainted by an invalid search warrant.

Meanwhile two innocent Americans find themselves in the hands of Communists. One is US air force pilot Francis Powers whose plane is just shot down between the USSR-Turkish border. He’s able to escape his doomed plane and tries to steer his parachute into Turkey but fails and becomes captive. The other is Frederic Pryor, an American economics student studying in Germany just as the Berlin Wall is being built. He studies in West Berlin but has a girlfriend in East Berlin. He tried to bring her with him to the West but is arrested as a spy.

News gets to Donovan of the two men arrests. He’s even offered a deal from the USSR of the exchange of Abel for Powers. Donovan is insisting in a 2-for-1 deal of exchanging Abel for both Powers and Pryor. However he has the challenge of dealing with Soviet agents and a CIA that’s interested in only getting Powers back. The whole deal puts the governments of three nations– East Germany, the USA and the USSR– in a heated debate with Donovan make the outcome work out right. The end result is historic.

This is yet another film about war Steven Spielberg does focus on. There have been many films of the theme of war he’s done in his career. The wars he have depicted on screen have spanned time from World War II in Empire Of The Sun and Saving Private Ryan to World War I in The War Horse to the Civil War in Lincoln to even revenge missions in Munich.

Here he tackles a war that’s less about brutality but more about ideology and had victims of their own: the Cold War. Although there wasn’t as much blood shed, the Cold War did put a sense of paralyzing fear in the world, especially in the United States, with a possibility of nuclear war and armageddon. Thus the ‘duck and cover’ scene. Ask anyone over the age of 60 about doing all those ‘duck and cover’ practices at school. People were constantly being suspected as spies on both sides and there were reactions of hysteria to those accused of spying or treason. The construction of the Berlin Wall at a time when Germany was divided between the capitalist West and the Communist East is an example of the war.

The story takes us back to the 1950’s at a time when Cold War hysteria was at its highest. Neither side could be trusted if one from the other country came in to visit. That explains why even innocent visitors could be seen with suspicion. People arrested as spies for the other side were huge headline news. Most of the public wanted them dead with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg still fresh in their minds. It’s easy to see why someone like James Donovan would be so easily vilified by the American public and even face a possible shooting. The film shows why James’ efforts in the prisoner trade were necessary in the Cold War. It was something that was able to ease some tension on both sides.

Spielberg does a very good job of showing what the Cold War was like. Instead of showing fighting that’s common in the wars, he focuses on the more tense moments of the Cold War and captures its tense feel most people of that time felt. The screenwriting by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers was very good in providing insight to the moments in history and keeping the key elements of the situation. It didn’t focus too much on Jim’s personal life but it did focus on his efforts and even on the prisoners themselves. It may lack some historical accuracy but it does provide knowledge and keep the audience intrigued. Its one glitch is that it had too sweet of an ending. I don’t think it ended on the right note.

Tom Hanks was very good as Jim Donovan but it’s not at the same level as his most stellar roles. The biggest scene-stealer of the film was Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel. He not only matched Abel physically but also gave him character with his love for art and his ability to say persuasive things. Other good supporting performances came from Amy Ryan as Jim’s wife and Alan Alda as Thomas Watters. Janusz Kaminski did a very good job of cinematography, the production designers did a very good job of recreating the 1950’s and 1960’s with their sets and Thomas Newman delivered a very good score to the film.

Bridge Of Spies is very much a story about a lawyer and his pursuits but also the times he had to deal with. Reminds you of some of the political tensions and paranoia that’s currently happening now. Spielberg does a good job of capturing the feel of the intensity as well as the political climate of the story.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Spotlight

Spotlight stars Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and MArk Ruffalo as journalists ready to settle the score.

Spotlight stars Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo as journalists ready to settle the score.

I’ll admit I saw Spotlight two months ago and I’ve been procrastinating at writing my review. Now that the Oscar nominations are out–actually only an hour ago– this is a better time than ever.

The film begins in the 1970’s of a priest being fired from his job as a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Boston. Fast forward to 2001. The Boston Globe has a new editor, Marty Baron. He first learns of the investigative Spotlight team of the paper headed by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson.

Baron gives the Spotlight team a story to chase: a story of a priest sexual abusing children and Cardinal Bernard Law knowing about it and doing nothing about it. It first starts as a pursuit on a single priest who was continuously moved around from school to school. Over time it they would uncover that there were many priests who also committed acts of sexual abuse on school children and they were all covered up by the Archdiocese.

This is one story they had to get to the bottom of. However they’re limited in terms of resources. Plus they need permission to access sealed documents and have a trial or even an inquiry happen and they doubt they can get it from a Catholic judge. They talk with a head of a victims rights group who himself was abused, they talk to other abuse victims, they talk to a lawyer who’s handling the cases of some of the victims and they even find through an ex-priest who tried to rehabilitate pedophile priests that there could be as 90 sex offenders in the clergy. Further research uncovers additional priests moved about upon their actions being revealed and being listed as ‘relocated’ or ‘resigned.’

In September 2001 it appears the Spotlight team is finally ready to release the story. Then 9/11 happens which makes every other news story in the world take a backseat and cause even a further delay of the story being printed. However the wait works for the better as one of the Spotlight reporters, Michael Rezendes, uncovers proof through publicly available documents that Law knew all about the abuse going on and ignored it. Then a major victory. The judge grants them the right to look into sealed documents. Just as they are about to print the story, Robinson confesses he published a list of pedophile priests in 1993 but he never followed up on it. As the story is published, it creates history.

I’m sure that some people would be nervous about this film and declare it ‘anti-Catholic.’ In fact if I were a conservative conspiracy theorist, I would say Spotlight is a film released by an anti-Catholic director who wonders where all the Catholic hate from liberals went once Pope Francis came to power and wants Spotlight to bring it back. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor am I a conservative pundit. In fact the film has received positive feedback from Vatican Radio and even the current Cardinal of Boston praised it in showing how the Archdiocese had to confront its wrong.

I will say that I’ve seen bigger even more savage attacks on the Catholic Church in films in the past, especially from Martin Scorsese. In fact I remember watching 2002’s The Magdalene Sisters where the nuns were depicted as total monsters. I feel films nowadays are less anti-Catholic than that of 20 years ago or even 40 years ago. In fact one thing I give the film credit for is that it looks at all sides. It may portray Cardinal Law as a conniver but it wasn’t hard on depiction of the priests. In fact one scene that stuck out to me was when one of the alleged priests was interviewed. He not only appeared confused in how he didn’t know what sexual abuse was but admitted that he was raped as a boy. That not only shocked me but left me wondering how many of the abusive priests were themselves sexually abused as a boy?

On a personal note, I will admit that when I first saw the film, I left the theatre asking myself “Jon, why did you return to the Catholic Church?” It was a dilemma for days but it did solve itself over time. In fact shortly after, I wrote on my Facebook page: “I gave the Catholic Church a second chance in 2003 and it better not blow it this time.” I will never excuse a priest for sexually abusing any child. I believe they should be brought to justice. In fact, Pope Benedict clarified the issue when he said: “Forgiveness is not a replacement for justice.” I know you can’t take back the past however you can improve the future. The Catholic Church has not become blind to the issue of sexual abuse. In fact I learned from one man who tried to enter into education for the priesthood he had to get a criminal record check, an HIV test and a psychiatric assessment. I’m happy that the Catholic Church is taking the best preventative measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

In fact off topic from the film, I will admit that sexual abuse and the various Diocese’s and Archdiocese’s bad handling of it is a problem but I will also say that it’s a problem that goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It’s a problem that exists in other churches as well, it exists within certain families, it exists within school and it even exists within children’s sports programs. In fact this decade’s biggest sexual-abuse-and-cover-up story came not from a Catholic institution but from coach Jerry Sandusky and the cover up from Penn State university. Makes you wonder why the priesthood gets a lot of defamation from the sexual abuse of those while children’s sports coaches don’t get the same defamation. A sex offender is a sex offender no matter what their profession or even if it’s not to do with a profession at all.  Same thing with Universities, especially since it’s only come to light that colleges have a known rape problem but they’re doing next to nothing about it.

Back to the film, I think the biggest thing the film was focusing on was the bad marriage of church and state. Separation of church and state is enforced in the American constitution but it’s not to say it does find its way mixed into politics one way or the other. In fact I don’t think Spotlight attacks the Catholic Church as a whole but actually attack the Archdiocese of Boston. The film presents how the Archdiocese of Boston has such a huge influence over the city. We’re talking about a city with a huge percentage of Catholics and with a history of the Catholic Church giving, providing and influencing the city. No wonder a city like Boston would have such high regard for the Archdiocese. No wonder most Bostonians would look at priests as father figures. No wonder also would that present the biggest difficulty in terms of getting the ugly truth out, especially with people having a high regard for the Church in power and with a Cardinal sweet-talking those determined to get the truth.

The theme of sexual abuse may be very prevalent in the film but I think the biggest focal point of the film was to show a group of reporters uncovering a scandalous story and bringing it to print. One thing is the film doesn’t make like the Spotlight team are the blemish-free good guys of the film. It’s made known near the beginning of the film that this information was given to them five years earlier. They themselves made a big mistake of their own by delaying the story. Sure, they did a whole whack of effort to finally bring it to press in 2002 but they could have done it sooner. I think that was the whole thing of Spotlight is that it was a movie disinterested in making the image of a hero out of anybody. Besides we already hear of the mistakes of having an image of somebody is a bad thing as one abuse victim admitted he looked at priests to be like God. I’m sure millions more have had that deluded image of the priest being like God in their head. However it also shows how easily people can be feel a sense of betrayal by a Church when such atrocities occur. You can’t really blame them for being that disheartened.

I give top credit to director/writer Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer for directing a complex film that’s like a bunch of pieces of a puzzle that had to be put together. This is a story that’s set in the Spotlight room of the Boston Globe and set in various other places throughout and they had to both show all the different parts of the story and make them come together from time to time. They did a good job of making this complex story come together without straying off into unimportant territory. Also they did a very good job of writing a story of sexual abuse that was watchable. I’ve seen other films of sexual abuse that were more explicit like 1992’s The Boys Of St. Vincent. Mind you it was a 90’s thing to do explicit entertainment because envelope-pushing was all the rage back then because 1; you could never put enough nails in the coffin of the Hays Code and 2; because back then softening of scenes or leaving such things out was considered a form of ‘denial’ in art. Anyways these are not the 90’s anymore and watchability is values more. I’m sure if they showed scenes of abuse in the film, it would make it somewhat unwatchable for many. I feel they made a good choice of limiting the topic of abuse to conversations of victims with the journalists. Especially since the top point of the film is how they brought the story to press. Besides I don’t consider compromising elements in a film for the sake of making it more watchable to be a filmmaking weakness. It’s not the 90’s anymore and Tom McCarthy’s not among the likes of Lars Von Trier.

As for acting, there were a lot of great individual performances most notably from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams but none of them owned the film. In fact another top quality of the film is that it’s a combined effort from all the actors to play parts that don’t steal the show and add to the story telling by making it look like a unified effort. Even acting of the smaller roles that that of the abuse victims were excellent and added to the story. Overall this not simply a film that’s well-crafted. This is a film that does capture your intrigue. It’s a combined accomplishment from McCarthy, Singer and the actors.

Spotlight isn’t strictly about the incident. It’s about getting the story to the presses and the battles the Boston Globe had to go through to break the silence and finally get the word out. Keeps you interested from start to finish.

My Predictions For The 2015 Academy Award Nominees

Chocolate Oscar

Yes, my chocolate Oscar. Find out who gets nominated for the real ones Thursday.

Another year, another set of Oscar predictions. All summer I didn’t think I would be up for predicting again. I think Birdman‘s win left a bitter taste in my mouth. Actually I do get a bit disheartened when any movie that gives nothing to really admire or appreciate wins Best Picture. These last few weeks, I’ve been accelerating in terms of my movie viewership. I even watch Bridge Of Spies coming home. Review coming soon. This is the third year I’m  doing the ‘laxed’ Oscar tracking while maintaining the same amount of enthusiasm. In addition to my ‘laxed’ Oscar tracking, I decided this year to only bother making nomination predictions for 14 categories instead of the whole thing because it’s easier and also there are contests that ask just for predictions for the Top 8 categories. I didn’t think the whole thing was worth it. So here are my predictions for the nominees:

BEST PICTURE:

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge Of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Carol
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Todd Haynes,Carol
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
  • Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
  • Adam McKay,The Big Short
  • Ridley Scott, The Martian

BEST ACTOR:

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo Dicaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS:

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
  • Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Idris Elba,Beasts of No Nation
  • Mark Rylance,Bridge of Spies
  • Michael Shannon,99 Homes
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh , The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
  • Helen Mirren , Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

  • Ethan Coen, Joel Coen & Matt Charman, Bridge of Spies
  • Josh Cooley, Meg Lefauve & Pete Docter, Inside Out
  • Alex Garland,Ex Machina
  • Josh Singer & Thomas Mccarthy, Spotlight
  • Quentin Tarantino,The Hateful Eight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

  • Emma Donoghue, Room
  • Adam McKay,The Big Short
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu & Mark L. Smith, The Revenant
  • Phyllis Nagy,Carol
  • Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

  • Anomalisa
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Inside Out
  • The Peanuts Movie
  • Shaun The Sheep Movie

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

  • Amy
  • Best of Enemies
  • Cartel Land
  • He Named Me Malala
  • The Look of Silence

BEST FILM EDITING:

  • Hank Corwin,The Big Short
  • Tom McArdle,Spotlight
  • Stephen Mirrione,The Revenant
  • Pietro Scalia, The Martian
  • Margaret Sixel,Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • The Brand New Testament (Belgium)
  • Embrace Of The Serpent (Columbia)
  • Mustang (France)
  • Son Of Saul (Hungary)
  • Theeb (Jordan)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

  • Carter Burwell, Carol
  • Bryce Dessner, Carsten Nicolai & Ryuichi Sakamoto,The Revenant
  • Johan Johannson,Sicario
  • Ennio Morricone,The Hateful Eight
  • John Williams,Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

  • Jurassic World
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MOST LIKELY UPSETTERS:

Here is where I predict who will most likely upset in my predictions for the nominees. I only predict in the ones I feel I can make a good judgment for an upsetter:

BEST PICTURE:

  • The Hateful Eight
  • Inside Out

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • George Miller,Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies

BEST ACTOR:

  • Will Smith, Concussion
  • Johnny Depp, Black Mass

BEST ACTRESS:

  • Helen Mirren, Woman In Gold
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

  • Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Jane Fonda, Youth

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

  • Andrea Berloff & Jonathan Herman, Straight Outta Compton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

  • Drew Goddard, The Martian
  • Nick Hornby,Brooklyn

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

  • Minions

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

  • Where To Invade Next
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

BEST FILM EDITING:

  • Michael Kahn, Bridge of Spies
  • Alfonso Concalves, Carol

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • The Fencer (Finland)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

  • Thomas Newman, Bridge Of Spies
  • Howard Shore, Spotlight

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

  • Ex Machina
  • The Walk

And there you have it. My predictions for the Academy Award nominees. The official results will be seen live Thursday at 5:30 Hollywood time. Did all that money on all those For Your Consideration ads pay off? We’ll see.

Movie Review: Joy

jennifer-lawrence-joy-trailer

Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as inventor and Home Shopping Network personality Joy Mangano.

Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.

I’m sure before you go to see Joy, you’ll think you’ve seen all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve had to. However you’re in for a surprise.

The film is first set in the 1960’s when Joy Mangano is a child. She’s very creative and very inventive. Fast forward to 1989. Joy Mangano is the breadwinner to a household of four generations of family: her grandmother, her divorced mother and father, her overachieving half-sister, her ex-husband and her two children. She works as a ticket agent at a major airline. Not exactly an admirable job for someone that was valedictorian when she graduated.

“How did it go wrong?” Joy ponders. She was an inventive girl but that all changed when her mother and father divorced. It was like her creativity went with her. She married a wedding singer with high hopes but his dreams fell apart and so did their marriage, albeit left amicable enough for him to still live in Joy’s house. Hey, he’s broke! Actually all the family’s lives appear unchanging as her father is dating the wrong women and her mother escapes the pain of divorce by locking herself in her bedroom and watching soaps. The one thing that stayed solid and has kept on going right over they years was Joy’s friendship to Jackie, her best friend since grade school.

One day, her father dates a new woman: an Italian woman named Trudy. She comes from a wealthy background and takes the whole family on the family yacht. A wine bottle breaks and Joy is left to mop it. She gets her hands cut trying to remove the broken glass from the mop. While recovering from her cuts, that’s when her inventiveness comes back. She has an idea for a self-cleaning mop and she’s willing to design it with something as simple as paper and her daughter’s crayons. Her mother is discouraging of her to chase her dreams but her grandmother is more supportive.

However she knows the difficulties of making something and merchandising it. She knows there’s someone who has a patent for something similar and has to agree to pay a certain percentage. She knows she will need financial support. Trudy is willing to offer but she’s very stern with whom she’s willing to support. She knows she will need a place to get the mop made. Her father offers her space in his workshop and women hired to make the mop. She even finds a factory willing to make the parts.

Then comes the advertising. She’s unable to get a deal and is subject to advertising her mop in K-Mart parking lots which is illegal. However she catches the attention of Neil Walker, CEO of the shopping channel QVC. He is impressed with the product and is willing to get it advertised on the channel. However everything goes wrong when first advertised as the salesman, who is considered the top salesman of the channel, does everything wrong and there’s no sale. Joy however doesn’t quit and negotiates with Walker for her to sell the product herself on the channel. When she does the commercial, she is very nervous. However a helpful phone call from Jackie while live on the air is just the boost she needs and it works. Her mop is a hit and it succeeds in getting her mops sold and paying her off.

However it doesn’t end there. Her success happens as her grandmother, the person who believed in Joy all along, dies. Then there’s news about excessive production fees paid. Joy goes to the factory and finds out a lot of bad truths about what has been happening and what’s being planned. Feeling helpless, Joy is about to file for bankruptcy until she finds out a certain truth and settles the score.

The movie isn’t just simply about a rags-to-riches story about a woman who was able to make it as a tycoon. It’s also a reminder that even in tight economic times, the American Dream is still achievable. Even in cases where there are obstacles thrown in your face like an advertiser who doesn’t do their job right or even lawsuits left, right and centre, it can still be done. We shouldn’t forget that Joy Mangano was making this all happen during the recession of the 90’s. I remember that recession well as I remember young adults like myself at the time received a lot of neglect from the job markets. Joy was not only able to create a ‘better mousetrap’ but be able to make it sell. Sure she faced a lot of common business challenges and hard blow of the business world and yes, she may have thought of giving up but she prevailed in the end. Now she’s the one in control. The film shows that this is still very much possible today.

One thing I will have to say is that doing such a film of a person achieving the American Dream has been done countless times. For one to do such a story differently, they would have to make the right choices. David O. Russell tries to make some unique choices such as having the story told by the grandmother’s point of view, even in time periods when the grandmother is deceased. Even the ending where the story progresses to the present but flashes back to just after Joy won her legal dispute is another unique choice in storytelling. However it makes one question whether those were the right choices. I can understand the attempt to tell a story differently but did they work? I don’t think they were the best choices.

David O. Russell sure has made a name for himself in the last five years with films like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This is a new challenge for him to direct and co-write with Annie Mumolo a story about a female inventor and media personality. Not something I would normally associate with Russell. I will admit this is not his best work. There are times I even wondered if David O. Russell is the right director for such a movie. Nevertheless it’s still very professional despite some of the glitchy storytelling choices. I do give him and Mumolo kudos for telling this story of a woman who starts in a situation familiar with most Americans and turning it into a relatable success story. That is one of its best points. Even the human element of Joy Mangano is another excellent part of the film. The film is not just about a woman wanting to make a success of herself for her own purposes but also being someone for her own daughter to look up to. Joy goes from someone mocked by her half-sister in front of her own kids to being someone for her kids to look up to. That element is another plus.

No doubt Jennifer Lawrence owned the film. Of course the Hunger Games movies have made her a household name already at 25 but it’s Russell who knows how to bring out the best in Lawrence’s acting. In her third movie directed by Russell, she again masters a character many years older than her and comes out shining and in excellent style. Robert de Niro was also good as the trying father. However the biggest scene stealer of the supporting players had to be Isabella Rossellini as the new mother-in-law who means business. Actually all the actors in the film from those that played family members to Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker did a good job with their characters and made them entertaining to watch.

Joy is a good story about a woman who would not give up until she succeeds even after everything that could go against her was thrown at her. However it’s also a reminder that the American Dream is still possible even in the toughest of times. Not exactly the best film from David O. Russell but definitely worth seeing.

My 2015 Golden Globe Predictions

Cinema

Hi all. With the Golden Globes coming this Sunday night, it is the time where I make my predictions for the winners. For this, I not only predict the Winner but also the Most Likely Upsetter who could pull the biggest surprise. So without further ado:

FILM:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: The Revenant

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: The Big Short

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Leonardo diCaprio, The Revenant
Most Likely Upsetter: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Matt Damon, The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: Christian Bale, The Big Short

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Cate Blanchett, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Brie Larson, Room

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
Amy Schumer, Trainwreck
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner:
 Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Most Likely Upsetter: Idris Elba, Beasts Of No Nation

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner:
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Director
Winner:
Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Adam McKay, The Big Short

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner:
 Son Of Saul (Hungary)
Most Likely Upsetter: The Brand New Testament (Belgium)

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner:
 Inside Out
Most Likely Upsetter: Anomalisa

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner:
“See You Again”, Furious 7
Most Likely Upsetter: “One Kind Of Love”, Love & Mercy

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Carter Burwell, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Okay, so I decided not to give a Most Likely Upsetter prediction for the television categories. Hey what can I say? I’m better at predicting the movie awards. Plus with a lot of categories appearing radically different from last year, it makes it all the much harder. So here are my TV predictions for the winners:

TELEVISION:

Best TV Movie or Miniseries: American Horror Story Hotel

Best TV Series, Drama: Game of Thrones

Best TV Series, Comedy: Veep

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Jon Hamm, Mad Men

Best Actor, TV Series Comedy: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Gina Rodriguez, Jane The Virgin

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Queen Latifah, Bessie

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Regina King, American Crime

And there you go. Those are my predictions for Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. I don’t think I’ll completely be in sync with the Hollywood Foreign Press but anyways tune in to see the winners and the show.

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.

The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters are some of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. The Peanuts Movie brings them back into action in 2015. And in winning style.

It’s winter. While the kids are having fun skating and playing hockey on the ice, Charlie Brown is nervous. A family has moved into town and with them is a girl– the little Red Haired girl– he wants to win the attention of. However he has a track record of bad luck in the neighborhood and among his peers. He sees Lucy for ‘professional help.’ She advises him to make a winner of himself and be more confident.

First chance is at the school talent show. Charlie has a magic act planned with Snoopy and Woodstock assisting. Charlie’s last up. Sally is second -last up with her cowgirl act. However she gets ridiculed by the crowd. Charlie decides to help her win the contest at the expense of his own humiliation. It works. She wins and he makes a fool of himself.

Next chance is the school dance which consists of prizes going to the winning solo dances for both boys and girls. The little-red haired girl wins the female prize.  Charlie Brown appears to have winning form but a slip causes him to fall and disrupt the sprinkler system which disrupts the whole dance. Again a blockhead!

Next chance is a book report which he’s partnered with the little red-haired girl. Then comes aptitude testing which Charlie Brown is believed to score the highest. Just before Charlie Brown is to receive a medal for his perfect score, he learns the truth and declines his medal on stage. To make matters worse the book report Charlie Brown wrote for the little -red-haired girl is destroyed in the air by Snoopy’s plane.

Summer approaches and classmates are assigned to be pen pals. The little red-haired girl chooses Charlie Brown. The thing is she’s to spend the summer at camp. Charlie Brown has one last chance to meet up with her. Does he do it or doesn’t he? Those who saw the movie will know for sure.

What the filmmakers had in terms of bringing the Peanuts back to the big screen was a challenge. The first challenge was for possibly the first time, the Peanuts characters were 3D in a 3D world. The second challenge was what to include in the film. No doubt the film was to include the common traits of the characters as well as the common lines used by the characters throughout. The other challenge would be what kind of world would The Peanuts be in? Would they be in their past world consisting of common things like books, playing baseball and Snoopy using a typewriter? Or would they be in the modern world where kids use iPads, skateboard, hop onto Wikipedia for whatever info they want and save their essays as Word Documents?

I believe the writers and animators made the right choices to have the story situated in the traditional world of the Peanuts characters. That’s how fans of the cartoon series best remember them and converting them into the modern world would be very tricky stuff and may turn long-time fans off. Another element I liked is that it maintains a lot of familiar situations from Peanuts cartoon strips and Peanuts cartoon shows of the past. The humor of Charles Schulz had to be kept with the story as well as the familiar personality traits of all the characters.

However with this being a feature-length movie, it had to present a legible story with a beginning, middle and end. This was a challenge to write out such a story and mix in the common humor of the Peanuts characters and familiar moments of the Peanuts history. I feel it did an excellent job of creating a consistent story with mixing in the humor of the Peanuts franchise as well as giving all the other characters their moments too. It can’t all be about Charlie Brown. Plus I’m sure all of us wanted to see Charlie Brown win the ‘little red-haired girl.’

Kudos the Charles Schulz’ son Craig, grandson Bryan and Cornelius Uliano for writing an excellent story true to the Peanuts series as well as entertaining from start to finish. Additional kudos to director Steve Martino. To make such a movie work, they had to put it in the hands of someone who knows how to direct animation. Martino has proven himself in the past with Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age 2: Continental Drift. Here he delivers again. I also give the animators credit for making 3D characters of the peanuts characters for possibly the first time. That was another challenge: keep them 2D or make them 3D? They took the risk with 3D and it worked very well. I will admit I did see a few glitches in terms of speed but the form of the characters as well as the settings were flawless.

The vocal talent from the young actors were all there as they not only sounded like the characters but they personified them as we commonly knew them. Additional kudos for Christophe Back for providing the score familiar with Peanuts animation of the past as well as adding some things of his own.

The Peanuts Movie is an excellent movie with all the right moves to win over fans of Peanuts cartoons and introduce the Peanuts kids to a new generation of children.