Tag Archives: 2014

My Top 10 Movies Of 2014

Hi. I know it’s been a long time for me to publish a blog. That’s a common trait of mine that if I do a lot of writing for one period of time, I tire out for a long time. That explains the lack of blogging. However I hope to get back to the process over the next while. I’m planning some more movie reviews and even a political topic or two.

Here, I’ll be posting my long-awaited Top 10 films list of the year. Here are the links to past years:

When it comes to reviewing movies, I’m not your typical ‘film snob.’ Most of the time I’m okay with the typical commercial Hollywood movies as long as it’s done well. I approach them with the attitude: “Okay I know it’s your job to sell big but give the audience their money’s worth.” I also have my own approach to the artsy film-fest fare type of films: “Okay I know you want to be creative and do your own inspired thing but don’t forget this will be shown in front of an audience. Don’t alienate them.”

That’s how I approach films. That’s also how I approach my Top 10 list. Bonus points are given to films that go beyond my expectations. With that in mind, here are my Top 10 films of 2014:

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it's a lot more.

  1. American Sniper
  2. Boyhood
  3. Selma
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. Wild
  6. Whiplash
  7. The Imitation Game
  8. Birdman
  9. The Theory of Everything
  10. Gone Girl

Honorable Mention:

  • Still Alice
  • Ida
  • Foxcatcher
  • The LEGO Movie
  • Interstellar
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2014 Oscars And Diversity

DISCLAIMER: Some of you may wonder about the lateness of this blog. True, I could have posted this around the time of the nominations or around the time the winners were announced. However I was busy enough with watching and reviewing films around Oscar time. Also I was tired of blogging for a long time after the Oscars were awarded. This is something long-time subscribers of mine are familiar with where I take time out from blogging after the Awards. Nevertheless this is a subject that is relevant any time and is worth posting even now.

The Academy's lack of diversity was exposed this year with the subbing of David Oyelowo's performance in Selma from a Best Actor nomination and director Ava DuVernay's snub of a Best Director nomination.

The Academy’s lack of diversity was exposed this year with the subbing of David Oyelowo’s performance of Martin Luther King in Selma from a Best Actor nomination and director Ava DuVernay’s snub of a Best Director nomination.

When the Oscar nominations came out Thursday January 15th, with it came the ranting and complaining from people. The Hollywood Reporter is right that if there’s one thing we love more than watching the Oscars, it’s complaining about them. Every year, there are complaints from people about nominations that deserved to happen but didn’t. The biggest example for this year would be The LEGO Movie snubbed in the Best Animated Feature category. There’s also the possible complaint from people, especially Republicans, that none of the eight Best Picture nominees had grossed even $60 million at that time. One such to raise eyebrows, especially at Box Office Mojo. However the biggest noise came over the lack of racial diversity among the nominees, especially the acting nominees. It was all over social media. It even appeared in a speech by Jessica Chastain at this year’s Critics Choice awards. The question being how legitimate is this claim? And what does this say of the film industry.

How The Oscar Race Works

One thing I’ve been doing in my fifteen years of paying close attention to the Oscar race is learning how nominations are won. One thing I already know that having a phenomenal performance or effort in a critically-renowned film is good to get the buzz started. Then it involves having it taken to all those Critics Circle awards, film body awards, Top 10 films of the year charts from critics, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the respective various guilds and members of the Academy through various DVDs with ‘for your consideration’ stamped all over it and even ‘for your consideration’ posters. Even things of merit like Oscar nominations require marketing to success in this lovely industry called showbiz.

Then it’s up for the Academy members to vote. How does one become a member? The easiest way– or should I say the most guaranteed way as nothing’s easy in showbiz– is be nominated for an Oscar. That’s the sure-fire method. The harder method is to earn consistent acclaim over the years with your efforts and performances. There are a lot of members that were never nominated for an Oscar so there must be some merit system towards achieving Academy membership. Performances and efforts get a lot of Oscar buzz and a load of acclaim from critics, critics’ boards and awards juries. It’s now up for the members of the Academy to vote for the nominees. One thing we need to remember is that nominating operates branch-by-branch. Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, scriptwriters nominate scripts, documentarians nominate documentaries, and so forth. One thing’s that’s certain is all members vote for Best Picture.

The funny thing is how many performances and efforts each year that are labeled Oscar-worthy. It’s like I always describe the nominations race: “Lots of performances deserving of the win. Only room for five nominees.” You can tell how hard it is to be among what should be called the ‘elite of the year.’ I even describe that by saying “Sometimes even excellent isn’t good enough.” It’s obvious why a lot of actors and other people in film rely on such buzz and advertising to get a nomination because they can’t rely on just their performance as-is. This is showbiz and it’s about that push and about politicking and advertising and cash pumping that lead to all these nominations and nothing is completely guaranteed. Even The LEGO Movie looked like a sure bet for the Best Animated Feature nomination but it didn’t get it. That to me was the biggest snub this year.

Then the nominations came. Selma was among the eight films to earn nominations for Best Picture. However the big shock came in the latter categories. Selma also had its best hopes in earning nominations in the Best Actor category for David Oyelowo and the Best Director category for Ava DuVernay. Both were already Golden Globe nominees and Critics Choice award nominees. However neither of the nominations happened. The only other nomination that Selma received was in the Best Original Song category for ‘Glory’ which had already won the Golden Globe.

The snubs bit. Ava’s bit especially since this would have made her the fourth black director and the fifth female director to clinch a Best Director nomination. Just as irritating is who was nominated in their place. For Best Actor, Redmayne, Keaton, Cumberbatch and Carell had enough buzz to sit pretty. David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhall of Nightcrawler looked like to be the tightest race for the fifth spot. For Best Director, Inarritu, Tyldum, Linklater and Anderson had the biggest buzz while DuVernay appeared to have her biggest competition for the fifth sport from Clint Eastwood for American Sniper. As what should have been expected for Best Actor, it went to a peer: Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. This was the third year in a row he was nominated for an Oscar. Unexpectedly in Best Director, the directors went for a lesser-celebrated peer: Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This is his second nomination, first being for Capote in 2005.

As much as the snubs bit, it’s not that unusual for more celebrated performances to be snubbed out in favor of lesser-hailed performances and efforts by Academy ‘peers.’ I first learned that in 2000, the very first year I paid serious attention to the Oscar race, when after I saw Billy Elliot, I was rooting for young Jamie Bell to get a Best Actor nomination. I even said: “If Billy Elliot gets a Best Picture nomination, then Jamie better get a Best Actor nomination.” The Academy granted my wish by making neither nomination happen. Favored over Jamie in the Best Actor category was the performance of Ed Harris, who had two previous Oscar nominations, in his self-directed Pollock: a movie and performance whose buzz either slipped under the radar or was kept low key because it wasn’t as heralded by previous awards. I saw it repeated in 2004 in the Best Actor category when Clint Eastwood was nominated for Million Dollar Baby. Sure his directing work was hugely heralded and his Best Director nomination was expected but his Best Actor nomination was completely out of the blue as it neither won nor was nominated for any other awards, major or minor. I continue to see it on a yearly basis in the Best Original Score category. It’s a given that whenever John Williams composes a score for a film, he’s guaranteed to get nominated. Even if it’s mostly unnoticed, it will find itself on the nominees lists even over more lauded scores by lesser known composers. Surprise nominees have happened in other categories over the years too. Rarely but often enough to take notice.

You can bet the outrage would start after the snubbing of Selma. All the acting and directing nominees were white. All the directing and writing nominees were white males. Additional irritation came when the script of Gone Girl was not nominated. This would have made Gillian Flynn the lone female writer among screenplay nominees. The anger came fast. Sasha Stone at the Awards Daily website was fuming. Bill Maher lampooned it. Jessica Chastain talked about the importance of diversity among Oscar nominees in her Critics Choice award acceptance speech. There was even the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The craziest news came from the Rev. Al Sharpton and his plan to start up a diversity task force on the Academy. Actually Al’s remarks were the least of my concern. Al Sharpton is less of a civil rights leader than he is a drama queen.

However it was later exposed in an Entertainment Weekly article where DuVernay herself was personally interviewed by the magazine the real facts. It wasn’t racism as so many want to believe. It wasn’t even the controversy of her portrayal of LBJ. Nor was it even her involvement in raising activism over the not-guilty verdict over the shooting of Michael Brown or her promotion of the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ campaign. It was however marketing. Even though she had a Golden Globe nomination as did Oyelowo, the film was shunned out of the Screen Actors Guild awards, Directors Guild awards and the Producers Guild’s Golden Laurel awards, weakening Selma‘s chances for Oscar nominations. Even her own late distribution of the promotional DVD to Academy members, meaning members wouldn’t get it until later-December with little time to spare for nomination voting, decreased Selma‘s chances even further. Who you know doesn’t just involve getting acting jobs. It can even involve awards nominations too. In the end, Selma was nominated for Best Picture but its only other nomination was for Best Original Song for ‘Glory,’ which would go on to win the Oscar. However Selma became the first Best Picture nominee since 2002’s Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers without additional nominations in acting, directing or scriptwriting.

Whatever happened, it did expose a lot of holes in the Academy. Having a group of peers declaring nominees does leave for a lot of subjectivity in its choices. You can describe a lot of performances as ‘deserving’ of an Oscar win or even a nomination but the reality is this is showbiz. As much as there are a lot of performances and efforts deserving of nominations, I’m also well aware that showbiz is one domain where you won’t get what you deserve no matter how hard you work. Being able to command at least $1,000,000 per film, getting the big break of a lifetime and even getting an Oscar nomination are all as much about luck as even making it as an actor, especially in Hollywood. And it’s not uncommon to see peer favoritism in terms of Oscar nominations and seeing a deserving performance from an up-and-comer snubbed out.

Such snubs especially bite when it happens to a minority. People magazine even did a 1996 cover article entitled ‘Hollywood Black-Out’ about how black actors and other blacks in the film industry are shunned out. It’s not just blacks. Seeing the rare times when an actor/actress of a different race is nominated brings up reminders how their race is also given too little acclaim from the Academy. Having black celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock host the Oscars has done little to quell this controversy. The fact that the AMPAS Academy is headed by a black woman, Cheryl Boone-Isaacs,  still did little to ease whatever tensions over diversity pop up. Even the awarding of Best Picture to Twelve Years A Slave last year was instantly forgotten. Even though I’ve faced the fact that this is showbiz and there’s really no such thing as unfair, I too would like to see more diversity happen.

Diversity Not Just Black And White

It’s not just a case of black actors or directors or other African-American filmworkers of various trades. We should also remember about Latin Americans. The last fifteen years has seen a good number of nominations going to actors from the Latin American countries or Americans of Latin American ancestry but even those are very rare as are the wins. I think Benicio del Toro is the only winner for this century. Just as excluded are Asian actors. I remember there wasn’t a single acting nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon despite its many nominations. There have only been two winners in the history of the Oscars: Miyoshi Umeki and Haing Ngor. Even actors of other races have been shunned aside or given limited acclaim.

Even gender is a diversity issue. Four women have been nominated for Best Director. The first being Lina Wertmuller in 1975. The fourth and most recent being Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 who became the first woman to win the Oscar in that category for The Hurt Locker. Scriptwriting has been more friendly with more female nominees but still predominantly male. Nevertheless this year bit when the script from the hugely successful Gone Girl which was adapted to film by the novel’s own author Gillian Flynn was shunned out of the nominations. Gender diversity is more active in the technical nominations like Best Costume Design or Best Film Editing and even in the short film categories. Nevertheless seeing missing nominations in the higher categories does cause one to notice the exclusivity.

New Century, Bigger Diversity

The biggest surprise of it all is that the 21st century has either equaled, or has come close to equaling, the diversity numbers of the 20th century. On the subject of black actors and actresses, they have achieved five wins and thirty-one total nominations in the whole 20th century and amassed a total of nine wins and twenty-nine nominations in the 21st century. The 21st century has also included breakthroughs like Halle Berry being the first to win Best Actress and Denzel Washington becoming the first ever to win two Oscars. Even in the Best Director category there was only one black director ever nominated in the 20th century: John Singleton for Boyz ‘N Tha Hood. This century there were two: Lee Daniels for Precious and Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave. It’s not just African-Americans getting nominations and wins but black actors from many countries being nominated in this century like Djimon Hounsou from Benin, Sophie Okonedo and Chitewel Ejiofor from the UK and Mexican-born Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

On the subject of other races, one bright light was that 2003 had the most racially diverse set of acting nominees with nine non-white actors nominated including New Zealand Maori Keshia Castle-Hughes, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, half-Indian British actor Ben Kingsley and Japanese actor Ken Watanabe among the many.

Some of you may be shocked to know that 2014 is only the second year in the 21st century that the acting nominations went all to white actors. Makes you wonder what’s more shocking? The fact that all were white or the fact that this is only the second year in the 21st century to do such? The only other year that this has been the case was 2010. Only back then there were no performances by racial minorities that garnered significant buzz to stimulate Oscar buzz. Not like this year where efforts from Selma achieved noticeable buzz.

Diversity is slowly but surely opening up in the directing categories. The last three Best Director wins have been won by racial minorities: Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The 21st century may have had only two female Best Director nominees including one winner but there were only two in the whole 20th century. The 21st century has also opened up to female writers more. I even noticed in 2007 that three of the five scripts nominated for Best Original Screenplay were written by women including the winning script from Juno by Diablo Cody.

The Future Of Diversity In Hollywood

Despite the improvement in diversity over the last few decades, we have to look at the big picture of diversity not just in the Academy but Hollywood as a whole. I will admit that minorities are underserved in terms of box office fare. It’s not like the 90’s or the noughts where there were bigger box office stars of different races. Actually this last century has been an enigma in terms of defining a movie star’s success altogether. However I will say there was noticeably more movies back during those decades where a minority was the main star. We all remember a lot of those hip hop movies from long ago? Or even rappers taking on acting roles? Sometimes you wonder if we should blame Hollywood or the movie-going public? Like why does it seem the most racial diversity we see in terms of blockbuster fare nowadays are Tyler Perry movies?

Back on the topic of the Oscars, I wanted to delay my blog about this because I wanted the firestorm after the nominations to die down. Yes, there were a lot of people angry about the lack of diversity this year. There even some angry enough to dismiss past diversity of Oscar nominees, including AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone dismissing it as an “Illusion of inclusion,” which is typical of Sasha’s ranting. There were some critics however who pointed out there were a lot of other snubs from deserving efforts from non-minorities reminding us how chancy it is to get nominated. Even one anonymous blogger said “You can’t simply give a nomination to them because they’re a minority. You should nominate them because you feel their performance deserves it.” It is true. Even though I would love to see diversity happen amongst Oscar nominees, I am aware of the harsh realities of showbiz including that of the Academy. In actual fact, the Academy actually does not owe anyone diversity. Same as Hollywood doesn’t really owe anybody anything. The only thing the Academy really owes on ‘Nomination Day’ are nominations to the five best performances and efforts of the year.

One thing I do feel the Academy should do is reorganize itself. It should especially reorganize its ability in selecting members of the Academy. It’s not clear how members of the Academy outside of past Oscar nominees are selected. One thing it should do is allow for more fair rules for allowing for diversity. Whatever panel that selects Academy members should go to more film events like the various film festivals for selecting new members including those with focus on minorities. It should go to more media events as well. I’m even tempted to suggest the Academy should expand its nominees per category from five to seven but that’s up for the Academy to decide.

Since I mentioned film festivals, this is my next focus on how to increase opportunities for minorities, and this isn’t simply for Oscar nominations. Film festivals have to be the most minority-friendly of opportunities. I know because I’ve attended the Vancouver Film festival for many years. I’ve seen films from various countries directed by a diverse variety of people including many films directed by women. Minorities of both race and gender should seize every channel they can to get their works out into the public eye and film festivals are their best bet. There are even ‘specific’ film festivals dedicated to race and ethnicity and even women’s film festivals including one festival that advertises ‘by women for everyone.’ That’s why I said after the Oscar nominations: “You want diversity? Go to a film festival. There you’ll get diversity in film making.”

Since I’m on the topic, that’s another thing I feel minorities should overcome: beating out false stigmas associated with their works. I know I’ve talked a lot about changes and improvements certain professionals should make. I can’t really say the same about minority actors and directors because they’re not really doing anything wrong. They should all keep doing what they’re doing and follow their dreams. Even David and Ava did nothing wrong really and they should keep on chasing their dreams. However they are sometimes given a stigma with their works and efforts that’s not entirely true in which they should fight off. I often feel that most of the film world thinks of black directors to be like Spike Lee who always has an angry view of white people. It’s not 100% true as Selma showed the white supporters of the Selma marches in a positive light. As for female directors, I feel there’s a bit of a myth that sometimes female directors can either direct ‘chick movies’ or be the type that mocks men just like Roseanne Barr used to. It’s not true as I’ve seen films directed by women at the VIFF that depicted men in a fair light. Plus I never saw Ava try to give a negative impression of men in Selma. Yes, these stigmas are an undeserved burden for them but they should fight it by letting their works speak for themselves.

In conclusion, the lack of diversity among the 2014 Oscar nominees not only exposed a big hole in the Academy but also in Hollywood. As if showbiz isn’t unfair enough. 2015 is only three months old. The 2014 Oscars were decided a month ago and the nominations for 2015 are 9 1/2 months away. There have already been film festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Berlin showcasing films for this year. There will be more film festivals this year like Cannes, Venice and Toronto and even smaller film festivals showcasing a multitude of films locally and around the world. Time will tell which will receive Oscar buzz. Time will also pay close attention to potential nominees. However tracing improvements or declines in diversity can’t be traced in a single year. This is something that will have to take at least a decade or two to see if progress in terms of diversity has been achieved. Even though Hollywood and the Academy is as much of a clique as any other channel of showbiz and even smaller film communities, barriers still should be broken and diversity of newcomers should still be welcomed.

2014 was definitely a year when minorities of both race and gender were overlooked in terms of Oscar acclaim. Despite the Academy being more open in the last two decades, most people were left with the common impression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Only time will tell if improvements in diversity within the Academy and film making as a whole have been made.

Oscars 2014 Best Animated Shorts Review

Cinema

Normally each year I’d see the Oscar nominated shorts for both animation and live-action on the same day. Because of my crazy schedule, I actually seized the chance to see the animated nominees on Saturday. I arrived in decent time and was able to see all five nominees plus four additional shortlisted films. Here are my thoughts on the nominees.

Me And My Moulton – dir. Torill Kove – Kove has already won the Oscar in this category before for The Danish Poet. I haven’t seen it so I can’t compare the two. Nevertheless it is a charming short with 2D drawings telling of a personal story of a troubling time in Kove’s childhood for her and her family that ended on a happy note. It’s a good story that shows the differences between the world through a child’s eye and the world through adults’ eyes. It gives you a happy ending you hope for despite the troubles you see. Interesting how it’s the National Film Board of Canada that that produced it this time.

Feast – dirs. Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed – If you’ve seen Big Hero 6, then you’ve already seen this short that was screened before. It’s another Disney short where you don’t need very much dialogue to get the story. Even with the little dialogue in there, you’ll get it. You just have to let Winston the dog to the talking and the acting. However it’s the ending that turns out to be a surprise. You think it will end one way like Winston really is man’s best friend but instead ends on a funnier note that’s very fitting. Excellent animation and enjoyable for all ages. However I’m kind of pessimistic that it will win. Usually shorts shown before Disney features don’t win.

The Bigger Picture – dirs. Daisy Jacobs and Chris Hees – This is a film where the focus is more on the animation than it is on the actual story. Yes, there’s the story of the two brothers discussing the fate of their elderly mother and the ensuing squabble after squabble. However you can tell that with this story looking like oil paintings coming to life, you can tell it’s the art which is given more focus. The style is very unique and the story has an enjoyable humor to it.

A Single Life – dir. Joris Oprins – It’s just three minutes but this 3D story really entertains. You think the girl is playing a simple vinyl single but surprise surprise, her life elapses as the song plays on from beginning to end. Cute, bizarre and entertaining where even her timely death at at the end–a death that’s surprising but you should expect– is funny and surprising. Seeing how this film packs in so much in three minutes and successfully entertains, I pick this as my Should Win pick.

The Dam Keeper – dirs. Robert Kondo and Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi – It’s the longest of the five nominees. It’s a story that starts off sad where the pig both works the dam’s windmill and goes to school ridiculed by all the other animal students. Things change when a new student, a fox with a knack for drawing, joins the class. Soon a friendship builds. However things change for the worse one day as the pig sees what he suspects to be a mockative drawing of him and the fog overtakes the city. The story ends with how it should. The short is charming as the caricatures can remind many of Richard Scarry books. The story is rather dark but it does end with a fairy tale-like ending that remains true to the story instead of a lopsided ending. That’s why I predict it for the Will Win pick.

It’s always entertaining and interesting when watching the nominated shorts. The interesting part is seeing the various styles of animation in the film. We have the 2D style of drawings of Torill Kove’s style, 3D style common in Disney/Pixar films, paintings coming to life, humorous 3D style and painting style 2D caricatures. This allows for a lot of diversity in the nominees. Also noteworthy are the ‘commended’ shorts that didn’t get nominated: Sweet Cocoon, Footprints, Duet and Bus Story. Especially with the latter being a Canadian story that’s charming. They were all also very impressive and had a unique style about them.

And there you go. Those are my thoughts on the Best Animated Short Film nominees. There’s hardly ever a sure favorite and it’s always hard to predict the winner. Nevertheless it’s still enjoyable to watch and I’ll just have to wait a couple of more weeks to see who wins.

2014 Box Office In Review: A Down Year But Not Out

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It’s fair to say that 2014 was not an exciting year for movies. It’s fair to make that judgment especially after the year-end box office result in terms of both total gross and ticket numbers. It’s also fair to say that 2014 did not show as huge of a loss as expected and this became the sixth straight year of raking in more than $10 billion.

Some may wonder why I would be so optimistic. Actually around the time I wrote my Bumpy Summer blog, it was quite questionable about how well the 2014 box office would fare. The first quarter from January to March looked on par with 2013 but the second quarter from April to June looked doubtful. Further doubt continued with the lackluster summer. However the last four months of the year were consistent enough for 2014 to end on a more optimistic note.

September saw the continuation of Guardians Of The Galaxy on top at the beginning. However the month progressed with strong openings for No Good Deed and Dolphin Tale 2. The Maze Runner also opened strong with The Equalizer. However it was not enough as this September totaled $449.2 million: $21 million less than last September.

October was a real picker-upper for the month as Gone Girl debut on top at the beginning and surprised just about everybody with its longevity.Its second weekend even outdid openings from Dracula Untold and the Alexander movie. It took Fury to dethrone it from the top in its third week. Even with Ouija and John Wick having the highest debuts the final weekend, the month belonged to Gone Girl. At the end of the month, this year gave us the highest-grossing October ever with $848.4 million.

November was expected to be a big month with the opening of Mockingjay in the fourth weekend and a lot of huge buzz expected for it. The three weekends before its opening yo-yoed with Ouija staying on top but with a measly $10.7 million. The second weekend saw big openings with Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Dumb and Dumber Too opened well but not as well as expected. Then came the opening for Mockingjay and as expected, it was a biggie with $121.9 million: the biggest opening weekend of 2014. However it was not good news as it was the lowest opening weekend for any Hunger Games movie: $30.5 million less than the first movie’s opening weekend and $36.5 million less than Catching Fire’s opener exactly a year ago. Mockingjay remained on top for the last weekend in November. This November’s total gross of $1.03 billion missed last November’s total by $458 million: almost half a billion.

The first weekend continued with the reign of Mockingjay on top and the biggest opener The Pyramid only coming in 9th on the chart. Things looked more promising as Exodus: Gods And Kings opened strongly. December was expected to end strongly with the last Hobbit movie opening in the third weekend. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies did open strongly with $54.7 million and the following weekend continued with strong attendance for a total of over $200 million that weekend.

There were a lot of ups and downs this year. The downs made more news than the ups. In the end, the box office of 2014 totaled $10.355 billion: down 5.2% from the record-setting $10.923 billion of 2013. The numbers were not too impressive as far total grosses go either. The highest-grossing movie of this year, Guardians Of The Galaxy, totaled $333 million: the lowest-grossing #1 movie of the year since 2001. Even Mockingjay’s opening weekend was very lacklustre.

Despite it all, I do give it credit. For the sixth straight year, the box office has grossed over $10 billion. There’s always the concerns of new technologies like Netflix and watching movies on your smartphone that always cause concern for how the box office will fare but it’s still consistent despite the drop. It will take Hollywood a big effort to continue getting people to the theatres to enjoy movies. It will be continuously faced with challenges a new technologies will keep on coming our way. However I am confident people will want to go to the theatres for the movies. People enjoy it. However it will take Hollywood and the other studios to deliver them the stuff worth enjoying. I am however optimistic for 2015 . We’ll have to see.

WORKS CITED:

“Yearly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

“Monthly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/monthly/

“Weekend Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/

A VIFF 2014 Wrap-Up: A Record Year

CinemaDISCLAIMER: Okay, I know this is a month late but I’ve had some computer problems plus I was waiting for some certain facts that still have not yet come. Nevertheless I decided to publish this VIFF wrap-up as is today. Especially since I want to get my review of Mommy out soon.

The Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped itself up the night of Friday, October 10th. It was quite the sixteen days of films, discussions, films, events, films. You get the point. Nevertheless the end gave lots for people at the VIFF to smile about.

You may remember last year was about getting used to a new system of theatres with the closure of both the Granville 7 and the Ridge. This led to two new smaller theatres, a back-theatre to a mainstage and temporary use of three theatres in a downtown megaplex. It worked out well in the end in more ways than one.  Firstly it helped the VIFF have a very good per-screen average of attended. Secondly it was an opportunity to learn and make improvements for the following year. This year was really excellent both in terms of attendance and festivities. I’ll get to the numbers later in my blog. One thing is that the film festival heads were now more familiar with the new format and could make it work better this time.

It seems like each year is a new adventure both in watching films and volunteering. Volunteering was a unique thing this year as people could now schedule their shifts electronically via an online booking system. Nevertheless things were the same that we all still had to sign in and sign out via a paper sheet. Yep, they still keep a total of hours through that method. One of the good things about the electronic system is that it expected people to trade shifts if they couldn’t make it or call in to cancel. A confirmation e-mail would be sent to them with a number for them to call and cancel if they couldn’t make it. If they didn’t, they risked being dropped and having their volunteer card cancelled if they had free movies in mind.

Another unique thing this year was we were not all confined to a single theatre. We could book shifts to as many theatres as we wanted. The commitment level was still expected as we were still expected to meet up with the theatre manager at all our shifts. I was able to book for SFU Woodwards, Cinematheque, The Rio, International Village (Tinseltown) and the Centre for Performing Arts. I think the only ones I didn’t do were the VanCity and the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse. Nevertheless it made for some good times. It made for some frustrations too in the case of scanners that delayed their use at times or didn’t scan passes or iPhones well.

One unique duty as far as volunteering was surveying. This was something new as I’ve never seen surveying done before. It wasn’t an easy thing to do as there wasn’t that huge of a number of people willing to do it at first. When incentives for entry into a contest came up, I made myself willing. There were three times I did it: a Saturday and a Sunday at Tinseltown and closing day at the Centre for Performing Arts including the gala. It was a good focus on attendees with the prime focus on people from out of town.

Filmwatching opportunities were good for me as you can tell by my reviews. However this year was not the year I gave the most reviews. Last year was with 16. This year I was able to review 14 even though I saw 15 in their entirety or close enough. The only one I chose not to review was In Search Of Chopin because it was more a DVD biography of Chopin simply played in front of a big screen. I saw films from France, Canada, the UK, the US, New Zealand, Mexico, the Netherlands and South Korea. I saw comedies, dramas, documentaries, shorts, feature-length films, television shows brought to the screen, independent films and big production company films. It was a good mix though I wish I could see more variety but I’m not complaining. They were all unique and had their own styles. I don’t think I saw anything really bad this year. Also I don’t think any of the movies I saw pushed the envelope in a big way unlike in the past. I think El Incidente was probably the edgiest because it told a unique story of the supernatural.

The most interesting thing that happened on screen was the unexpected airing of a short before some films showed. The short was called Echoes and I saw it three times: only once in its entirety. The first time I saw it, it was as it was ending and I thought I walked into the theatre just as a film was finishing. I tried looking in my VIFF guide for it but couldn’t find it. All I knew was that it was produced by the Weinstein brothers. Then I saw it again just before I saw Haemoo. Once again I walked in long after the short started and it didn’t make much sense at first. Also this time it was at the Centre and they had a tent from Lexus where they were signing people up for a Lexus contest, in which I entered. Later on I learned of the title and researched it online. I saw some Youtube videos and write ups about it and how both Lexus and the Weinstein Group are involved in its promotion. It caught my interest but still left me confused what the short was all about. I finally did have a chance to see it in its entirety when I was in my seat long before I saw El Incidente. I finally got what it was all about and the point of airing it before the show. Funny how it wasn’t until the very last show when it all made sense.

The number of films I saw could have been higher especially with the Rio having their 11:30 at night screenings for seven of those days. However I would only be willing to see such a late-night film if it was worth it and I was guaranteed to return home in decent time that night. I only saw two 11:30 shows. There were some I passed up: the one the first Friday because of its late start time, the one the second Friday because I was ticket scanning and only finished scanning long after the film started, two because I already saw one film while ushering and that was enough, and the one on the Thursday before closing because I fell ill. Weird how I was still ill but saw the 11:30 Rio show on the last night of the VIFF. Hey, it’s a personal tradition of mine I either see the last VIFF movie or volunteer on closing day.

As for the festival itself, the Festival had its third-highest number in terms of flat ticket entries: 144,000. 2011 and 2010 had higher numbers but this year’s VIFF of 144,000 entries over 349 films exceeded 2011’s record for per-screen attendance of 150,000 over 386 films. The results are especially impressive when you compare it 2012 which had more films and with last year under the new format. Last year’s total entries were 130,000: an increase this year by more than 10%. Great job, VIFF!

Anyways here is the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival by the numbers:

 

144,000: estimated gated attendance

1000+: Film and Television forum delegates

700+: volunteers

549: public screenings

349: films shown

  • 219: feature length (60+ minutes)
  • 130: short or mid-length films (less than 60 minutes)

76: Canadian Films shown

68: countries entering films

83: Canadian premieres

  • 45: North American premieres
  • 24: International premieres (first screening outside home country)
  • 11: World Premieres

24: Media Screenings

19: entries in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars shown

18: percentage increase of visitors from the US

17: panels featuring 73 speakers

16: days of showing films

9: screens showing films

7: theatres participating in the VIFF

 

Now I know some of you want to know the award winners. Here they are:

ROGERS PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

-THE VANCOUVER ASAHI (Canada), dir. Ishii Yuya

VIFF MOST POPULAR INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM AWARD

-GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME (USA), dir. James Keach

BEST NEW DIRECTOR AWARD (tie)

-MISS AND THE DOCTORS, dir. Axelle Ropert

-REKORDER, dir. Mikhail Red

VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN DOCUMENTARY AWARD

-ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, dir. Suzanne Crocker

Runners-Up: MARINONI, dir. Tony Girardin

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

VIFF IMPACT AWARD

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN FILM AWARD

-PREGGOLAND, dir. Jacob Tierney

WOMEN IN FILM AND TELEVISION ARTISTIC MERIT AWARD

-SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MARLENE, dir. Ana Valine

BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM AWARD

-VIOLENT, dir. Andrew Huculak

MOST PROMISING DIRECTOR OF A CANADIAN SHORT FILM

-THE CUT, dir. Geneviève Dulude-Decelles

Honorable Mention:

BEST BC FILM:

-VIOLENT, dir. Andrew Huculak

MUST SEE BC AWARD:

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

BC EMERGING FILMMAKER AWARD:

-SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MARLENE, dir. Ana Valine

Those were awarded at Friday’s closing gala. After the VIFF closed, VIFF repeats happened at select theatres for three more days. I helped volunteer two of those days at the SFU. Then it was the volunteer party on Sunday. I was able to get there right after seeing Still Life. The party was at the Rickshaw Theatre and it started with a showing of the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure which not only consisted of the movie being shown but a cast re-enacting and spoofing the movie. There were even times they had people from the audience including myself participate. After the showing, it was a feast on appetizers, drinks and dancing to two of the VIFF’s favorite bands. Of course there were prizes given away and this year’s posters being given out. Great to see this year’s VIFF end on an exciting note.

So there you go. The 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival ended with record success and fun for all volunteers. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 24th to October 9th, 2015 and should be bigger and better. I know last year I said I hoped the VIFF would be one Film Festival added to the FIAPF: the International Federation of Film Producers Associations. However some people prefer that it’s not as they feel VIFF not being part of the FIAPF-associated film fests would add to the VIFF’s reputation being an unspoiled celebration of film. We’ll see in the future. Anyways things look optimistic already and the VIFF’s reputation improves over time. See you next year!

VIFF 2014 Review: The Incident (El Incidente)

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident was actually the very last movie shown during the VIFF. I actually saw four more in the VIFF repeats: some I will post my review in later days. The Incident turned out to be a good choice because I felt I was missing a film that was either envelope-pushing or edgy. This Mexican film turned out to be just that.

The film begins with two seemingly unrelated scenes. One is of a couple in a hotel just married and another is of an elderly woman lying on an escalator. Then cut to the first scene. Two brothers living in an apartment ion the ninth floor are confronted by a detective who thinks they’ve done them wrong. He has a gun and he’s after them down a staircase. Then a mysterious explosion happens. One of the brothers is shot in the leg. They go for help but once they hit the main floor, they find themselves back on the ninth floor. They’re both confused as is the hitman. They try and find a door to get out but they’re stuck. Adding to the bizarreness, whatever food or drinks that were taken from the vending machine in the stairwell comes back instantly. Then the brother dies. That leaves the other brother and the hitman stuck in the stairwell with no way out.

Second scene is a seemingly unrelated incident. A family head out on a road trip. It’s the mother, stepfather, teenage son and the six year-old asthmatic daughter. They pass a convenience store on the way to the camping ground. Then an explosion like the one involving the three men happened. The daughter has an asthma attack. They look for an inhaler but Daniel the son admits he forgot it at home. The stepfather accidentally broke the other one on the road. They go back to the convenience store only to find it empty. They try to head back home but the pass the campground sign they saw just miles ago. Meanwhile the daughter’s attack is worsening. Nevertheless the family keep coming across the same empty convenience store and pass the same campground sign. They too are stuck in the infinite standstill with no way out. The daughter does die.

The film returns to the stairwell. This time it’s filled with litter and is full of writing on the walls about various things including how long it’s been since the incident. It’s 35 years past. We see one elderly man and one middle aged man. This has been their ‘house’ during that time with nothing but food from the machines to eat and using water bottles for showering and using empties for sewage. Thirty-five years have passed for the family as well. Daniel is now a middle-aged man while his parents are elderly and unkept. The desert has been their home since and the ground is where the little girl was buried.

It’s all a mystery to get it solved even though they both know the cause of the problem. It’s because they won’t let go of the bad memories. The brother because of the shooting and Daniel for believing he caused his sister’s death. However it’s when one of the men in the apartment talks of a memory he had a long time ago of what happened when he was with his father when he accidentally died. After finally making sense, they’re able to get it solved and a door can finally be opened. After that, the people in both scenes can now live their lives in a forward motion. The daughter is still alive and Daniel can live his life even though it’s imperfect and full of problems. The two brothers and the detective also live their lives even though one will get a life sentence for a murder they commit later. However it’s at the very end when we see a newlywed couple in an elevator controlled by an elevator man named Karl that we learn it’s not all completely over.

This is one of those paranormal things I’ve never seen before. It consists of an everyday scenario then a sudden explosion happens. Then a near-fatal incident happens. After that, it’s nothing but a repetitive infinite that eventually leads to the vulnerable person’s death and everyone within that circle stuck in the same time and place forever. Four different scenarios of the infinite. All but one unrelated to the other and exactly thirty-five years apart. This may have been done before or it may be something original from director Isaac Ezban but it will haunt you. Especially seeing time elapse 35 years and how those involved in the two main situations all age staying stuck in the same place. It’s the creepiness of the bizarre that keeps you in suspense.

You hope those involved with the two scenarios will find a way out and they do. They’re also able to live their lives out, even though they’d live out a life that would have both Daniel and the detective lose in the end. But at least they lived lives where they moved forward. However even though we see the two live out their lives, we’re reminded from a moment seen during the opening scene that there was one thing unanswered: how it all started or who is behind it. We learn it right there at the end when the married couple get their own nightmare of the infinite. The ending can even leave one wondering if the couple will be able to work their own way out of the tragedy and the infinite that came with it.

As for whether it would be a crowd-grabber, that’s a question. I know crowds are willing to go to something as gruesome as Saw but you wonder if they’d go to something like this. It is something the thriller crowd would get their attention stolen with. It’s also a very smart and creative thriller that gives nothing away. I can see this being made into an American version in the future and can attract crowds of sci-fi. However seeing a six-year old girl die from asthma may be too much for them to handle. Seeing the long-haired old people might also freak them out.  Also this story may be a bit too bizarre for them to understand.

Kudos to Isaac Ezban for creating a creative story that’s both mysterious and smart, even if there were scenes that might creep many out. It’s hard to pick out the one single performance that was the best because there were so many good performances. Humberto Busto, Erick Camacho, Gabriel Santoyo, Hernan Mendoza, it’s hard to pick out the one who’s the best. It’s the ensemble of actors that delivered here. No one stand-out. All very good and all very believable.

The Incident (El Incidente) is an original thriller that may not be something that most moviegoers would want to see, including young fans of thrillers, but it’s very smart, very mysterious and worth watching.

VIFF 2014 Review: Haemoo (Sea Fog – 해무)

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Even though the Vancouver International Film Festival is officially over, I still have four films left to review. Now on with the fourth-last. I have a habit every VIFF to see at least one national entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars. Here at the VIFF I saw Haemoo: South Korea’s official entry. I’m glad I did.

The film begins with Kang Cheol-ju, a captain of a fishing ship the Jeonjinho that’s old, crumbly and is catching less than ever. Because of the low catches in the fishing industry and the difficulties with South Korea’s economy, Kang is in danger of losing his ship and his livelihood. In the meantime one of his crewmen Dong Sik has just joined the boat. He doesn’t see himself pursuing a livelihood as a shiphand and is contemplating construction.

Kang has just received an idea of how to make money for his ship, big money. He’s been offered a deal to go into the illegal trade. He’s willing to involve himself with anything to get him ahead, whether it be illegal jewels or even illegal immigrants. He knows it means going into international waters and possibly get arrested by the coast guard but he believes it will work.

One day after going into international waters they spot a ship full of illegal immigrants from China and North Korea. They have to make the tricky transfer from their ship to the Jeonjinho. Yes, walking across. Thirty or so men and one female make it. However there’s one young frail woman who fell into the water. Dong Sik doesn’t think. He rushes out to save her. After saving Hong Mae from drowning, she along with the other immigrants are fed hot ramen at first. However the police are suspicious of Kang and what his boat is up to. Kang’s already under suspicion for a long history of evading loan sharks. Every time a coast guard boat comes by, he has to hide all the illegals in the fish tank, risking them to suffocating and unhealthy conditions.

The immigrants are unhappy about their treatment but Kang makes an example to the crowd by throwing one in the water and showing them who’s boss. Dong Sik knows that Hong Mae shouldn’t have to deal with such harshness so he finds a safe spot for her. Soon the two fall in love and Dong promises her safety. However it becomes threatened when the immigrants are all put back into the fish pit as a loan shark makes a visit. Dong Sik keeps Hong Mae from entering. After the shark’s visit, it’s discovered all of the immigrants in the pit are dead. It only boosts Kang’s lust for power as he wants them chopped with an axe before being tossed out at sea and their personal belongings burned. One of the crewmen tell him off for what he did only to be killed by Kang.

Hong Mae has seen all that happened and has no trust for anyone, not even Dong Sik at first. Nevertheless Dong Sik promises her safety. He knows Hong Mae will be seen as a lust object or a womanizing sailor and as a threat to Kang as she’ll know the truth. Things only get worse for the Jeonjinho as the power is completely out. Then it’s given away about Dong Sik’s hiding of Hong Mae. As expected Kang feels she’ll land him in jail and the sailor animalistically wants a go at her. Dong Sik knows he has to protect her from the two despite how challenging it is. He knows he will have to kill some of them. However it’s after the Jeonjinho collides with a freighter that solidifies the fates of all and paves the way for an ending that’s unexpected and keeps you thinking long after the movie.

One thing I have to say is that the script is unique for a lot of surprising things. At first you think the film’s protagonist will be Kang because the focus of the story first appears to be about him and his ship. Instead it ends up being about Dong Sik even though he is focused on very little at the beginning. Another unique thing is how the deaths of the immigrants made animals of some of the key shipmen on board. One example is of how Kang first appeared to be a typical authoritarian jerk to the immigrants but soon his lust for control would just make a ruthless animal of him. Even the ship mechanic who was just simply a womanizer made like a mindless dog to Hong Mae and had nothing else on his mind but to have sex with her. Another surprising thing is how the ship is doomed to sink but Kang is determined to keep it afloat despite it being hopeless. It’s almost like Richard III’s “My horse. My horse. My kingdom for a horse.” In the end, the ship becomes the judge, jury and executioner of Kang. And for those who saw it, you’ll know the last surprising thing was the ending. It’s an ending that will leave you asking your own questions. I know it left me with my own questions.

The one thing is that it is a very good movie but it did have its noticeable flaws. First thing is that it makes a good honest effort of making a love story in a scenario that’s hard to stomach. For those who don’t know, this film is based off of an actual illegal immigration case from South Korea in 2001 where a fishing boat carrying illegal immigrants accidentally left 25 dead. The difference between Haemoo and the actual case is that the ship never sank, there were many more surviving illegal immigrants and all the crewmen were brought to justice. Nevertheless it makes the romance too awkward because of the testy subject matter. I know I’ve seen films before that have made what would normally be unwatchable material end as a triumph of the human spirit but I sensed some unevenness in it. Nevertheless this is a very brave attempt.

The biggest accolades for this film should go to director Sung Bo-Shim. Lately South Korean directors are starting to make a name for themselves internationally. The most notable being Boon Joon-Hu who directed the critically acclaimed 2009 Korean film Mother and this year’s English-language film Snowpiercer. This time Boon co-writes the script with Shim in his feature-length directorial debut. It’s an excellent debut. The biggest of the standout actors is Kim Yoon-Seok. Even though he was not the protagonist, he was the scene-stealer as the power-hungry Kang whose lust for power would eventually destroy him. Multitalented Park Yoochun was also impressive as the young Dong Sik who was the only one on the ship who appeared to have any conscience to what was really happening. Han Ye-Ri was also very believable as the young Hong Mae but her best part was definitely the end. The special effects and action parts added to the intensity of the film and the score composed by Jeong Jae-il fit the movie excellently.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is not a flawless movie or a flawless story. Nevertheless it is an excellent debut from a promising South Korean director. We’ll have to wait until Oscar time to see how it fares.

VIFF 2014 Review: New Boobs

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a revolutionary breast operation that isn't simply cosmetic. It's to prolong her life.

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a unique breast operation that isn’t simply cosmetic. It’s to prolong her life.

At first when you hear the title New Boobs, you’ll think it’s about trying to conform to an idealized body types. However you shouldn’t misjudge it as such. It’s a lot more than that.

This is an autobiographical documentary by Dutch film maker Sacha Polak. Not even 30, Sacha has established herself as a rising director in the Netherlands with numerous shorts and films to her credit including one film, Hemel, which won her a FIPRESCI Prize at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. However not even 30, she’s also hindered by a health problem of her own. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 29 just months after Sacha was born. Sacha goes for gene testing if she possesses the BRCA1 gene. The gene poses as a huge threat to contracting breast cancer before the age of 40 and increases the threat of ovarian cancer by 40-60%. She gets the doctor’s results. It’s a positive.

There are a lot of things running through Sacha’s mind upon hearing the news. First is how long she’ll live. Second is whether she’ll be able to have a child with her boyfriend before she gets her ovaries removed: something she wants to do before she turns 35. Third is about her next production. However the one that stands out is what to have done with her breasts. Removal of both? Surgery with implants? An operation will greatly improve her odds of avoiding breast cancer. She goes to one plastic surgeon and learns of the implants that would be used in their operation. However she soon hears of a plastic surgeon in Ghent, Belgium who performs a unique breast operation that would involve removing the breast tissue and filling it with body fat. That operation becomes Sacha’s focus.

Things are frustrating as the surgeon moves her consulting from November to March. Finally she does have the consultation and she learns of the surgery and what it entails. She agrees to it. During the waiting time she tries to conduct her life as usual doing filmwork and keeping the relationship with her boyfriend intact. She eventually does have the first operation. She shows the outcome and talks over time how she’s felt about it and how others including her boyfriend have felt about it. She then has her second operation and is happy with the end result. The film ends with her talking about her thoughts on the future, about her next film, about having a child in time. However she’s happy that she has solved one problem in the meantime.

The film wasn’t strictly about a cosmetic operation. It was also about a woman fearing for her health and hoping that this operation that would prolong her life will come out well in the end. It’s also about the mother she never knew. Frequently the film shows images of her mother and even the book her mother wrote to Sacha before she died. It’s also about family relations such as the support she receives from her boyfriend that isn’t immune to friction. Even the fears from both her father and her stepmother are showcased. The father himself is especially concerned as his wife just fell ill, entered the hospital and died. It still upsets him to this day and it especially bears down on him sensing that it could happen to Sacha. This documentary is as much about the human factor as it is about the medical factor.

The theme about being born with a bad gene is very present in the movie. This was definitely a theme that would stick in a lot of audient’s heads especially after they had just seen a documentary short of a close friend of Jason Ritter and Bryce Dallas Howard learn of her positive diagnosis for a Huntington’s gene. After seeing that short before, we’re reminded of the hard luck and the physical threats people that have genes that make them prone to certain illnesses face.

This documentary is not meant for the big screen. This is mostly filmed with minor technical cameras and even Skype footage. This is a documentary that’s more meant for broadcast on a television channel like BC’s Knowledge network.

New Boobs is an intriguing documentary that is more than just about an operation. It’s about dealing with illness-prone genes and even family relations surrounding it. A reminder that the person doesn’t fight this alone.

NOTE: For those interested in Sacha’s next film, she had just finished filming Zurich and is due for release in the Netherlands in February 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Love At First Fight (Les Combattants)

Les Combattants is an unlikely romance between a girl with a tough attitude and a boy who's more sensitive.

Les Combattants is an unlikely French romance between a girl with a tough attitude and a boy who’s more sensitive.

It was all a result of timing and availability for when I was able to see Love At First Fight or Les Combattants (working title in the US is Fighters). Even though it’s nothing too special, I’m glad I saw it.

Arnaud is a young Frenchman who works for his family’s contractor job in a French coastal city. That all changes when he does work in a family’s yard. He meets Madeleine, a young woman who’s beautiful but has a tough-as-nails personality. It’s tough because she has ambitions of being in the French army. Arnaud on the other hand is more sensitive. Sensitive enough to care for a stray ferret found in the yard.

The first meeting doesn’t go so well. They have as squabble and he bites her! The second time he thinks she’s crazy because she swims with a backpack full of ceramic shingles. Nevertheless he’s still drawn to her despite her negative attitude towards him. He even has army ambitions of his own. However it interferes with the family business while they still have a lot of jobs to do.

The two eventually do things together. However she still maintains a tough hard-as-nails attitude towards everything from a harmless ferret to even nightclubbing. He himself joins the army. The two help each other out and challenge each other along the way. Then an incident happens that causes Madeleine to run away. Arnaud soon finds her. However it’s once they’re out of the training area that they start to reveal their true feelings to each other. Finally Madeleine’s love for him comes out. However all fun ends when Madeleine suffers from food poisoning and Arnaud tries to take her to aid while the town they’re in is engulfed with smoke from a forest fire. The film ends predictably but not as fluffy as your typical Hollywood romance.

This film is an example of how France is making movies of their own. Sure the French are famous for making films. This would qualify more as a movie. Nevertheless there are some film qualities. One is the lack of a score in the background. Yes, there is background music at times but the film is mostly scoreless to get the environment of the story. Even though it’s not as artsy as your typical French film, there are some elements such as when Madeline hits Arnaud during a paintball exercise. Some could say it could resemble cupid shooting an arrow through his heart. Even the place of gender roles as the girl is the hard-ass one compared to the boy can be a French element in film.

As a movie, it’s good. However it’s not all that  attention grabbing. It does have a story that can keep one interested once they watch more of the movie but only in that case. One thing I will say is that it does come across way more sensible than most teen romances, especially those from 20 years ago.

The film is devoid of big-name actors, even from France. Nevertheless they did impress. The young actors did well too. Adele Haenel was best as Madeleine. Madeleine could have come across as this stockish hard-ass army girl but her character had dimension to it. She was able to make the transition into the more sensitive feelings of her character very smoothly. Kevin Azais was also good in his role even though he wasn’t given too much of a role to work with. This is the first feature length film by director Thomas Cailley. This film for which he also co-wrote the script with Claude Le Pape is a good story and a good first effort and should lead to more promising work in the future. I can easily see the story itself being made into an American version.

Love At First Fight or Les Combattants is a good young adult romance even if it lacks what would normally bring young adults to the screen. Still it will keep your intrigue.

2014 Box Office: Bumpy Summer, Bumpy Year

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You may have seen my blog about the VIFF already. One thing some people may not have noticed about my blogging is that I haven’t been doing tracking of the year’s box office pace. Normally I do. Maybe one or two of you have noticed. Anyways this is my first look at 2014 at the box office and it doesn’t look too pleasant right now.

Decent Winter

The first quarter of 2014 didn’t make as much as the first quarter of 2013. Nevertheless it did provide for an excellent January and February. Neither January or February set a box office record for that month but both outgrossed their respective month from 2013. January 2014 was almost $60 million higher than January 2013 thanks to hits like Frozen, Lone Survivor, Ride Along, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Nut Job. February 2014 was almost $175 million higher than February 2013 thanks to the phenomenal success of The LEGO Movie and other hits like The Monuments Men, About Last Night, Three Days To Kill, Non-Stop and Son Of God. However all that extra wouldn’t be enough to outgross the winter of 2013 thanks to March 2014 grossing almost a quarter-billion less than March 2013. Strong openings for the 300 sequel, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Divergent and Noah didn’t carry far enough in the end and the winter of 2014 just missed by that much.

Spring Falls Slightly Short

Don’t get me wrong. Spring was loaded with movies to get people to the cinema but it didn’t outgross last year’s spring. Once again no month set an all-time high but April was more than a quarter-billion higher than April 2013 thanks to Captain America 2, Rio 2, Heaven Is For Real and The Other Woman. May 2014 was more than $225 million shy of May 2013. Some could say there was no real big bang like Iron Man 3 from last year. Others could say too many competitors like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Neighbors, Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past opening at once.

However don’t get me started on June. June was the month that sent the message that 2014 was going to have a tough summer at the box office. First off June had the only weekend where a movie released in 2014 grossed more than $100 million on its opening weekend: Transformers: Age of Extinction with a paltry $100,038,390. That’s only 27th on the all-time list. Secondly were the ho-hum openings of movies like Maleficient, The Fault In Our Stars, 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2, and Think Like A Man Too. At the end of it all, June only grossed $995.4 million: $230 million less than June 2013 and the first June since 2003 to gross below $1 billion!

Summer’s Bumpy Road

You shouldn’t rely completely on the totals over at Box Office Mojo because the list of July totals shows July 2014 telling one story and the Weekly chart of 2014 and doing quick math in adding the July weeks telling another. One thing is certain is that this July didn’t outgross July 2013 despite continuing success of Transformers 4 and openings for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and Lucy.

The bright light not just of the summer but of the movie year so far has to be August. This is the one month that set an all-time record this year: $983 million. Definitely the success of the Guardians Of The Galaxy has a lot to do with it. There were other box office pumpers that month too like the Ninja Turtles, Into The Storm and Let’s Be Cops.

I decided to pass up reviewing September even though it hasn’t grossed as much as last year. Nevertheless the next three months will be a challenge. I don’t think 2014 will set an all-time box-office record but it will draw huge crowds with Fury, Nightcrawler, Horns, the latest Hunger Games movie Mockingjay Part. 1 and sequels for Night At The Museum and Madagascar. I’m confident 2014 will end past $10 billion but that’s something only time will tell.

WORKS CITED:

“Yearly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2013. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

“Monthly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2013. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/monthly/

“Weekend Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2013. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/