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Oscars 2015 Shorts Review: Best Animated Short Film

Cinema

Just recently I published my review of the live-action shorts nominees of this year. Now’s my chance to publish my thoughts on the nominated animated shorts of this year. They range in variety from 2D artistic to primitive 2D to common 3D computer animated to 3D with a unique style. All five are excellent and unique in their unique way but who deserves to win?

Bear Story (Chile): dirs. Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart – It’s a story of a bear who misses his wife and son dearly. Every day he goes out on the street and shows a diorama show to those of the story of how he was abducted from them both and taken away to be part of the circus. The show also ends showing his hope that one day he will be reunited with them both.

The film is a sad story that touches your heart without trying to mess with it. It’s 3D animation but instead of the characters looking human, it comes looking like toy soldiers. I’m not too sure of the creative purpose of that. Nevertheless it does make for an entertaining short film.

Prologue (UK): dirs. Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton – This is one film where there was a viewer discretion warning and advised minors to leave the theatre before it was shown. The film takes part 2,400 years in the past. A child watches a brutal war between two teams of Spartan and Athenian warriors.

This is the rawest nominated short I’ve ever seen ever since they’ve shown the shorts in theatres. The art is simplistic as it consists mostly of pencil drawings with very little coloring. However it merits a lot in terms of its artistry. It also tells a story in brutally relentless fashion even depicting the battles in gory manner. It’s very rare to see a short animated film that’s strictly adults only. It also made it refreshing to see such a short.

Sanjay’s Super Team (USA): dirs: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Paradis Grindle – Sanjay loves watching the Super Team on television but his father is very insistent on a religious prayer habit, even at Sanjay’s young age. Right during the prayer ritual, Sanjay’s imagination comes alive. The gods he’s praying to form a Super Team of his own and they join Sanjay in the battle against a nemesis.

This is from Pixar and was the short before The Good Dinosaur. Director Sanjay Patel has an impressive resume working as an animator for Pixar in films like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, the two Monsters movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. This film in which he co-directs is his directing debut. The film shows similar imagination to that of the Pixar team while also taking us into a brief but memorable time into an incredible fantasy world. Very good from start to finish. I predict it as my Should Win pick and Will Win pick.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia): dir. Konstantin Bronzit – Two childhood friends train to be cosmonauts in space. Only one will go off into space. The other will be the alternate or next in line if something bad happens to the first. One friend got picked. The other friend wishes him well on his voyage. However shortly after blast off, the friend disappears. The friend down on earth is unhappy. He can’t even adjust well to his alternate whom he doesn’t get along with at all. Actually the alternate can’t get along with anyone. The friend makes a decision to the surprise of many, and to us. It’s a decision we’re glad he made.

It’s a 2D film with a story that doesn’t need dialogue for us to get the messages. Over time we learn the story isn’t about trying to make it into space but about just how close the friendship is. The two train together and dream together. When his friend is lost into oblivion, his ambition to be the next in space disappears just like that. You can easily see why he made the decision to do what he did.

World Of Tomorrow (UK) dir. Don Hirtzfeldt – The story begins with a toddler named Emily in a room. Out of nowhere comes a clone also named Emily who came from 227 years into the future back to the present. The adult Emily, ‘Emily Clone,’ tells the child Emily, ‘Emily Prime,’ of the human’s attempts to achieve immortality through cloning and showcasing the various worlds including the ‘Outernet’ and the various memories of the clone Emily. Very different and very unique.

This is another 2D short. The drawing is very simplistic. However it’s the story that’s the top quality of the film. We see a bizarre but unique story of Emily Clone and Emily Prime the future world and the future of Emily. The funniest element of the short is Emily Clone keeps on talking in her highly scientific speech and all Emily Prime does is just respond back in her childish gibberish. That adds to the humor of the short.

In conclusion I know I picked Sanjay’s Super Team as both my Should Win and Will Win choice. Normally I wouldn’t pick such a film to win but I find it hard to see any of the other four films try to top it. All five are excellent but I think Sanjay stands alone. I know World Of Tomorrow won the Annie Award but I have my feeling about Oscars voters. Mind you the shorts categories are some of the least predictable categories of the Oscars.

And there you go. My thoughts on the Oscar nominated Animated Shorts. Winner to be decided in two weeks.

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Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

150427-daisy-ridley-v3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Predictions For The 2015 Academy Award Nominees

Chocolate Oscar

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

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

BEST PICTURE:

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

BEST DIRECTOR:

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

BEST ACTOR:

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

BEST ACTRESS:

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

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

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

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

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

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

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

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

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

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

BEST FILM EDITING:

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

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

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

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

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

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

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

MOST LIKELY UPSETTERS:

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

BEST PICTURE:

  • The Hateful Eight
  • Inside Out

BEST DIRECTOR:

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

BEST ACTOR:

  • Will Smith, Concussion
  • Johnny Depp, Black Mass

BEST ACTRESS:

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Jane Fonda, Youth

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

  • Andrea Berloff & Jonathan Herman, Straight Outta Compton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

  • Drew Goddard, The Martian
  • Nick Hornby,Brooklyn

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

  • Minions

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

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

BEST FILM EDITING:

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

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • The Fencer (Finland)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

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

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

  • Ex Machina
  • The Walk

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

Movie Review: Ex Machina

Meet Ava: a female A.I. robot who is the subject of Ex Machina.

Meet Ava: a female A.I. robot who captures the intrigue of a young computer tech in Ex Machina.

Ex Machina didn’t seem like a movie that would win a lot of people over. However it did capture a lot of people’s intrigue both with the story and its subject.

The movie begins at the office of Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine. A worker named Caleb has won a prize. He’s excited and everyone’s excited. Later on we learn what his prize was. A trip to his boss Nathan’s laboratory in a remote location up north with no cellphone use available. His boss Nathan is there with Kyoko his maid the only other person. Nathan mentions that he is working on artificial intelligence persona and wants Caleb to assist in the studies. Specifically to focus on if robots can be human and have feelings and a conscious. In a sense, pass the Turing Test where the barrier between humans and computers are broken.  Nathan wants this thing to be a friend-friend atmosphere instead of boss-worker. Caleb nervously agrees.

He is told he would meet with the subject named Ava. Ava is a robot with a female face and voice and Caleb is to first sense if Ava has a conscious. Caleb is introduced to Ava who has muscle-like arms and legs but very human-like skin and a very human-like voice. Caleb and Ava have a conversation. Nathan admits he constructed Ava’s images, behavior and motions from information and photos he hacked from people’ data searches through Bluebook.

Caleb’s study of Ava is not confined to one-on-one meetings in a special room. He can view Ava in her small ‘apartment’ where he notices her sitting and moving around. Caleb also notes of power outages that happen at the place and happen for only a few minutes at most. It’s claimed to be because of Ava charging herself and that Nathan has bad wiring due to the system. The next day Caleb and Ava develop a conversation that’s more personal. Then another blackout occurs where Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is a liar and not to be trusted.

Over time, Ava becomes more like a human and Caleb noticeable develops a bond with her. However he sees Ava’s confinement by Nathan as a form of abuse, especially since Ava talks of how she wants to go out in the work. Nathan adds to the drama by saying Ava will be reprogrammed in the future which will effectively kill her.

Thins become more frustrating for Caleb. He notices how Kyoko goes from being Nathan’s maid to being his party person. It becomes frustrating to the point when Nathan passes out drunk, Caleb steals his card to look up information of any other robots. He learns of other robots Nathan created and eventually did away with. They’re all there in a storage section. All were very human in behavior in their use. During an outage while in conversation with Ava, Caleb mentions his escape plan to her and tells her to be ready by a certain time. Caleb also learns the truth about Kyoko: she’s a robot too. It frustrates Caleb to the point he cuts himself to see if he’s still human.

The plan to escape is foiled. Nathan knew the information of the escape because of videotaping during the blackout. Nathan even tells Caleb that Ava is the user as she wants to use Caleb to escape. Right at the moment of the planned escape, Nathan knocks Caleb out and goes to destroy Ava only to have Kyoko kill him. On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave, another backfiring happens. This time with Ava in an ending nobody expected.

This is another film dealing with A.I. and people interacting with computerized machines. Seeing the movie made me think of the movies this century of people interacting with A.I. personas. There was 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Inteliligence where a woman assumed the role of a mother with a child-like robot programmed with human emotions. There’s 2013’s Her of a man interacting with a ‘virtual girlfriend.’ And now we have Ex Machina. At first, movies of humans interacting with computers or robots didn’t appear to be the material for smart movie making. However it has gotten way better over time. Ex Machina is an example of a thriller that succeeds in getting the audience intrigued over Caleb’s involvement with Ava while leaving us nervous what will happen next at the same time.

SPOILER WARNING IN PARAGRAPH: Human interaction with robots isn’t the only reason why people would be so fascinated by this film. Other elements include how Nathan is like this svengali-like master of the show who eventually becomes a victim to his own game. There’s even the question of who is being the true user to Caleb? Nathan or Ava? Even all the talk between Caleb, Nathan and Ava of various philosophers, scientists and artists would have us interested as it deals with the human mind and how Nathan creates these types. Also as fascinating is how Caleb tells his story to Ava about the girl who wants to escape and does. In the end, it becomes what happens to Ava as she does just that leaving Caleb behind with a dead Nathan and a dead Kyoko.

Alex Garland did an excellent movie that has us both thrilled and nervous, and possibly even thinking about ourselves. Would we be fooled by robot types or feel a human connection to those types in the future? Alex has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. He already has a reputation as a scriptwriter for British movies like 28 Days Later. This film which he directs and writes is an excellent accomplishment as it succeeds in making a smartly-done movie about human-like robots and delivers with unexpected twists and turns. It’s also good to see how other countries are also getting into the sci-fi genre. It’s not just Hollywood anymore. And to think Hollywood could never do human/robot movies this well.

Domhnall Gleeson was very good as Caleb however his performance was overshadowed by the roles of Ava and Nathan. Alicia Vikander did an excellent performance as Ava. She had the challenge to come across appearing as a believable robot at first that becomes more human over time. That was no easy task and she accomplished it. Oscar Isaac was also excellent as Nathan. He does an excellent job of portraying the eccentric genius with a svengali-like persona quite well. His character could remind you of some other eccentric geniuses of the past. Isaac even gets you wondering whether Nathan created all those robots for the sake of a technological breakthrough for the public or simply for sex toys for himself. He adds that intrigue. The visual effects were excellent and fit flawlessly with the film and the music from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow fit with the intensity of the film.

The summer movie season is still young but Ex Machina is already a surprise winner for this year. This is one movie of 2015 that goes beyond what one will first expect.

Oscars 2014 Live-Action Shorts Review

Cinema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 World Cup: Being Host Nation Could Be A Double-Edged Sword

Brazil 2014 hoped to make the 1950 World Cup final a thing of the past. Instead it created a new bad memory of a nightmarish 7-1 loss to Germany.

Brazil 2014 hoped to make the 1950 World Cup final a thing of the past. Instead it created a new bad memory of a nightmarish 7-1 loss to Germany in Tuesday’s semifinal.

 “We tried to do what we could, we did what we thought was our best and we lost to a great team who ended the match with four goals scored in extraordinary manner. I’d ask the people to excuse us for this mistake. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to the final. This is a loss. A catastrophic, terrible loss. The worst loss by a Brazilian national team ever, yes. But we have to learn to deal with that. Who is responsible? Who is responsible for picking the team? I am. It’s me. So the catastrophic result can be shared by the whole group, and my players will tell you we will share our responsibilities, but who decided the tactics? I did. So the person responsible is me. I did what I thought was best. This was only our third defeat in 28 matches, even if it was a terrible defeat. Naturally, if I were to think of my life as a player, as a coach, as a teacher, this was the worst day of my life. But life goes on.”

-Luiz Felipe Scolari,

coach of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup team

It was to be another proving point for Brazil. They made it to the semifinals. It was a long three weeks. The team known as the Seleciao had moments of glory like their opening 3-1 win over Croatia and 4-1 win over Cameroon. However they have shown their vulnerability with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced by winning the penalty kicks. Their previous game, the quarterfinal against Colombia, was another win for them: 2-1.

However despite the win, there was concern as Thiago Silva, their top defender, was given a yellow card penalty which would prevent him from playing in the semifinal. Not to mention the sudden back injury to Neymar Jr. There was talk. Will Brazil win? Can they compensate from their sudden losses? There were many that were doubtful and predicted the win to go to Germany. There were some that were optimistic like Ronaldo and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. They still felt like Brazil had very good chances.

So the stage was set. Brazil was to play their semifinal against Germany at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Just ten days earlier, they played Chile in their Round of 16 match in that same stadium. Just five days earlier, an underpass in Belo Horizonte specially created as part of a highway upgrade for the World Cup collapsed killing two and injuring 23.

The game began as expected with the two teams being led onto the field by Brazilian schoolchildren. The national anthems were played with the whole stadium engulfed in singing Hino Nacional Brasileiro. The team also gave a special tribute to Neymar who was still being treated for his fractured vertebrae.

Images of Brazil's heartbreak: (from top) young woman, young boy and a distraught  David Luiz.

Images of Brazil’s heartbreak: (from top) young woman, young boy, and a distraught David Luiz.

Then the kickoff happened. Play went as it normally did with Brazil having much control of the ball with the occasional steal from Germany. Then in the 11th minute, Germany had a chance to score via a corner kick from Toni Kroos. Thomas Mueller gave a header into the Brazilian net. Germany drew first blood 1-0. The opposing team drawing first was something Brazil was familiar with and has won matches before with that start. Then in the 23rd minute, and attempt at a goal was sent by Germany and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar tried to stop it, only to have it  bounce off him and be in a clear path for Miroslav Klose to score the second goal of the match and a World Cup record 16th goal of his career. Ironically the old record holder Ronaldo was in the stand watching.

It was obvious something was wrong and the crowd was already silent but what would soon come would be like a nightmare to the Brazilian’s eyes. Just as things were about to settle again, the ball was immediately stolen by Germany and Toni Kroos scored another goal one minute after Klose. Then two minutes later, another goal from Kroos! And both from one-touch shots. Everyone from Germans to broken-hearted Brazilians were stunned. Then just as the game looked like it would settle down soon, along came Sami Khedira in the 29th minute and scored goal #5. No doubt it was all over by then. It would take a major miracle for Brazil to win this game. Fifteen minutes would pass with the ball being shifted possession to Brazil and then to Germany. You could tell by the look on their face and the errors the Brazilians were causing that the team was panicking. Then the half-time whistle blew. It was obvious Brazil was going to lose. Heartbroken fans were already leaving the stadium.

The first minute of the second half came with substitutions for both teams. Germany only substituted one player but Brazil substituted two: Hulk and Fernandinho for Paulinho and Ramires. Later on Brazil, obviously desperate to redeem itself, gave many good attacks and attempts on goals but they either missed or were saved by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. At the 58th minute, Germany substituted Miroslav Klose with Andre Schuerrle. However it was only eleven minutes later when Schuerrle gave a tap-in to the Brazilian net to make the score 6-0. Several more desperate attempts to score from Brazil came but to no avail. Brazil even substituted Fred, who many described as giving the worst performance in World Cup history, for Willian at the 70th minute. Fred was given a hostile reaction from the fans as he walked off. Then right at the 79th minute, it was Schuerrle again and he gave a half-volley to beat Julio Cesar at the near-post to make it goal #7. And just when you think Germany’s given them enough, Mesut Oezil gives an attempt for goal #8 but his effort goes off wide. Then almost immediately after, Brazilian Oscar scores Brazil’s one and only goal at the 90th minute. But there was no celebrating from Oscar and very little cheer from the crowd. Even a television announcer described it as possibly the least celebrated home team goal in World Cup history.

Then Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez blew the final whistle. The score was official: Brazil 1 – Germany 7. Germany was going to the final for the Cup for a record-setting eighth time. Brazil however was just dazed and confused with what happened. Some were in tears. Some just lay on the field in humiliation and some even prayed. Some Brazilian fans booed the Brazilian team and gave them the thumbs down. Germany celebrated but kept its celebration modest. Then many German players went to the distraught players, consoled them and gave them comfort since they knew it was a moment of heartbreak for the Brazilians. That was probably the best display of sportsmanship at this World Cup and it was great to see since this World Cup had been plagued with a lot of unsportsmanlike behavior.

That game was unbelievable to say the least. Usually for a 7-1 result to happen at a World Cup game, it would be in a Group Stage match and usually between a strong team and lesser team. But 7-1 in a semifinal? And between the two countries with the biggest World Cup legacies? Even when I saw it at the Vancouver Alpen Club, I went from cheering the first goal to doubting what I saw after the second goal to having complete disbelief goal after goal. I’m sure there were lots of other Germany fans that were stunned silent like me.

No doubt this loss hit Brazil hard. This loss was also a big hit to the Brazilian National Team. No question this match resulted in some embarrassing statistics:

  • Brazil’s biggest loss ever in a World Cup match.
  • Biggest loss of any World Cup host nation.
  • Most lopsided semifinal in World Cup history.
  • Tied with a 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920 for the biggest defeat of the Brazilian national team.
  • Brazilian national team’s first loss on home soil since 1975.

If there’s one thing that this match shows is that host nations face a pressure unique to other countries at the World Cup. Host nations of the World Cup have been big and small nations. Nations with a minor football legacy and nations that have a huge legacy. Some nations do very well and even win the Cup. However some have choked and some failed to live up to expectations. Below is a list of host nations and their results:

Host Nation ChartAs you can see six host nations have won the Cup. However three have hosted a second time and didn’t win: Italy and Germany both finished 3rd in their second hosting and France lost their quarterfinal 60 years before winning as hosts. South Africa had the misfortune not just to simply lose out in the Group Stage but became the first country in World Cup history to do so. Until then, every host nation advanced past the first round.

There have been a lot of cases where even amongst host nations that didn’t win the Cup, they would have their best ever World Cup result such as Sweden being finalists, Chile finishing 3rd, South Korea finishing 4th and Mexico making the quarterfinals on both occasions. Actually until 1994, those were the only two times Mexico advanced past the Group Stage.

However there have been cases before where host nations failed to live up to par like France in 1938 and Switzerland in 1954. Spain is another example. They were hoping being host in 1982 would break their reputation as being football’s greatest underachievers. Instead it saw them being ousted in the second round of group play.

However there were many times when even in defeat, it would mark a turnaround for the country’s football team. France became a better team after their 1938 humiliation, Brazil won five World Cups after the Maracanazo, Mexico has advanced past the Group Stage every year since hosting the second time in 1986, the U.S.A. has gone from being a joke in the football world to a major contender since 1994, Japan has seen football grow since hosting and Spain became World champions in 2010.

There’s no doubt that Brazil had a lot of pressure going into the game. Heck, there was a lot of pressure on the players even before the 23-man team was decided. It got to the point head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in team psychologist Regina Brandao to assess the psychological profile of 50 players for Scolari to decide the cut. However pressure was so tense during the Round of 16 match against Chile which Brazil won after penalty kicks, sever players cried prior to the shoot-out. Scolari called Brandao in immediately after to try and ease the situation before the quarterfinal against Colombia, in which they won  2-1. Nevertheless the absence of Thiago Silva because of his accumulation of yellow cards was going to affect Brazil’s defense and they knew it. Neymar being hospitalized with a fractured vertebrae during the match was another blow. Nevertheless it appeared things might not hurt Brazil so much as they continued to play consistently without them.

However that was one match and the semifinal was another. The Brazilian team appeared confident at the start but it soon became evident that something was amiss. However it was evident after Germany’s four-goal streak in six minutes that something was direly wrong. Brazil just didn’t look like Brazil anymore. You could tell the sense of panic in the faces of the players and even in some of the blunders. The goal saving by Manuel Neuer made things even more frustrating especially since Brazil delivered some great chances. Overall Brazil was better than Germany in many other statistics: 52% ball possession, 18 shots taken compared to Germany’s 14, two more corner kicks and three less fouls committed. The shots on target statistic may not look like a big deal–ten for Germany and eight for Brazil– but the final score showed that Brazil definitely had their weaknesses exposed in front of the world and on home turf. Even thinking back to their past games and the glitches they had there, I sometimes think that the loss was a collapse waiting to happen.

You may remember from my blog on 1950 how heartbroken Brazil was to the point some committed suicide. I haven’t heard of any news of suicides yet. Nevertheless reactions have been mixed. There were definitely a lot of people crying. There were also a lot of angry people: some even going as far as calling Brazil ‘losers.’ A lot of negative tweets on Twitter. There was even flag-burning in Sao Paulo and a robbery at a party in Rio de Janeiro. Some even chanted obscenities at President Rousseff during the game. The media is also questioning whether she will be re-elected in the upcoming election this year. As for the media, Brazilian newspapers gave front page titles like The Disgrace Of All Disgraces, The Biggest Shame In History and Historical Humiliation. Just like the 1950 loss has since been called the Maracanazo, this game is starting to be called the Mineirazo. Oh yeah, it’s interesting to note that the German team had to be escorted out of the stadium by police. Also it was worth noting that former Brazilian player Cafu was denied access to the Brazilian dressing room, even though he went there to give words of comfort to the team.

There were however still supporters, both in Brazil and outside. The Brazilian team gave a simple post on their Twitter: “It is the union that is strength. Saturday we have another battle and we have to go on. Pain is all of us. Thank you!” There’s even a hashtag: #EuAindaAcredito Pele gave a well-wish: “We’ll get the sixth title in Russia.” Cafu sent an encouraging tweet: “Viva Brasil!  I am very proud to be a Brazilian is not a defeat that will bring us down. Come together!!” Even Germany gave words of support:

Germany Twitter

“”My nightmares never got so bad… As a supporter, of course, I am deeply sorry because I share the same sorrow of all supporters. But I also know that we are a country that has one very peculiar feature. We rise to the challenge of adversity. Being able to overcome defeat I think is the feature and hallmark of a major national team and of a great country.”

-Dilma Roussef

As for Brazil, this will remain a big question of how things go. No doubt the team is hurt and no doubt the nation is broken-hearted. Coach Scolari has accepted the blame for what happened. The players have their own feelings. However it’s not over for Brazil yet. There is still the third-place match against the Netherlands in Brasilia the day before the World Cup match will be played. Brazil could go out there and lose again. Or they could go out there and play for pride. Also I think if the fans truly love the Selecao, they’d gladly cheer them on during the third-place match. Heck, I saw fan passion from fans of Spain during their game against Australia even though they knew Spain was out of it.

As for the status of football in Brazil, I don’t think this match will hurt it. Brazil has a proud legacy of producing some of the finest talents and frequently creating winning teams. I’m sure that boys and girls across Brazil will still dream of playing for the national team and winning the World Cup. A defeat like that should not crush their dreams. As for reactions as devastating as what happened in 1950, we’ll have to wait and see. I just received word from my uncle that 250 people in Brazil were killed in football-related riots. Hopefully nothing tragic happens in the aftermath of this match. Also I look back at how the white uniforms in 1950 were considered bad luck. After this, will holding the World Cup in Brazil be seen as bad luck?

Isn’t it something how Spain’s early ouster inspired me to look at being defending champion more closely. Now it’s Brazil’s big loss to Germany that has me looking at the pressures of being the host team. Two unique pressures, both having its own weight and both being make-or-break. No wonder winning the World Cup is such a marathon full of drama.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil vs. Germany (2014 FIFA World Cup). Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_vs_Germany_%282014_FIFA_World_Cup%29>

Oscars 2013 Shorts Review

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

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

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

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

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:

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

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

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014

PSHI wasn’t planning on posting this. Actually I was planning my next blog to be another Best Picture review. Instead I post this because of how shocking it is. And of how much I admired him and his works.

Philip was born in Fairport, New York (just outside of Rochester) on July 23, 1967, one of four children to family court judge Marilyn O’Connor and Xerox executive Gordon Hoffman. His parents divorced when he was 9. Hoffman’s past-time in high school was wrestling but switched to acting after a neck injury caused him to quit. Talent was noticed at a young age as he was selected at 17 to attend the 1984 theatre school at the New York State Summer School Of The Arts in Saratoga Springs. He graduated from Fairport High School in 1985 and attended the Circle in the Square Theatre’s summer program. He would go on to attend New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts and graduated with a BFA in 1989. Soon after he had a bout of alcohol and drug addiction which we would attend rehab for shortly after and eventually overcome.

He made his acting debut on television acting in a 1991 Law & Order episode. His first film role came in 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. Minor roles in film continued for Hoffman over the next few years. In 1995 he joined the LAbyrinth Theatre Company where he staged and performed in numerous productions. However his breakthrough came in 1997 when he had a scene-stealing supporting role as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Hoffman would act in three more Paul Thomas Anderson movies: 1999’s Magnolia, 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and 2012’s The Master. Over the next few years, Hoffman’s reputation as an actor would grow with more excellent performances in independent films like The Big Lebowski, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and  State And Main. He also showed he could act well in popcorn films like Patch Adams and Almost Famous. In theatre, he would earn a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in 2000 for playing Lee in the readaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West.

Further excellent performances continued for him in films like Love Liza (which was written by his brother Gordy), Owning Mahowny and the TV miniseries Empire Falls. He also continued to do come off well in box office fare like Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly. Theatre accolades would continue with his second Tony nomination coming in 2003 for his supporting performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. However big critical acclaim in film. kept on alluding him until 2005’s Capote. There he was to play Truman Capote in a biopic directed by former Tisch classmate Bennett Miller. He was even said to act in character even after scene shooting ended.  It was there where Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. And Miller received his first and so far only Best Director nomination.

Things became better for Hoffman commercially as he would play villain Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3 months later. In 2007 he received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in the independent comedy The Savages and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War opposite Tom Hanks. It’s his role in Charlie Wilson’s War that would earn him his second Oscar nomination. Hoffman would return as an Oscar nominee the following year in the Supporting Actor category again as Fr. Brendan Flynn in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Doubt opposite Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Hoffman would continue acting in film, both independent and commercial. He would also continue acting and directing in theatre. He wouldn’t get too much notice or acclaim over the next two years but his work continued to be consistent. He would again steal scenes in 2011’s The Ides Of March and Moneyball as frumpy Coach Art Howe. 2012 was another big year for Hoffman as it would be acclaim in both his theatre and his film acting. On stage he blew Broadway crowds away during the summer with his performance of Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman and played controlling yet charismatic religious leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master. 2013 would give him more exposure to the commercial movie crowd as he entered into the Hunger Games trilogy as Plutarch Heavensbee in 2013’s Catching Fire. He had already finished playing Plutarch in the first Mockingjay film and had just finished most of the shooting for the second as of February 1st.

Outside of acting, Hoffman shied away from the spotlight. In 1999, he statrted dating Mimi O’Donnell. It would prove to be a permanent union and both he and Mimi had three children. He was open about his past alcohol and drug abuse from which experienced upon graduating from Tisch. He said of his experiences: “I abused anything I could get my hands on and I liked it all.” He recovered successfully and would describe himself as a teetotaler from his past experience but a relapse would eventually happen. In May 2013, he openly confessed to abusing heroine and prescription pills and checked himself into a rehab clinic for ten days.

On Sunday February 2nd, Hoffman was found dead by playwright and friend David Bar Katz in the bathroom of his Manhattan office apartment. A hypodermic needle was found in his arm according to the police. Heroin was also found in the apartment. He was 46 years old.

I hate to bring up the topic of tabloid gossip at a time like this but that topic is unavoidable. Especially when a famous actor dies in such a way. There’s no question in the weeks and months after, there will be a lot of questions about this. There will be some journalists who will want to interview Mimi O’Donnell or close family relatives about this situation. Cast mates of past movies will also be questioned. Even the rehab clinic Hoffman has been attending since his relapse will face its fair share of journalists. I myself am shocked to hear of that. Years ago I read his IMDB profile and it said he does not drink alcohol because of his past experience with alcoholism. I was happy feeling that there was an actor that can be free from scandal. I never knew about his relapse. This is especially surprising since you normally hear about such deaths of actors hugely in the public eye. And Philip was the opposite. He was mostly private, rarely attended A-list events, had friends who were mostly in theatre rather than in the Hollywood business, had an unmarried relationship to the same woman since 1999 and raised his kids quietly. I guess we’ll only know the whole story in the future.

One thing to say is I don’t want to focus on the surroundings of his death. Even though I feel like asking ‘What happened,’ I’ll keep my mouth shut for now. One thing I will say is that I will always admire Philip Seymour Hoffman for the actor that he was. I’m able to separate myself from actors as actors and actors as people. Whenever I admire actors, I admire them for their acting jobs. They’d have to give me a good reason for me to admire their lifestyle. Anyways Philip Seymour Hoffman was an excellent actor. He really knew how to embrace the character both physically and emotionally. He was more than a top character actor, he knew how to make the roles multidimensional. I’ve seen many of his performances and he never let me down once. He always delivered.

I’ve always considered Philip to be one of the best actors of my generation. I also must confess I was secretly predicting and hoping that Philip would  be the next Tom Hanks. It just showed how naive I was to the present acting system. There was a time when an actor had the ability to be both a master of their craft and a top box office draw. That was common form the 30’s to the 60’s. Then there was a time in the 70’s when the big money-winning movies and the serious films had a gap between them that really widened in that decade. With that came a bigger gap between the on-screen craftmasters and the money-winning A-listers. That was especially noticeable in the 80’s. The reason why Tom Hanks was so beloved was that he was one of those rarities who was able to deliver in their craft and bring in top box office dollar.

I felt that Philip had the potential to do just that. I just wasn’t aware at the time of the types of actors that were able to win over the box office dollars. Turns out it’s back to being a looks thing again. Especially in the wake of the Twilight movies. I should know that 5′ 10″ and slightly pudgy won’t make you an A-lister. In fact one New York journalist summed up the physical appearance of Hoffman as: “a stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star.” That was just his nature. He was more interested in being an actor than a star.

Like I said Philip never let me down. Whether it was a role in a popular popcorn movie or if it was in a serious independent production, Philip always delivered. Even his co-stars would vouch for that. I believe that’s the legacy Philip will leave behind. Character acting performances that he didn’t just play but embodied and he knew how to grab your attention. I will always admire him for that.

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And thank you for captivating us over the years.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman>

Oscars 2012: And The Winner Is…

Like my chocolate Oscar?Find out who wins the real ones Sunday.

Like my Chocolate Oscar?
Find out who wins the real ones Sunday.

Yep, the Oscars will be decided this Sunday again. Seth McFarlane will host for the first time. A bit surprising to have the cartoonist of The Family Guy and director of Ted running the show but we’ll see if it’s sink or swim. Fist time hosting usually is. Just ask David Letterman, James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Once again, I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees. This makes it the twelfth year in a row in which I’ve done such. And I’m ready again to make my predictions for who Should Win and Will Win. Also all the Best Picture nominees as well as some of the other predictions will feature links to my full reviews of the movie. Anyways here I go:

BEST PICTURE:

For this, I will give a brief review of the nominees one by one. As I said earlier, if you click on the titles you’ll get my full reviews:

Amour– I sensed Michael Haneke would one day be nominated for Best Director after seeing the White Ribbon. He does it with Amour and rightly so. It’s both haunting and intimate. Intense and delicate. Anyone who watches will not forget it or feel some connection to it. This is the first foreign-language film to be nominated for Best Picture since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. No foreign-language film has ever one Best Picture and I don’t think Amour will be the one to do it. This is the least hyped-up film in the Oscar race and to win awards, there has to be some marketing muscle to both the public and the Academy.

Argo– This is a remarkable movie. This is one thriller of an event that happened 33 years ago and it succeeds in entertaining and thrilling the public. It’s also very smart too because it takes a good look at the political turmoil in Iran at that time. It also puts a face on the hostages who didn’t know what their fate would be. Its combination of comedy, thrills and honest human emotion is why I give Argo my Should Win pick. It does have very good chances of winning even without the Best Director nomination for Ben Affleck but I’ll let you know my Will Win pick later. I predict Argo to be the film most likely to upset my Will Win pick.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild– This is this year’s little picture that could. It was a small low-budget movie shot more than three years ago that finally made its way into the cinemas first through the Sundance film festival and then the box office. It not only drew a decent-sized crowd but amazed everyone who saw it. Great first efforts from Benh Zeitlin in directing and writing and Quyvenzhane Wallis in acting. Despite its accomplishments, I don’t think it will win Best Picture since it’s up against a lot of other films that have a lot more: both in terms of production and in crowd grabbing. Yeah, that’s where the luck for the little film that could stops.

Django Unchained– Is it just me or does Quentin Tarantino seem to be getting quite predictable these days? Not only that but I still stand by my original belief that he seems to be overobsessed with the theme of vengeance. It’s as if three stylized films about revenge isn’t enough. In all frankness, it lacks the dynamite of Pulp Fiction and it’s not as attention-grabbing and mesmerizing as Kill Bill nor does it pull unexpected surprises like Inglourious Basterds. It’s a great Tarantino film but not one of his more legendary. Plus Lincoln’s theme of doing justice to slavery made revenge on slavery look a bit like a joke. And Zero Dark Thirty made Kathryn Bigelow look like a more fearless director than Tarantino. Not this year, Quentin.

Les Miserables– Without a doubt the musical of the year, if not the decade. The decade may be young but this would be too hard to top. Adapting a big-name Broadway musical to the big screen is a very difficult task and Tom Hooper did it. I personally felt that it should be amongst those most contending for Best Picture. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The bigger buzz is for Lincoln and Argo and possibly Life Of Pi. I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel musicals have been somewhat devalued by the Academy in this century. Sure Chicago won Best Picture but director Rob Marshall didn’t have a chance at winning Best Director. Also Dreamgirls wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, which I still feel it should have. And Moulin Rouge earned a Best Picture nod with director Baz Luhrmann snubbed out. And we see it here with Tom Hooper snubbed out. It’s one of the most deserving of the Best Picture win but I don’t think the Academy will do it.

Life Of Pi– Leave it to Ang Lee to direct a masterpiece of a movie that touches us as much as it dazzles us. There were a lot of spellbound moments in this movie. Definitely the best special effects of the year. A lot of good acting including that from young actor Suraj Sharma. And definitely a lot of top direction from Ang Lee. Now some people are hinting that Ang Lee could win Best Director since Spielberg has already won two while Lee’s only one once. It could be possible. As for Best Picture, I don’t know if Life Of Pi has what it takes. Great movie but worthy of the Best Picture Oscar? I’m scratching my head right now.

Lincoln– Okay I’ll probably be the first to admit that I’ve seen better from Spielberg. If you were to compile a list ranking all of Spielberg’s movies, I’m unsure if this would make the Top 5. You too probably know he’s directed more memorable movies. I will say of all of this year’s nominees, this is the one that had the best of the three key elements: acting, directing and writing. This had some of the best acting of the year, Spielberg delivered another excellent directing job and the writing was also excellent. The efforts in recreating the United States during 1865 were no easy feat either especially in terms of set design and costuming. Also like many of Spielberg’s movies in the past, this is a precise look at war during its time. It’s because of all this I pick it as my Will Win pick. Although I am anticipating a surprise from Argo.

Silver Linings Playbook– Okay it’s not an epic recreation like Lincoln or an edge-of-your-seats drama like Argo. It is an excellent movie in terms of how they take a situation most people don’t want to deal with–mental illness– and turn it into a likeable romance. The best qualities had to be the acting. It needed excellent three-dimensional performances from all the main actors to make this work and it did. Very good direction from David O. Russell. It could be a Best Picture contender in any other year. Even I thought it was Best Picture worthy. Just this year there are at least three more movies with more Oscar boost.

Zero Dark ThirtyArgo isn’t the only movie trying to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. So is Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow definitely delivered one of the best directing efforts of the year if not the best. Even I consider her the most fearless director in Hollywood. Even more fearless than Tarantino. However I feel this movie had its best chances of winning Best Picture if Bigelow had a Best Director nomination at the least. I feel because of that snub, its Best Picture chances have sunk. It could still win due to the acting of Jessica Chastain or the scriptwriting of Mark Boal. However I feel it would be a long shot.

BEST DIRECTOR:

-Should Win and Will Win: Steven Spielberg– Lincoln– This year has seen a lot of excellent directing efforts from many directors. So many the Academy appeared to have overlooked the efforts of Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck in Argo. Affleck’s is the hardest because his directing in Argo has won him a Golden Globe, Director’s Guild and BAFTA awards. With Affleck, Bigelow and Tarantino snubbed out, there’s no real competition for Spielberg. It’s not to say that Lincoln was not that great of an effort. It still is an excellent effort but I’ve seen better from Spielberg. However the efforts of the other four nominees don’t compare. Ang Lee could win if the Academy doesn’t want to give Spielberg his third Oscar. Nevertheless it doesn’t look too likely.

BEST ACTOR:

-Should Win and Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis– Lincoln– Ten years ago, Day-Lewis was nominated for Best Actor for playing Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting in Gangs Of New York. Co-star Cameron Diaz said of Daniel: “Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t just simply play the character. He becomes the character.” I guess that’s what makes Daniel Day-Lewis stand out from other actors. You just have to see his performances for yourself: Christy Brown in My Left Foot; Gerry Conlon in In The Name Of The Father; Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting; Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. And now Abraham Lincoln. You just have to see it for yourself. The closest thing to a rival to Day-Lewis is Bradley Cooper who could get it if the Academy doesn’t want to make Day-Lewis a three-time Best Actor winner but I doubt it.

BEST ACTRESS:

-Should Win: Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty– What can I say? You cannot take your eyes off of Maya. She keeps you intrigued in what will happen ext and how she’ll respond. She has a toughness about her despite her tender side being tested at times. Jessica really delivered a one-of-a-kind role that’s hard to match.
-Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook– You can say whatever you want about Jennifer, that she’ll get it because she’s the ‘next big thing.’ Even though I want Jessica Chastain to win, Jennifer Lawrence is very deserving in her own right. I was very impressed in seeing her play a widower much older than her 22 year-old self. It was not just in her emotional acting but her physical acting too. If she wins, I will be content.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

-Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master – Okay so I admit I’m one of those countless people that like Philip Seymour Hoffman. One thing I have to say is like Daniel Day-Lewis, he knows how to become the role. As the svengali-like religious leader, he not only possessed the controllingness of the leader but the charisma of one too. I’m sure he knew that such people of great power not only had to possess a controllingness of them but a winsome charisma too. And Hoffman did it. I sensed it right there in my theatre seat.
-Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln– Daniel Day-Lewis may have owned Lincoln but Tommy Lee Jones had to be his biggest challenger in who could command one’s attention and who is best at portraying a historical character. His performance of Thaddeus Stevens could just rival Day-Lewis. There were some parts of Jones’ performance where it suggested right there to me that this could just win the Oscar. And that was even before the first awards of this season were given out.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

-Should Win and Will Win: Anne Hathaway– Les Miserables– Some of you may think Anne may get the Oscar because of her fame but that’s just jumping the gun. I saw Les Miz. Right there during that scene where she sang I Dreamed A Dream, I just sat there amazed. I sensed right there that she would win the Oscar. Those of you who saw that scene will know what I’m talking about. The closest rivalry I see for her is Sally Field as Mary Lincoln but it’s Anne Hathaway all the way.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win and Will Win: Mark Boal– Zero Dark Thirty– So Bigelow didn’t get nominated for Best Director. The next big force of the movie has to be her right-hand man Mark Boal. His scriptwriting has a lot to do with Bigelow’s standout directing efforts. It took a smart fearless script about piecing the puzzle together and the woman behind it. That’s why I give Mark my pick for the Best Original Screenplay for this year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

-Should Win & Will Win: Chris Terrio– Argo– This was a year where the Adapted Screenplays had an edge over the original ones. Argo’s script had to be the best. It was a script that had to be as smart and well thought-out as it was suspenseful if it wanted to deliver such a story. It was a smart maze of a story without getting too overly confusing. It had its touching moments without getting overly sentimental. That’s why I predict the Argo script to do it. Also a win for the script could boost Argo’s Best Picture chances with Ben Affleck missing his Best Director nomination. We’ll just see.

Just One More:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

-Should Win and Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph – It’s interesting to see how there are three different contenders for the Oscar since it’s had a habit of being one Disney/Pixar film and every other film. This year’ Disney/Pixar pick Brave has a pair of rivals–Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph— and they were also done by Disney associated companies so this should be a win-win for Disney this year. I give it to Ralph because it was the most create and the most entertaining. Also the images in itself were top notch quality too.

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

BEST ART DIRECTION:
Sarah Greenwood – Anna Karenina
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Claudio Miranda – The Life Of Pi
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Jacqueline Durran – Anna Karenina
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Searching For Sugar Man
BEST FILM EDITING:
William Goldenberg – Argo
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM:
Amour – Austria
BEST MAKEUP:
The Hobbit
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Mychael Danna – Life Of Pi
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
“Skyfall” – Skyfall
BEST SOUND MIXING:
Les Miserables
BEST SOUND EDITING:
Life Of Pi
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Life Of Pi
BEST ANIMATED SHORT and BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT:
Click Here
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT:
Open Heart

Interesting looking over all the categories. Amour is the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture in 12 years. There were only four acting nominees being nominated for the first time: the lowest since probably the early 30’s. Usually the supporting acting categories are the most newbie-friendly. Not a single newbie in the supporting acting categories this year and seven of them have already won an Oscar. The Best Actress category had new age records set this very year for both the oldest nominee ever (Riva) and the youngest nominee ever (Wallis). Silver Linings Playbook is only the fourteenth movie in history to earn Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Interesting how the year after Martin Scorsese makes a family film, Ang Lee makes a family-friendly fantasia that also gets nominated for Best Picture. The Best Original Score nomination of Lincoln extends the record of nominations for movie composer John Williams to fifty-eight. The Best Original Song category had five nominees for the first time in three years.

As for snub-outs, hard to believe The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises weren’t nominated for anything, not even for visual effects. The Dark Knight Rises is now the highest-grossing picture to never receive an Oscar nomination. And with the final Twilight movie being nominated for nothing, the Twilight series becomes the highest-grossing movie series or franchise to never receive a single Oscar nomination. And to think last year you were surprised when Harry Potter became the highest-grossing series or franchise to never win an Oscar out of its twelve nominations. Actually should we be surprised about Twilight’s consistent snub-out? All it was about was hot guys anyways.

And there you have it. My predictions for Sunday’s Oscars. Winners to be decided there and then. Let’s hope the wins go to the right movies. Also let’s see if Seth can make the show entertaining without crossing the line.

Oh yeah, here’s a bonus:

Other Nominated Movies I’ve Reviewed

-Moonrise Kingdom
-War Witch (Rebelle)
-Ted
-Snow White And The Huntsman
-Prometheus