Tag Archives: Oscar winner

The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' Scientific And Technical Awards CeremonyOn Saturday, Leslie Mann & John Cho hosted the awards we don’t see (their 3 hour ceremony will be distilled into about 1 minutes of broadcast during the Oscars) – the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards. There are no nominees at these awards, just winners, people the Academy have chosen to honour for their contributions to film making (the Academy’s Board of Governors does the voting). These are often inventions and discoveries that make cameras better, or CGI more realistic.

“Simply put, the movies we love would not exist if not for your talent, your knowledge and your creativity,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in her opening remarks. “There’s a reason it’s called the Academy of Arts and Sciences.”

Awards were given out for all kinds of sciency things I don’t really understand, motion capture stuff, programming stuff, and improvements to digital cameras. One thing that caught my eye thought was called an Animatronic Horse Puppet.

Okay, I’ll bite: animatronic horse puppet, you say?

Mark Rappaport is credited with the concept, design and development. He runs a company called Creature Effects, Inc, that specializes in creating hyper-realistic make-up effects and animatronic animals for use in movies. Most movies will still use primarily real animals, but for certain scenes, animatronic replacements is just plain safer for both actor and animal. The trick is to make the “puppets” look real and move realistically.

Scott Oshita is credited for the motion analysis and CAD design; Jeff Cruts with the development of faux-hair finish techniques; and Todd Minobe for the puppet’s articulation and drive-train mechanisms.

The production crew of The Last Samurai needed an animatronic horse able to perform stunt sequences that would put a real horse and rider in danger, and goodness knows we can’t risk Tom Cruise’s pretty face.. Rappaport was commissioned to build a horse that could seamlessly replace Tom Cruise’s real horse for those scenes. Rappaport said “It’s probably the most sophisticated horse or animatronic creature ever made for film. It cost $1.5 million to make. It gallops in place. It reared up. It fell over. And it looks completely real.”

220px-300_animatronic_wolf_puppet_closeupThose horses came in handy again for the 300 movie, and Rappaport was given a new challenge: a wolf to attack young Leonidas. This wolf was able to blink, movie its head, its neck, its brow, its jaw, and its tongue, it could even salivate and had glowing eyes!

Their animatronic horse has also been used in The Lone Ranger and The Revenant.

Pretty cool, eh?

 

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Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

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It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Shrek

It’s funny how animated movies from this vintage have aged so badly compared to classically-drawn stuff like Snow White. Old Disney has a timeless feel whereas the dawning days of CGI just looks goofy and amateurish. But I can remember at the time thinking it looked slick as shit. Actually, as early as 1991, Steven Spielberg held the rights to this film and thought he’d do hand-drawn animation through Amblin studios, with Bill Murray as Shrek and Steve Martin as Donkey. Just imagine that.

Shrek came out in 2001. Animated movies took so long to make that voice actors were cast 12.pngyears in advance. Nicolas Cage was offered the part of Shrek but turned it down, not wanting to be drawn as an ugly ogre (he apparently missed the whole point of the movie, unsurprisingly). Chris Farley was then cast as Shrek but at his death in 1997, producers decided to recast the role and it went to SNL alum Mike Myers (you can hear Farley’s work here). Farley’s gone but not forgotten – if you look closely, you might just see a few of Shrek’s movements that were inspired by Farley, notably his use of “air quotes” just like a certain Farley character. And that’s a bit of a miracle, because when Mike Myers came on board, he demanded a complete re-write of the script, not wanting any of Farley’s influences to contaminate his own performances. Another result of Farley’s death was the dropping of Janeane Garofalo from the cast. She was supposed to play Fiona opposite Farley’s Shrek, but she was dropped like a hot potato after his death, no explanation given.

Janeane Garfalo wasn’t the film’s only disappearing act: Jimmy Fallon had recorded the tumblr_memaanhvik1qk381no1_r2_250dating game show portion as the Magic Mirror, but in the film that hit theatres (and your DVD shelf), it’s just storyboard artist Christopher Miller.

Like Farley, Myers recorded his role in his normal speaking voice. When he saw the movie with test audiences, he realized something crucial was missing, so he drew on the Scottish accent his mother would use when reading bedtime stories to re-record the lines. That little decision cost the studio $4 million dollars. Do you think it was worth it?  All the actors recorded separately, as was the custom at the time. John Lithgow (Lord Farquaad) lamented never being able to meet let alone work with Myers, Eddie Murphy (Donkey) or Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona).  Don’t feel too bad for them though – they’ve had several red carpets to schmooze each other since. Mike Myers did a lot of ad-libbing which comes as no surprise, but it seems that Cameron Diaz also added a lot to her role. Like her character, Diaz had studied kung fu (she was a Charlie’s Angel, after all) and recorded that part in full exertion (occasionally breaking out in Cantonese). Producers also scrambled to add Fiona’s burping scene after Diaz let one rip after drinking a Coke.

Because the film took so long to make (they started work in 1996), it features a lot of maxresdefault.jpgreferences that would have seemed fresh at the time (The Matrix, for example), and some that seemed almost immediately dated (the Macarena, and Riverdance, for example). It also gave the Dreamworks lawyers plenty of time to go over the film with a fine tooth comb: no one wanted to get sued by Disney for the many satirical pokes and jabs at their theme parks.

Of course we all know that Donkey is the best character in Shrek, and he was memorably voiced by Eddie Murphy, like no other could. In fact, Murphy received a BAFTA nomination for his voice-over performances, the first of its kind. Murphy knows it’s some of his best work, and firmly believes that when he does, the obit will run with a picture of a donkey beside it. “Donkey is a really positive character. He’s always looking at the bright side of everything, trying to work it out. A happy-go-lucky donkey.” How can you not love a sensitive, hyperactive donkey with a sweet tooth for waffles and parfait? And if you thinktumblr_n50847EJoc1smcbm7o1_500.gif he looks a little too cute and cuddly for a donkey, you’re right – although he’s modeled after a real-life miniature donkey named Perry who lives in Palo Alto, near DreamWorks, his movements mimic that of a dog rather than a hooved animal.

Shrek was released to enormous success. They immediately went to work on a second (which led to an ill-advised 3rd, and then a 4th that’s not much better). But in 2001, Shrek was animation gold. It was the first animated American film screened at Cannes since Peter Pan in 1953. It also won the inaugural Oscar for Best Animated Film when the Academy Award added it in 2001 (it beat out Pixar’s Monsters, Inc!). It was the 3rd highest grossing movie of the year, behind some Harry Potter and some other Lord of the Rings (and just edging out Monsters, Inc, in fact). So even if the animation looks a little busted today, it’s got a pretty solid spot in animated history.

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg wants to make a musical, and not just any musical, but a remake of West Side Story. Reportedly Tony Kushner’s already working on a script.

Coincidentally (or not) a certain Chris Evans has been mouthing around town that he’d love to do a musical too – specifically, West Side Story.

It sounds like this thing’s going to happen but before it does you’d better make sure you’ve seen the original. It took audiences by storm in 1961 and won an astounding 10 Academy Awards, including best picture.

The 1961 version starred a young Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the lead characters Maria and Tony, who are basically Romeo and Juliet, if you watch carefully enough. They come from not two feuding families but two warring gangs, sworn enemies soon swooning in young love. But if you know your Shakespeare, you know their love is heading for tragedy.

Happily, this classic film is back in theatres.

Quebec City can  see it at Cinema Le Clap July 24-26

Vancouver can watch it at Pacific Cinematheque June 30-July 3 or on July 9 at the Rio Theatre

ballet.gifWatch it, and let us know what you think. Does Beymer make a good Tony, or would Elvis Presley (the director’s first choice) have done better? And how will Captain America fill the role?

During the entire production, the actors wore out 200 pairs of shoes, applied more than 100lbs of make-up, and split 27 pairs of pants. Will Spielberg get away with such a dancey remake? Would we even want him to?

See how many of the songs you know from other pop culture references. In my head “Gee, Officer Krupke” is always sung in Larry David’s voice. And Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson made “I Feel Pretty” famous again in Anger Management. Where did you first hear the songs?

 

Audrey Hepburn was the original choice to play Maria but was too pregnant at the time to accept. Who is today’s Hepburn equivalent? Or is it blasphemy to even ask?

 

 

Midnight in Paris

Establishing shots at the beginning of the film are divine, and if I wasn’t in Paris already, I’d be booking my flight! Funny how the toast of Manhattan, consummate New Yorker Woody Allen, now seems to be smitten with Paris. Is the City of Light his new inspiration?

Owen Wilson is quite taken with Paris in the 1920s.  He’s a writer who’s spent years grinding out Midnight in Paris (2011)scripts in Hollywood (successfully, it seems) but wishes he’d had the guts to write novels in Paris instead. He’s visiting the city with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams), who’s had enough (“If I never see another charming boulevard or bistro -) but he’s still bubbling with anecdotes of Monet and Hemingway and their fruitful time lost in their art. While he’s out chasing the ghost of Joyce down cobbled streets, the clock strikes midnight and an old Peugeot drives up, full of merry-makers. Turns out – spoiler alert – that it’s Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

We never know whether this is magic or mental health, but he now possesses the ability to slipparis3 back to his favourite time period, 20s era Paris, and he gets invited into Gertrude Stein’s (Kathy Bates) famous salon. Bates is lovely but I have to say, Wilson’s earnestness is what really sells this piece. He’s wide-eyed and worshipful of his heroes. It’s major wish-fulfillment and it’s fun to see all these giants come to life.

parismarionRachel McAdams starts to get annoyed that he disappears every night, but how can he resist? Hemingway himself has offered to edit his work! Woody Allen’s script sings with treasures for book-lovers, and in this film, I can combine with my love of literature AND film (AND Paris, incidentally). Owen Wilson is just as bowled over – particularly when he comes across a beautiful muse (and mistress) to many famous artists (Marion Cotillard), but what a conflict between his actual fiancée in the present tense, and the people who get him but may just be figments of his fertile imagination.

This movie is not for everyone and that’s okay. And it’s not just about being well-read. You just either feel the charm or you don’t. Allen sprinkles the scrip liberally with treats that add up to a veritable feast (a moveable feast?) – you get the sense that he must have had fun writing this, which is perhaps why he won the Oscar for Best Orignal Screenplay (though he never attends to pick up his statuettes). If any of the above has sounded interesting, or if you just need another excuse to fall in love with the City of Possibility, then put this on your list.

Still Alice

We wstill aliceouldn’t even be talking about Still Alice, about a world renowned linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, if it weren’t for Julianne Moore. Michelle Pfeiifer, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman all apparently passed on the part before anyone got around to considering Moore, which is baffling to me. Who among Moore’s peers is more up for the challenge? Who can play confused just as well as they can play sharp or as vulnerable as well as strong. Or, as Jay was right to point out in her review of Maps to the Stars, who else is so unconcerned with how she looks while she’s doing it? Because there are so many sides to her persona, we believe her as a respected academic, as a mother, and as a wife which is just as important as believing her as an Alzheimer’s patient. Because of Julianne Moore, we’re talking about Still Alice as an Oscar nominated film (Best Actress in a Leading Role).

The movie, as written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, may not be as beautiful as Away from Her or L’Amour but it gets it right mostly by not doing anything wrong. It’s never corny and doesn’t search for easy answers. This may not seem like high praise but I can imagine so many ways this could have gone wrong by being too pandering or by focusing on the disease instead of the person. I give it credit for not falling into these traps.

Julianne Moore is still the best reason to see Still Alice though. She’s been great since short Cuts but hasn’t had such a great opportunity to show it for years. Smart money is on her winning the Oscar.

If one asshole’s opinion isn’t enough, check out Jay’s review.

Citizenfour – Discussion

Citizenfour is a great documentary, maybe not in terms of movie making, but certainly in terms of the discussion it generates. If you’ve followed the case, then you’ve learned nothing new: Edward Snowden surreptitiously contacts Laura Poitras, the film’s director, and asks to meet. She flies to Hong Kong and films him over the course of 8 days, as Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian interviews him and breaks the story on the extent of NSA’s pervasive spying on its own citizens. If you’d like to learn more about this movie, please see fellow Asshole Matt’s review of the film. If you’ve seen it and would like more in-depth discussion, then keep reading.

Why you should care: One thing this movie does well is that it makes the case for why should citizenfourwe all care. It’s easy enough to brush it aside, thinking that since we having nothing to hide, nothing nefarious in our texts or emails, then we’re “safe”, no one will be kicking in our doors. And that’s true. But it’s also true that every single day, these people are infringing upon your rights. They are looking over your shoulder at things we used to consider “private” – phone calls to our friends, emails to our mothers, messages from our doctors, banking we did online, books we’ve borrowed, movies we rented, things we bought, passwords we mistakenly believe are ‘secret’, every single thing we’ve ever searched for on Google. Think about that for a second. Our histories, our personal blueprints, are available for analysis. If this was a dystopian sci-fi flick, we’d be creeped out and outraged on behalf of the protagonist. But those scenarios are already happening. It’s already here. But since it’s illegal and since people might just be mad about it, the government does it in secret – and outright lies about it when called out. It uses all the technology developed for flushing out terrorists and uses it against YOU. It has turned spy against its own citizens, every last law-abiding one of them. You don’t need to be suspicious. You don’t need to have a record. You don’t need to have motive, or to associate with known criminals, or use words like “bomb” or “jihad” or “Ebola”.

What does privacy mean to you? Make no mistake, this data collection is a weapon and one that will be used to oppress you. Citizenfour and Glenn Greenwald in particular seek to impress us with this fact: PRIVACY IS FREEDOM. I think it’s important to think of it in terms of control: your own control over your privacy, and others’ ability to control you using obtained private information. There is no freedom without privacy. That’s why we vote by secret ballot. Privacy allows freedom of conscience and diversity of thought. Sure, the government has seriously abused this data yet, that we know of. But why should we be content to wait until that happens – and it will happen – it is being collected in order to be used, not for you, but against you.

Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? Poitras doesn’t really touch on this, unfortunately. Her film is more a portrait of a man, but whether you call that man a whistleblower or a traitor tells a lot about you and about the world you think you live in. The truth is, he is responsible for one of, if not the, largest security breaches of American state secrecy. Why did he do it? The film paints him (and he paints himself) as self-sacrificing, conscience-directed, a do-gooder of the greater-good. He assured us he expected and was willing to be punished for his actions, but won’t return to US soil to stand trial. And for all his protestations, I felt he did court attention. He didn’t reveal the secrets himself, he sought out famous film and print journalists to bring “his” story to light. But he was an established (if closeted) libertarian for pretty much his whole life, believing that the government should defend its citizens, not encroach upon their rights. Few news stories, this documentary included, have been able to separate Edward Snowden, the personality, with the information he uncovered, and even though Poitras claims she was working on this film before Snowden contacted her, we see little evidence of this in its finished product. Those eight days in Hong Kong are the meat of the movie, but I was surprised that she merely recorded it passively rather than asking any questions. I was left wondering – is Snowden operating purely from an ethic of responsibility, or does he have other motives at play? And does it even matter, since the information is all true? Can you be held above the law if the information you leaked shows the corruption of the lawmakers themselves?

Has Citizenfour succeeded? Snowden tells us that what we can do at home to protect our privacy is to encrypt, to block our ISPs, to use personal clouds, to leave no trace. I’m not sure this is practical for every user of the web, and is it even enough? Citizenfour excelled at showing us just how seriously they took they spying. There’s an escalating sense of paranoia – from Snowden’s use of physical barriers to Greenwald’s reluctance to speak out loud – the camera focuses on his feverishly scrawled notes, methodically shredded. They take no chances but I do wonder – has the average viewer of the movie seen this as a call to arms? Have you changed the way you use the internet or cell phone?

Citizenfour

Filmmaker Laura Poitras’ documentary on the scope of NSA wiretapping and surveillance worldwide is the first of the Oscar-nominated documentaries that I’ve had the chance to see. (Thanks Bytowne for making it available). Poitras was already working on the film when she lucked out and got an encrypted e-mail from the mysterious Citizen Four, who we all know by his real name Edward Snowden. Snowden met with Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald citizenfourand Ewen MacAskill secretly in a hotel room in Hong Kong where he provided them with proof of the extent to which the NSA had been spying on its own citizens. Poitras’ footage of thiese meetings take up a large part of the film’s running time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Snowden or his revelations, this is definately a movie worth seeing. And if you have taken the time to follow this story as it happened, you probably care enough to wan to see this movie given that it gives you the rare opportunity to watch history as it happens. So, in short, it’s a movie I’d recommend for anyone.

“I’m not the story!” Snowden repeatedly insists. It’s hard to tell if Snowden’s desire to focus on the message instead of the messenger is admirable or self-serving (I’m leaning towards admirable). Either way, Poitras often ignores this and wisely puts the focus on Snowden and the parts where she does are the best parts of Citizenfour. These scenes offer a rare chance to get to see a little bit of who he is. We’re with him when he gets e-mails from his girlfriend about agents showing up at her door. We’re even with him as he prepares to come forward, watching him as he fixes his hair and kills time in his hotel room. He keeps saying that he’ knows and accepts that there will be consequences but his body language can’t lie. We can see that he’s scared.

Being at the right place at the right time is a big part of what makes a documentary and, by that standard, Citizenfour is a great documentary. Poitras was fortunate enough to have Snowden citizenfourcome to her and let her film him as he broke one of the biggest and most important news stories of 2013. It’s worth mentioning also that she was taking on some level of risk herself just by being involved.

I’m not so sure that Citizenfour is a great movie though. There’s not enough footage of Snowden to fill a full-length documentary and Poitras spends a lot of time scrambling to fill the rest. There are a lot of establishing shots, lots of text on the screen, and a few too many shots of Snowden sitting in his room watching tv. It feels like a missed opportunity, especially given that Americans are divided on whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Poitras is leaning towards hero, maybe a little too heavily. She’s not wrong and documentaries certainly aren’t obligated to tell every side of the story. All I’m saying is, since Poitras had so much time to fill, maybe she could have filled some of it by asking him some questions.

For more on Citizenfour, read Jay’s discussion here.

Whiplash

This movie was on fire. Both Miles Teller and JK Simmons are AMAZING but even the director (Damien Chazelle) was an unseen stand-out, somehow crafting a movie about drumming into an intensely psychotic thriller. The editing is almost violent,infusing the movie and the music with a crazy amount of energy.

Miles Teller plays a kid at an exceptional music conservatory who gets taken under the wing of a  teacher (JK Simmons) so exacting that he moulds his students into better musicians, or else. And you’d better believe that threat is real. The kids in his class certainly do. Blood, sweat, and tears are all part of the visceral experience of this film.

I watched this movie wracked with Whiplash_postertension, the kind usually reserved for a movie where the villain wields a knife, not a conductor’s baton. JK Simmons is absolutely brilliant, stunning and revolting. Each time he pulls back his hand to halt the band, it’s like he has a super power that sucks the energy out of the room. He’s like a general in front of his army. He’s erect, he’s controlling, he is bubbling rage personified.

But for me, the most fascinating thing about this movie is the way it presents such a cracked view of an abusive relationship. This man is sadistic. He doesn’t throw chairs at people’s heads just to make them play better (although he seems to believe in this motivation), he also does it because he likes. He has power, and he abuses it, and he enjoys abusing it. That’s sick, but it’s also not unusual. What’s really wrenching is that it’s not just Teller buying into it, he’s just one of three guys who are ready to be absolutely destroyed by this man, competing for his abuse, killing themselves to please an unpleasable man. They keep going back for more and it’s just so fucking despicable. And I ate it all up.

 

Still Alice

I first discovered Lisa Genova through her excellent book, Left Neglected. Wanting to read more of her work, I came upon Still Alice, an earlier work that she actually self-published. She’s got a great handle on neurological disorders but her stories aren’t clinical. They’re very human, and almost too relatable.

Julianne Moore is Alice, a 50-year-old woman with loads on her plate: she and her husband (Alec stillaliceBaldwin) are both ambitious, workhorse academics. She’s a Columbia professor who travels around giving talks on her research in the field of communication. They have three children, a son still in med school (Hunter Parrish), a daughter newly married and trying to conceive (Kate Bosworth), and a starving-artist daughter trying to make it as an actor (Kristen Stewart). It’s hard to see who’s more lost at sea when Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. There’s pain for everyone as they all come to terms with losing a vibrant, strong woman who’s been a big influence on each of their lives, but of course it’s Alice’s pain we witness the most, even as her disease progresses quite quickly.

It’s hard not to make this review just about Julianne Moore because of course she’s going to make or break this movie, and she’s made it. We see her go from competent, and sharp, and slide into more watered versions, more confused versions of her former self. Her gaze changes as her disease worsens, becoming flatter, disengaged, but it never goes blank. Maybe it would be better if it did; we still see hints of Alice and so feel the chasm between her old and current selves more keenly as she struggles to know herself, remember herself, lose herself.

It’s heartbreaking, but I have to give mad props to directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, who used a heck of a lot of restraint in filming this movie. The subject is pregnant with the potential to be self-pitying and cloying but it never even comes close. I still don’t Geneva’s work here is her best, nor does the script elevate it much, but it earned some tears and some thought and much admiration for a career-high performance.