2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: The Kids Are All Right

It’s funny how the comedy The Kids Are All Right comes at a time when there’s a lot of bad news about what happens to sperm bank children when they grow up. Just as ironic is that there’s a T-Shirt out now that says “My daddy’s name is Donor!” The movie however offers an alternative look at a pair of sperm bank kids that turned out all right, while the adults…

The movie starts with what appears to be an orderly family unit that differs from convention: a married lesbian couple who both had a child from the same sperm donor. While the family is unconventional, it functions as well as your typical family unit. Nic and Jules are in love with each other despite being opposites: Nic being the orderly one while Jules is the laid back one.  Their children are well grounded: daughter Joni is smart and bound for a top college and son Laser is an anti-social type who’s smart enough not to pull punches and leave a friend gone bad.

Laser is eager to find out who his father is and relies on Joni, to help because she’s 18 and he’s 15. They first make phone contact with the father, Paul, an organic restaurant owner. Joni’s thrilled to meet him and Paul is thrilled to learn of his children. The children want to keep this a secret from their parents but they find out from Laser.

They invite Paul to a dinner where Jules reveals her desire to start a landscaping business. Paul gives Jules an opportunity to landscape his garden despite Nic’s discomfort. Jules loves how Paul gives the appreciation for her work that Nic never really gave and impulsively kisses him, leading on to an affair. Meanwhile the children are spending more time with Paul to the displeasure of Nic and even doing things Nic forbids, like Joni riding on a motorcycle. Nic is unhappy with Paul’s lax attitude towards her discipline. After a heated argument with Jules, they decide to have a dinner at Paul’s house. Things appear to ease up between Paul and Nic until she notices Jules’ hair in his bed and bathtub. At home Nic admits to the affair and the family tension grows, right before Joni is to go to college. Paul later offers Jules to move in with him which Jules turns down. Jules confesses to the family about why she gave into the affair and begs forgiveness. Nic angrily confronts Paul with all the damage he’s done and that he doesn’t deserve to be a part of the family. The movie ends with the family with Paul gone taking Joni to her new university. As they drive off, Laser suggests that the two don’t break up because they’re ‘too old’. They then hold hands.

Despite the specific types of people characterized, the movie itself did not appear to try to represent any particular types of people. Nic and Jules aren’t basically saying that lesbian couples watch gay porn and have affairs with men. We should remember not all lesbians are alike. Nic and Jules only represent Nic and Jules. Paul isn’t intended to portray sperm donor fathers as irresponsible or best kept completely out of the family. I’m sure there are many donor fathers that live responsible lives. Paul is Paul. In fact director/writer Lisa Cholodenko herself is a lesbian who has mothered a child via donation and she’s interested in meeting the father, even though laws protect the identity until the child turns 18.

The top theme is primarily about the family unit functioning. Nic and Jules have a family unit that some would call unorthodox or unconventional and some could even disapprove of, but it’s theirs the way they want it. They put years into making their family unit and they want it kept that way. They go through the same triumphs and the same struggles conventional families go through. I believe the message was specifically whether the couple is gay or straight, whether the children are theirs naturally or otherwise, whether one has been a family member or years or just suddenly finds themselves in it, each member has to know their role and function within that role and only within that role for the family unit to function. If they don’t function 100% or go out of bounds, they will fail big time and the family could fall with them. Paul could have been the father the kids never knew or a proper family unit but he blew it by interloping with the adults and almost wrecking the home.

Another surprising thing is that for the first time in years, we have a critically renowned film that shows the potential harm and hurt of extramarital affairs. In past years, there have been many cases where movies have shown adultery as something that’s there, fine when kept secret, the nature of love, okay when you’re spouse is not yours to lose or a ‘reason’ why marriage doesn’t work. When I first saw the affair between Paul and Jules, I thought to myself “Not another film showing extramarital affairs as normal.” Finally it shows the hurt and harm it most likely causes, especially to long-established families.

 It’s arguable who the better of the two actresses was: Annette playing the orderly one or Julianne playing the looser one. Both were very good at keeping the comedic feel of the movie as well as playing the more dramatic parts right. However I’ve seen better performances from both in stronger movies. Mark Ruffalo was an excellent scene stealer as the easy-going free spirit who just doesn’t know his boundaries. Mia Wasikowska was good as the daughter if not great and Josh Hutcherson did a fine job with a role that was limited. Lisa Cholodenko presented a unique story that was intriguing to watch. The script she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg was clever and well-written, even though I felt the ending was cut short. Overall the movie had a lot of strength and some small but noticeable flaws, but it was a little film that went a long way. This film was a surprise hit at Sundance 2010 and went on to become this year’s surprise indie hit.

The Kids Are All Right may not have what it takes to deserve the Best Picture Oscar but it’s full of surprises. It may not be a movie for everyone but it’s a small film that goes above and beyond its expectations to entertain and even get people thinking.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Inception

Ever have an interest in what happens in your dreams? My dreams fascinate me and I often wake up the next day wondering what the dream I had was about or telling me. It seems like your dreams is the one place where humans can’t have any effect on.  In Inception, it presents a scenario where a con artist is able to steal ideas from a Japanese CEO’s dreams. He is to be dead the next day but the only way to cheat death is to incept an idea in another CEO’s dream. How does that work, especially on screen?

The story opens where we learn about Dom Cobb’s corporate espionage he has performed on a Japanese CEO named Saito. Cobb’s only awareness of knowing where’s he’s in the dream world or in real life is through a ‘totem’ he carries: a metal spin top. Cobb also has the obstacle of his wife’s death interfering with his own espionage efforts. After making a phone call learning he’s arrested, Saito gives him a job to incept an idea into the head of an ailing CEO’s son to clear himself of murder charges surrounding his wife and reunite with his children back in the US.

This is no easy task as he would have to create a shared dream with him, the ailing CEO’s son Robert and part of his team. His team includes his espionage partner Arthur, an identity forger, a chemist who concocts sedatives for the layers of shared dreaming, and an architecture student to design the labyrinth of dreaming. Robert’s estranged CEO father has died and his body is being transported on the plane with Robert riding. He is to be sedated with the other members involved in his layers of dreams. Through the dreams, the identity forger plays the role of Robert’s grandfather, the chemist drives a van to cause dream effects while others remain in one’s dream in a hotel where each level represents the layers of dreams. Complicated, right?

 At first things go rocky as Saito is shot dead and this sends the dreamers into the limbo of the dream. The various dream locations experience friction created by the van’s jerking, Cobb’s deceased wife appears in a dream and shoots Robert dead, thus causing Cobb and the architect to choose to enter limbo to revive the two men. The chemist then sends the van with Cobb’s team falling off a bridge into a river to ‘kick’ the dreamers back to reality. During the time of the fall, Cobb confronts his deceased wife in limbo and confesses responsibility to her suicide: to help her get out of the shared dream-limbo state and wake up. Cobb then searches for Saito and the identity forger revives Robert and has him connect with his estranged father on his deathbed.  Robert swims up from the submerged van and decides to split up his father’s empire. Cobb then meets the elderly Saito and confirms their arrangements.  All of the team then awake as the plane lands. Saito arranges for Cobb to get past US customs and he arrives home to see his children.

One thing about Inception was that this maze of dreams-within-dreams is complicated to understand but works in the end. This does get confusing and would require most audients to see the movie a second time around in order to make better sense. I myself remember that I was confused when I saw it the first time but I saw it a second time intending to map the whole story out as I saw it and it made better sense. That was a smart tactic of creating a movie that made people see it a second time. Hey, anything for moviegoers uninterested in making a TwiHard of themselves.

As I said, Christopher Nolan did an immense job creating a unique movie concept, intertwining multiple dream settings and making it work onscreen. He did a top notch job of writing and an excellent job of directing. Writing and directing a movie that complex was not easy at all and he did an excellent job. Back in the summer when I saw it, I had the feeling it was going to be a top Oscar contender. The acting, from Leonardo di Caprio and his supporting players was also very good. If anyone could steal the movie from Leonard, it was Marion Cotillard who played his wife. The score by Hans Zimmer fit the movie in all its scenes perfectly. The visual effects were excellent, if not the best of the year. Overall it was the best 2 ½ hours you could spend in a movie theatre this summer.

I would have to say that Inception is one of the most deserving Best Picture nominees. It was a unique story that was excellently written, directed, and acted, and still managed to win big at the box office. It gave most of us a sigh of relief that excellent writing, directing and acting can win big at the box office. Very worthy of the Best Picture win, despite a tough rivalry this year.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Winter’s Bone

A girl in the Ozarks attempts to find her father dead or alive, even if it means risking her life. This doesn’t make for the most attention-getting of movies but this is the story in Winter’s Bone. The movie itself is a mystery bound to keep you intrigued.

It all starts when a teenage girl names Ree is told by the police that her father posted the house as bail for a drug trial and unless he shows, the family will lose it all and be split up. This is hard to do for Ree in their poor settings as she not only has to tend to her mentally ill mother but be the parent figure for her younger brother and sister. She knows her father’s in the drug trade and has been gone for a year but is determined to find him. Attempting to find him puts her own life in danger as she tries to search for him in a house that burned down from a meth explosion and faces death threats from villagers and even distant family members. Her father’s brother tells her he may be dead but she continues on. She finally gets the answer she’s after through bizarre circumstances in the end.

The biggest theme of the movie is about Ozark life and about keeping secrets. Through watching the film, you learn of the difficulties growing up in the Ozark and that the villagers have secrets to hide. The teen parents whom Ree is friends with shows how growing up in the Ozarks stars early.  Over time you witness what Hillbilly life or Ozark life is like and you’d see why Ree would best serve the role as parent for her siblings. The film is an adaptation of a 2006 novel and director/writer Debra Granik did an excellent job of showing the story and portraying Ozark life’s significance to the plot. Even the addition of Ozark country music added to the atmosphere of the story. Young Jennifer Lawrence was excellent in portraying Ree in her grittiness and inner strength. Those that saw the movie would know that her role was very physically demanding. John Hawkes was also excellent as the brother with secrets to hide, despite how much they haunt him.

This film was a hit at the 2010 Sundance and did moderately successful as an indie hit film. If you have the chance, I recommend you rent the DVD of Winter’s Bone. It’s a thriller for all its mystery and bizarreness is worth it.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Toy Story 3

Hi. With every Academy Awards, I usually review all the Best Picture nominees and give my feedback on them. So begins it this year. This year, we again have ten nominees for Best Picture. They range from big budget blockbusters to arthouse or filmfest pictures. From live action to animation. From timepieces to movies in current settings. From Hollywood to England.  From summer hits to the usual end-of-year serious lineup. I really can’t complain about this year’s set. With that in mind, I will start off with probably the most popular nominee of the year, Toy Story 3.

The first Toy Story, released back in 1995,  has to rank as one of the best animated pictures ever. Before the first Toy Story, there was no real 3D animation feature that was created. As Toy Story was released, that all changed. It not only was a hit but made a name for the Disney/Pixar collaboration and paved the way for many more 3D animation movies to where now 3D is the cream of the animation crop. As Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs made film history as the first ever feature-length animated film, Toy Story made history as the first ever 3D animated feature. Toy Story 2 proved that the Toy Story fever can happen again and even compete with live action. Eleven years later, we have the third and final installment of the groundbreaking series, Toy Story 3.

SPOILER WARNING: This review will have some spoilers of the movie’s plot and even the ending but I don’t think it should matter; assuming most of you have seen it already anyways.

It starts as the toys act out Andy’s toy fantasy as he plays with them while still a kid. Fast forward to the present, we see Andy’s all grown up, college-bound and hasn’t played with Woody, Buzz and friends for years. The toys face an uncertain future, unsure if they’ll be given away to those in need or trashed. Andy keeps Woody to take to college while bagging the rest for Sunnyside Daycare. The mother mistakes the bag of toys as trash and puts them to the side of the road. They manage to escape thanks to Woody and find themselves at Sunnyside. They’re first introduced to the place by Lots-O’-Huggin’-Bear, or ‘Lotso’, and it seems fine until they’re played with by, or should I say abused by, two year-olds. To make matters worse, Lotso has the place run like a toy prison and convinces all they were thrown away.

Meanwhile Woody is picked up by a toddler named Bonnie and decides she’d be best for the gang. He also finds out what happened to his friends from a clown named Chuckles and of how Lotso became the sinister toy svengali he is. Woody helps plan an escape for all the toys until Lotso cuts the escape short. He takes Woody to the dump truck with him and the toys all follow Woody to the dump where they find themselves on an incinerator leading to the furnace. Lotso attempts to help, only to trick them all into saving himself and leading them all to the furnace. All are spared a fiery demise as the squeeze toys rescue them through the claw they were fascinated by. All escape and return to Andy’s house while Lotso is strapped to the grill of a garbage truck for life.

Upon returning to Andy’s house, the toys place themselves in a box and Woody posts a note to be given to Bonnie. Andy gives all the toys except for Woody to Bonnie, but Woody does get her attention. Reluctant since Woody is his most prized childhood toy, Andy eventually does hand it over to Bonnie where he spends his last time with Woody playing with Bonnie. In the end, Woody and the gang are played with again by Bonnie and the Sunnyside tots and things work for the better as Sunnyside is no longer a prison and become beloved by the kids.

Overall this movie was excellently written and succeeds in becoming a surprise tearjerker. In animated movies, a script has to be top notch in order for it to succeed on screen and it does just that. Just as important is having top notch animation. Pixar is known for having graphics in their movies perfect to the minutest detail and they keep up their excellent work with the graphics in Toy Story 3. The voices and characters retain their original charm and the new toys are given a charm of their own. We even see a unique twist in Buzz Lightyear as he’s often reverted to Spanish mode. Overall the movie is completely enjoyable and will please Toy Story fans all over again.

Hard to believe the first two Toy Story movies were out when there was no Best Animated Feature Oscar. The first Toy Story was nominated for the 1995 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical and in three Oscar categories including Best Screenplay. Director John Lasseter was even awarded a special Oscar for creating the first ever computer animated feature. Toy Story 2 scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and won the 1999 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. The Academy only had the heart to give it a single Best Original Song nomination for ‘When She Loved Me’. The Best Animated Feature category was introduced at the 2001 Academy Awards, two years after Toy Story 2.  A win for Toy Story 3 in the Best Animated Feature category would not only be a win for the movie itself but an excellent ‘last hurrah’ for the groundbreaking series.  Not to mention the first Toy Story movie to win an Oscar. Toy Story 3 has already won the lion’s share of Best Animated Feature awards however it was dealt a shocker at the recent Annie Awards when it lost to How To Train Your Dragon. I doubt if there will be a shocker like that at the Oscars. Disney/Pixar movies have won five of the nine Best Animated Feature Oscars and it looks like Toy Story 3 will be #6. As for Best Picture, knowing the Academy, I don’t think Toy Story 3, or frankly any animated movie ever, will get Best Picture.

If you’re one of the many who saw Toy Story 3, consider yourselves satisfied to know you saw one of the best movies of 2010. A perfect ending to arguably the best animation series in film history.

Allow Me To Intradoose Myself!

Wow, what do I write for my first WordPress blog? Well, here it goes:

Hi, I’m Jon. I was born and raised in Winnipeg and currently live in Vancouver. I like to return there either for an occasional vacation or for visiting family at Christmas. I work both full time and part time. Yes, that’s one thing you learn about when you try to make a living in Vancouver. It’s hard with a capital H!

Some of you may ask why am I starting a WordPress blog? For so long I’ve sent e-mails to my friends about various topics and various views. Many have said that I should become a professional writer. I’d like to do that although I know the road is difficult. Most of the writers out there are freelance writers who get the occasional break. Although I don’t consider WordPress something to classify as professional writing, I consider it a step in the right direction and I hope it leads to something better one day.

My top interest is arts and showbiz. I moved to Vancouver with the intent of starting an acting career during its Hollywood North heydays only to learn that tens of thousands of acting wannabes with the same dream moved here too. Even though the film business isn’t as bustling as it was ten years ago, or even five, I’ve still been able to make a living in Vancouver. Of all entertainment topics, I like to talk about film the most. I like to talk about quality and exceptional films as well as movies that get the hugest fanfare. I also like writing reviews about movies. I also like to talk about the business aspect of film as well, in both the Oscar race and the box office race. Expect to see a lot more film talk in the future.

Religion is another interest of mine. I currently attend a Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church in Vancouver is one of the fastest growing Catholic communities in Canada with large turnouts at Archdiocese-wide events. Also noteworthy is that Vancouver has one of the highest percentages of people that profess no religious faith. That too is growing and that is one of the top challenges of Vancouver’s Catholic community as well as other church communities in Vancouver. I’ve also had my share of Christian churches of other denominations too, from the light and liberal to the staunchly strict to the downright controlling. It is through experience through the any churches I’ve attended that sparked my interest in religion. I’m also intrigued with both the Catholic and other Christian media and what they have to say and comment. Even if I disagree, or even get offended, with what they have to say, it still intrigues me. Expect to see my commentary on religion as part of my blog too.

Finally, politics is another interest of mine. Even though I’m not politically involved, I have views of my own. I consider my political stance to be ‘Centrist’: neither right nor left, neither conservative nor liberal. As a centrist, I have political viewpoints where I disagree with both conservatives and liberals on various issues. Often when I make a ‘political pitbull’ of myself, I will slam both the conservative and liberal side in equal numbers. I don’t intend to offend anyone with my views but I do believe in speaking my mind on what I honestly feel. Expect to see my views being spoken here.

I’m sure there are many more topics I could bring up under the sun but for now, this is what I have. Besides I wanted to start my first WordPress blog as an introduction to myself and what you can expect from me in the future. So I’ll talk to you all later and I hope you like what I have to say.