"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Friday, November 30, 2012

10 films still in the race for Best Visual Effects

10 movies are still in the hunt for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award nomination and the list is down below.  The superhero films (Batman, Spiderman, The Avengers) all made the cut as did four book adaptations including Life of Pi and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • John Carter
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel's The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Skyfall
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

But only five films can be nominated and it's very likely going to be Life of Pi, The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and possibly a surprise nominee in either John Carter and Prometheus. Sadly, the praise for Cloud Altas and The Dark Knight Rises in the technical categories seems a bit muted now but I hope to see it recognized in some way or the other.

Disney's Frozen gets a female co-director

Here's some promising news... Disney's Frozen due to debut next November has added Jennifer Lee, one of the screenwriters of the recent Wreck-It Ralph, as co-director with Chris Buck.  Frozen is the story of two sisters, the Snow Queen (voiced by the brilliant Idina Menzel) and Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), who live in a kingdom where it's winter all year round until the day Anna decides to put a stop to the spell cast by her sister.

(Photo: Collider)

I just can't wait to hear the new songs for this film which will be penned by Avenue Q and Book of Mormon songwriters Robert Lopez and Kirsten Anderson-Lopez.  This will be Disney's 53rd animated feature film.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012 Independent Spirit Award Nominations Announced

Let the nominations begin! The 28th Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations got announced yesterday and there are a few recognizable names on the list like Wes Anderson and David O. Russell as both their movies got a few nominations in different categories.  And some big little films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere feature prominently with four nominations apiece.  The awards will be announced, as usual, the day before the Oscars on February 23, 2012.

Best Feature
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Keep The Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director
Benh Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Julia Loktev - The Loneliest Planet
Ira Sachs - Keep The Lights On
Wes Anderson - Moonrise Kingdom
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

Best Female Lead
Emayatzy Corinealdi - Middle of Nowhere
Linda Cardellini - Return
Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Male Lead
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Jack Black - Bernie
John Hawkes - The Sessions
Thure Lindhardt - Keep The Lights On
Matthew McConaughey - Killer Joe
Wendell Pierce - Four

Best Supporting Female
Ann Dowd - Compliance
Brit Marling - Sound of My Voice
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Lorraine Toussaint - Middle of Nowhere
Rosemary Dewitt - My Sister's Sister

Best Supporting Male
Sam Rockwell - Seven Psychopaths
Michael Pena - End of Watch
Bruce Willis - Moonrise Kingdom
David Oyelowo - Middle of Nowhere
Matthew McConaughey - Magic Mike

Best Screenplay
Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias - Keep The Lights On
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola -  Moonrise Kingdom
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Zoe Kazan - Ruby Sparks
Martin McDonagh - Seven Psychopaths

Best First Feature
Sound of My Voice
Safety Not Guaranteed
Fill the Void
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Gimme the Loot

Best First Screenplay
Rama Burshtein - Fill the Void
Rashida Jone & Will McCormack - Celeste and Jesse Forever
Jonathan Lisecki - Gayby
Derek Connolly - Safety Not Guaranteed
Christopher Ford  - Robot & Frank

Best Documentary
How to Survive a Plague
Marina Abromovic The Artist is Present
The Central Park Five
The Invisible War
The Waiting Room

Best Cinematography
Yoni Brook - Valley of Saints
Ben Richardson - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Lol Crawley - Here
Robert Yeoman - Moonrise Kingdom
Roman Vasyanov - End of Watch 

Best International Film
Amour (France)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey)
Rust and Bone (France/Belgium)
Sister (Switzerland)
War Witch (DR Congo)

John Cassavetes Award (Award given to the writer, director and producers of a feature made for under $500,000)
Breakfast with Curtis
Middle of Nowhere
Mosquita y Mari
The Color Wheel

Robert Altman Award (Given to one film's director, casting director, and its ensemble cast)

Filmmaker Grants

Someone to Watch Awards
Adam Leon - Gimme the Loot
David Fenster - Pincus
Rebecca Thomas - Electrik Children

Stella Artois Truer Than Fiction Award
Peter Nicks - The Waiting Room
Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel - Leviathan
Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims - Only the Young

Piaget Producers Award
Alicia Van Couvering
Mynette Louie
Derrick Tseng 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi

As a young boy, Pi says early in the film, "Animals have souls. I've seen it in their eyes." A teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) gets to test out his theory completely as he gets stranded in the Pacific Ocean with a wounded zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Life of Pi is a fantastical tale based on the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Yann Martel which many people have read and enjoyed including me.

I have been waiting for a film adaptation for years, ever since I finished the book when it released back in 2001.  But I never expected it to be to so wondrous in this visual medium, so much so that it had the power to move me and take my breath away all over again.  Of course when a master filmmaker such as Ang Lee is at its helm, you will be treated to a story told skillfully through emotions and spectacular scenery.

The film opens in Pondicherry, a remnant of French colonization in India where the Patel family runs a zoo housing all kinds of animals.  The incredibly named Piscine Molitor Patel (after the finest pools in France by his father's best friend) is an eager and smart boy.  He manages to cleverly change his classmates' taunts of his name to a catchy and relevant nickname for himself.  He questions the world around him and embraces all religions by becoming a Hindu, a Catholic and a Muslim.

While this exasperates his father (Adil Hussain), Pi's mother (Tabu) reassures him that this is a natural way to question life.  A day arrives, however, that due to hard times the Patel family has to emigrate to Canada and they do so by packing up and moving their zoo animals with them to sell in North America and cross the Pacific Ocean. Here is where the tale takes a decidedly dramatic turn.

Up until now it has just been these interesting anecdotes told by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer (Rafe Spall) who wants to hear and maybe write about his incredible story.  Just what exactly is his story about anyway?  On a dark and stormy night in their ship's journey, sixteen-year-old Pi goes to investigate above deck and inadvertently becomes the lone human survivor of the ship that contains everything and everyone he loves and knows in his life.  It plunges him in the Pacific Ocean, save the company of four other animals and then eventually down to just him and Richard Parker.

After reading the book, I often wondered about Richard Parker and his point of view.  This film allows us to become a part of that challenging journey with them, those 227 days of helplessness, loneliness and emotional despair across a vast and unforgiving ocean.  Pi and Richard Parker are both foes in each other's survival and yet inexplicably linked together by their unique experience.

This is by far the best 3D film I have seen maybe because I felt a more emotional connection to this than watching Avatar.  I never imagined the 3D could be taken so further; the experiments with blurs, transitions, lens flares and aspect ratios all which seem so natural and right in capturing a novel to the big screen.  It's almost as if it was made only for this film.  Lee creates these moments of absolute devastation for Pi but in such wonderful scenes that it will make you gasp in conflicting emotions.  I heard the word, 'Wow' uttered many a time in the theater I was in.

But this is a story of survival against the odds even when one is adrift at sea with their faith sorely tested.  Ang Lee has made a difficult subject which many thought would never translate well onscreen come alive in ways we can't imagine.  One of the biggest reasons for this is also the absolutely jaw-droppingly realistic CGI creation that is Richard Parker (hats off to the talented crew over at Rhythm and Hues) and the genuine performance of Suraj Sharma in his debut film.  They become the emotional anchors for the story.

The rest of the cast has little screen time but they do their parts ably.  I loved the beginning sequences set in India which were simplistic in tone but contains a lot of history and detail.  The cinematography is so magnificent with frames that look like paintings out a dream and I especially enjoyed the recreation of the familiar book cover in the film.  Above all, the film and Ang Lee's direction upheld the spirit of the book and have given us another medium to enjoy this incredible adventure.  Don't miss it.

Life of Pi is a journey you must experience.  It's going atop my list of the best film experiences I've had in a theater in years.

Directed by Ang Lee; Screenplay by David Magee; Based on the book by Yann Martel; Cinematography by Claudio Miranda; Edited by Tim Squyres; Music by Mychael Danna.

Additional cast: Gerard Depardieu, Ayush Tandon


Friday, November 23, 2012

What I'm Thankful For This Year: Movies Edition

This post has become like tradition since I have been writing about what I've been thankful for on Thanksgiving the past two years so here's my humble list for this past year.

Joss Whedon: We Buffy, Firefly and even Dollhouse (sigh) fans knew the immense talent of writer-director Joss Whedon long before The Avengers became the film that practically everyone on the planet saw.  But now he's graduated to the big screen with writing, producing and directing screen credits in such varied films as The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods and Much Ado About Nothing. We do miss him on the small screen. Hell, yeah! But then he's also producing the TV series based on the S.H.I.E.L.D agents from Avengers. Is there anything this man can't do well?

Damsels in Distress: Films with great dialogue that stay with you long after you've seen the film are so rare these days.  It's only after The Social Network that I have enjoyed the dialogues and the characters of a film so much.  I'm still waiting for to incorporate 'playboy operator move' in a British accent into everyday conversation.  I hope to do so someday.  And even though the film released last year, I'm thankful that after 13 years, we got a gem of a film like this from director Walt Stillman.

Finding Nemo re-release: This film gets me like no other Pixar film.  I love Up, Wall-E, Toy Story an all but it's Finding Nemo with which I have a deep emotional connection.  I missed out on seeing it in theaters during it's initial release and I have regretted it ever since.  But the 3D re-release gave me another opportunity and it was wonderful to experience it with a whole new generation to get to see the film for the first time ever.

Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy: Just as we said goodbye to Harry Potter last year, this year we had to say to goodbye to one of the finest trilogies in film history.  It will continue to influence superhero and franchise who all wanted to emulate the tone and success of the Batman trilogy that put a very troubled and human face to a superhero, brought about villains we're still talking about and has performances that will forever be remembered.  From one of the most brilliant directors of his generation to the cast and crew who created a universe which is held up for one of best interpretation of a comic book to film ever.

The cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: While everyone was talking about the crew that made up The Avengers this summer, another cast was slowly being talked about as well. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was the big surprise success of the summer season and now there's even talk of a sequel to bring back the talented cast of British actors.  The film about seniors in the twilight of their lives was touching, funny and enjoyable to watch.  With such amazing seasoned actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, how can you say no? More please!

What are you thankful for the movies you've seen this past year?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ode to Steven Spielberg in Photos!

The new issue of Harper's Bazaar has a great pictorial ode to some iconic Steven Spielberg films from the 70s, 80s and 90s with some familiar faces recreating famous scenes. Take a look!

Dakota Fanning in a scene from Close Encounters from the Third Kind

Kiernan Shipka in a scene from E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial

Malin Akerman in a scene from Jaws

Evan Rachel Wood in a scene from Jurassic Park

My personal favorite is the re-creation of E.T.  I always did like Gertie and E.T.'s friendship just as much as him and Elliott's.  And who can forget Jaws, a movie which single-handedly made people afraid to swim in the oceans and the astonishingly real dinosaurs from Jurassic Park?  These are the movies that made people's childhoods and some of them defined the term 'summer film'.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Photos: Oz - The Great and Powerful

USA Today has some great photos from Disney's upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful featuring some first looks at the cast in some pretty iconic roles and the world of Emerald City. The film, directed by Sam Raimi, releases next March; take a look.

Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch

A closer look at Glinda in action.

A flying monkey!

Evanora played by Rachel Weisz faces off against Theodora played by Mila Kunis.

The yellow brick road and the Emerald City are in our sights.

The hot air balloon that brings Oscar Diggs played by James Franco to the Emerald City.

Oscar speaks to the China Girl (voice talent of Joey King)

Hot air balloon crash landing site.

And they're off!

These visually stunning photographs promise a great deal of new imagining in this prequel of The Wizard of Oz.  The official synopsis says:
Disney’s fantastical adventure “Oz The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot–fame and fortune are his for the taking–that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity–and even a bit of wizardry–Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.
 I'm looking forward to see what this great cast and director Sam Raimi will bring forward in Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Oscars: Animated Short Films Shortlisted

From top right: Combustible, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, Paperman, Head over Heels and The Eagleman Stag

 After Animated Features films, it's the turn for the animated shorts to be shortlisted and will move forward in the race.  The films selected are:

  • "Adam and Dog," Minkyu Lee, director (Lodge Films)
  • "Combustible," Katsuhiro Otomo, director (Sunrise Inc.)
  • "Dripped," Léo Verrier, director (ChezEddy)
  • "The Eagleman Stag," Mikey Please, director, and Benedict Please, music scores and sound design (Royal College of Art)
  • "The Fall of the House of Usher," Raul Garcia, director, and Stephan Roelants, producer (Melusine Productions, R&R Communications Inc., Les Armateurs, The Big Farm)
  • "Fresh Guacamole," PES, director (PES)
  • "Head over Heels," Timothy Reckart, director, and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, producer (National Film and Television School)
  • "Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”," David Silverman, director (Gracie Films)
  • "Paperman," John Kahrs, director (Disney Animation Studios)
  • "Tram," Michaela Pavlátová, director, and Ron Dyens, producer (Sacrebleu Productions)

Out of these, only three to five will be nominated on January 10, 2013 after Academy screenings.  Amazingly, The Simpsons Movie was never even nominated for Best Animated Feature back in 2008.  But the short, Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare', has a chance of being nominated alongside Disney's black and white love story, Paperman and Adam and Dog by Minkyu Lee.  I don't recognize any of the other shorts as yet but they are usually available to view online by the time the awards nite comes along so it's easier to be well-informed in that category.  The big surprise here is that no Pixar short is leading the way even though a Toy Story short aired in front of Brave, it didn't quite make the cut. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall

It's always delightful to hear the words, "Bond, James Bond" uttered onscreen and the new Bond film Skyfall certainly delivers on the chills and thrills.

As Daniel Craig settles into his third outing as Bond and utters the words, "Brave New World," you know this is not going to be a typical Bond film.  This is the 23rd film in a franchise that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  An incredible achievement for any franchise but it's just amazing that a character like James Bond can bring together generations of grandfathers, fathers and sons who can all claim him as their favorite spy, Agent 007.

With a traditional creative opening credits sequence that ominously hints all about death and features a song by the brilliant Adele, Skyfall brings us into the action quickly with an exciting chase sequence in Istanbul, Turkey where a hard drive containing the names of all the MI6 agents has been stolen and Bond is in hard pursuit of it.  This reminded me too much of plots featured on TV shows like Chuck, Alias and even another film released earlier this year, Safe House.  Seriously, people in intelligence services, maybe next time try not to keep such important information on something that can be easily retrieved as a hard drive.

But as it happens, Bond is shot by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and the bad guy Patrice (Ola Rapace).  This is not a spoiler, you've probably gleaned the same information if you've seen the trailer.  Everyone assumes he's dead and with the stolen all-important hard drive missing, M (Judi Dench) is left to face the fire for the failed mission.  She is brought to task by Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes).

But M has more problems coming up.  Someone is after her, after her past and won't stop for anything. Bond has to step out of the shadows and back into being Agent 007.  He is tested again to show whether he's fit to being an agent again.  I liked that little sequence of various tests on him.  Everyone assumes Bond to be superhuman despite his legendary vices.  They show us the effect on his not so young body.

Nevertheless, we all know that there's no better agent than 007 in Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Bond goes to Shanghai where he meets the lovely Bond girl Severine (Berenice Lim Marlohe) to find out who has the list and is after M.  She leads to him to the very captivating Silva (Javier Bardem), a villain that I have a feeling most people won't get.  Which is a shame because Bardem is so good at transforming himself into whichever character he plays.

Silva manages to rankle M and raise Bond's protective instincts towards her, the only steady woman in his life.  He calls her ma'am, just as he would the Queen.  But revenge is an all-consuming thing and Silva can't see anything beyond it.  Aiding Bond as always is the ever reliable team at MI6, there's Mallory and Eve, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and the new quartermaster, Q (Ben Whishaw), a wonderful addition to Bond's world.  I loved their scenes together and past references to Bond history with guns and technology.

In fact, there were lots of witty one-liners, so typically Bond, that were enjoyable and familiar.  There were the cars, the martini, the iconic theme music, the shots of London, it was the same and yet different as the director Sam Mendes and cast put their own stamp on it.  The product placements which I thought would be glaringly obvious were subtler than I thought but really these days which film doesn't have them prominently displayed and especially in this case it was one of the main reasons why this film was financed and saved MGM from bankruptcy.

I tried to recall why this film reminded me of another and then it came to me, I recalled reading how Mendes was inspired by Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and this movie had the same flow to it.  In a good way.  It was dark where it needed to be and light where it should be especially at the end where everything is set up for the next film.  Great balance.

However, the lighting and atmosphere for the climatic resolution was really dim and hard to see but one can definitely guess to what's going on.  Despite that minor quibble, Skyfall joins the list of Bond films as worthy addition and a great way for the franchise to still live on in this modern world.

Directed by Sam Mendes; Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan; Cinematography by Roger Deakins; Editing by Stuart Baird; Music by Thomas Newman.

Additional cast: Albert Finney, Helen McCrory

Updated since the ratings didn't load:


Saturday, November 3, 2012

21 Films Animated Feature Films Submitted for Oscars

Alright, here we go.  It's November and I'm pretty much going to start talking non-stop about awards season namely the Oscars from now on.  Did I mention how much I love the Oscars even though it inevitably disappoints me in some way or the other every year?  The anticipation frankly leading up to it is, hands down, the most exciting part of the race. Nothing beats it.  

Okay, so submissions have started for documentary films, foreign language films and my favorite, Best Animated Feature, a category I look forward to since its addition in 2001.  

21 films have been submitted for next year's Oscars including the usual suspects from Pixar (Brave), DreamWorks (Madagascar 3, Rise of the Guardians) and Blue Sky (Ice Age Continental Drift).  I'm pleased to see two Indian animation films, Delhi Safari and Hey Krishna (Krishna aur Kans) submit themselves although I'm surprised that Arjun: The Warrior Prince doesn't have its name up there.  

Here is the list of the films competing against each other for the nomination.

  • Adventures in Zambezia   
  • Brave
  • Delhi Safari
  • Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  • Frankenweenie   
  • From Up on Poppy Hill
  • Hey Krishna
  • Hotel Transylvania    
  • Ice Age Continental Drift
  • A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman
  • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted 
  • The Mystical Laws
  • The Painting  
  • ParaNorman   
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits 
  • The Rabbi's Cat
  • Rise of the Guardians  
  • Secret of the Wings    
  • Walter & Tandoori's Christmas 
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • Zarafa

Glad to see some different movies in the mix as well such as Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and the delightfully named French submission, Walter & Tandoori's Christmas.  We'll see which five eventually make the cut on January 10, 2013.

Holy Minions! New Despicable Me 2 trailer

Smart move on part of the filmmakers to feature the breakout stars of the last film in the new teaser for the new Despicable Me 2 trailer.  It's always entertaining when those adorable Minions invade the screen and I don't think I can stop giggling over the image of the little Minion in a French maid's costume.  Despicable Me 2 opens next summer with the most of the cast back and with Al Pacino and Steve Coogan listed as possible voices on their IMDb page.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Disney buys Lucasfilm, what does this mean for Star Wars fans?

(Photo: The Independent)
Mickey meet Luke.  Luke meet Mickey.  The biggest news and discussion this week has been the astounding news that Disney bought over Lucasfilm for a whopping $4.05 billion.  George Lucas heads into retirement and new president Kathleen Kennedy promises "a new Star Wars film every two to three years."

It's safe to that people had varied reactions to this.  They probably ranged from disbelief, to bewilderment and eventually leading to spirited discussions with fellow fans.  Me, I didn't know whether to be excited or horrified about the prospect of new movies.  The purist in me doesn't want any more of the films or the characters to be messed with.  And yet, this new deal brings forward so many possibilities for new stories in the universe to be told.  Does anyone remember the official Star Wars books that featured the kids of Luke and Leia? I recall reading a couple of those books in school.

It doesn't have to be only about Luke, Leia and Han and their past and families.  That bit has been explored, maybe too painfully for some fans who didn't want the original material to be messed.  With Lucas' retirement also comes the prospect of new directors.  Names like JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan are being thrown around excitedly but clearly this is a wish list for now.

But with every generation that comes along and discovers this magical wonderful story and it turns out they have different feelings on the possibility of more movies and stories to tell.  Disney's done a great job with the Marvel universe with the massive success of The Avengers this year along with the different stories of each Avenger independently as well.  It even brought about the return of Joss Whedon (even in a small way) back to television with the new S.H.I.E.L.D series.

A good director, a solid script and the anticipation of the casting, they all promise to bring that renewed spark to the series.  Episode VII doesn't seem that awful after all. May the force be with Disney!  They're certainly going to need it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Around the World in Posters: Iron Man 3, Stoker and Carrie

This poster doesn't need any further introduction than just the number 3.  It's Robert Downey Jr. back as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3.

(Poster: Empire)
Incredibly detailed poster for the English language debut film of Park Chan-wook's Stoker featuring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode.

From Argentina, it's new poster for Django Unchained with a badass Jamie Foxx going up against Leonardo DiCaprio.

Surprisingly this will be second poster of Chloe Grace Moretz to feature her and blood.  You know her name, it's Carrie.  

Wow, this is quintessential Bond.  Suit, car, London, all that's missing is a martini... whoops, sorry Heineken now.  Daniel Craig in the new poster for Skyfall.

And finally it's The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman back by popular demand.  

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