Friday, January 23, 2015

Oscar 2015 - VFX


I'm having a really bad week (try replacing a CPU fan in an ultrabook with a piece directly ordered from China manufactured following the typical "cable length economy" design & get also a power kill static discharge in the process .. and that's a light experience ...). So I'm not really in mood for long debates. Despite the fact that VFX is one of the few of this years Oscar sections where we actually have decent contenders.

The first nomination is for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". Although one of the movies that put me to sleep last year while watching in the cinema (no kiddin' = I really got my eyes closing), that was not the fault of the VFX. As usual the guys from ILM did their job and the result looks really good. Still, I wouldn't bet on it considering what follows ...




The first serious contender here is "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes". The first part surprisingly lost the VFX Oscar in 2012 against .. "Hugo". So this year I won't find surprising if what WETA did here is again ignored (especially since the competition is more solid). And that's unfortunate ... because we have more than we had in the first movie, and it's by far ( at least based on my unauthorized :) but objective opinion ) the movie that had the most complex work done on VFX of all the nominees. I think it's probably the most impressive film in respect to motion capture released by now. But, I'm not picking the winner, so ...




"Guardians of the Galaxy" is the opposite of the first nomination above. We have a movie that doesn't let you check out your watch, but where the effects (except some of the characters) do not really shine compared with the usual Marvel movie offering. Still, they're not bad :) ...




And the winner is ... "Interstellar". I'm expecting for this to get the Oscar, despite the lack of objectivity in the decision. This movie was totally snubbed on this year's nominations. I find it unbelievable comparing with last year's position of "Gravity" as a favorite for everything. I don't know if we're gonna witness a "Matrix reloaded" from the Oscar perspective (= long, long ago, in 2000 "Matrix" was getting 4 awards out of 4 nominations, although not on the most important sections), but for VFX I'm almost certain for this result. The fact that the choice is not an objective one relates also to the cinematography. Where, unbelievable, but "Interstellar" didn't get a nomination, and where Hoyte van Hoytema shows why 2D is still far to be dead even in a SciFi. But since "the Academy" is not really able lately to distinguish where VFX ends and cinematography begins (or vice versa) ...




"X-Men: Days of Future Past" is the third Marvel movie that got here and the one which sums the negative parts from the other two. More boring than "Captain America 2" (sorry, but for movies involving time travel has also the worst plot line of what I've seen in the last years), and with effects that don't show much more than what we've seen in the previous episodes ...



Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar 2015 - Nominations


So .. Let's start the Oscar season for 2015 ;) The nominations:

BEST PICTURE

- “American Sniper”
- “Birdman”
- “Boyhood”
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- “The Imitation Game”
- “Selma”
- “The Theory of Everything”
- “Whiplash”

LEADING ACTOR

- Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
- Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
- Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
- Michael Keaton in “Birdman”
- Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

SUPPORTING ACTOR

- Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
- Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
- Edward Norton in “Birdman”
- Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
- J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

LEADING ACTRESS

- Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
- Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
- Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
- Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
- Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

- Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
- Laura Dern in “Wild”
- Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
- Emma Stone in “Birdman”
- Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

ANIMATED FEATURE

- “Big Hero 6”
- “The Boxtrolls”
- “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
- “Song of the Sea”
- “The Tale of the Princess Kayuga”

DIRECTING

- Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “Birdman”
- Richard Linklater for “Boyhood”
- Bennett Miller for “Foxcatcher”
- Wes Anderson for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Morten Tyldum for “The Imitation Game”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

- Emmanuel Lubezki for “Birdman”
- Robert Yeoman for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski for “Ida”
- Dick Pope for “Mr. Turner”
- Roger Deakins for “Unbroken”

ORIGINAL SCORE

- Alexandre Desplat for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Alexandre Desplat for “The Imitation Game”
- Hans Zimmer for “Interstellar”
- Gary Yershon for “Mr. Turner”
- Jóhann Jóhannsson for “The Theory of Everything”

FILM EDITING

- “American Sniper”, Joel Cox & Gary D. Roach
- “Boyhood”, Sandra Adair
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Barney Pilling
- “The Imitation Game”, William Goldenberg
- “Whiplash”, Tom Cross

SOUND MIXING

- “American Sniper”
- “Birdman”
- “Interstellar”
- “Unbroken”
- “Whiplash”

SOUND EDITING

- “American Sniper”
- “Birdman”
- "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"
- “Interstellar”
- “Unbroken”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

- “Birdman”
- “Boyhood”
- “Foxcatcher”
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- “Nightcrawler”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

- “American Sniper”
- “The Imitation Game”
- “Inherent Vice”
- “The Theory of Everything”
- “Whiplash”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

- “Ida” - Polonia
- “Leviathan” - Rusia
- “Tangerines” - Estonia
- “Timbuktu” - Mauritania
- “Wild Tales” - Argentina

PRODUCTION DESIGN & SET DECORATION

- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- “The Imitation Game”
- “Interstellar”
- “Into the Woods”
- “Mr. Turner”

VISUAL EFFECTS

- “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
- “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
- “Guardians of the Galaxy”
- “Interstellar”
- “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

COSTUME DESIGN

- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- “Inherent Vice”
- “Into the Woods”
- “Maleficent”
- “Mr. Turner”

MAKEUP

- “Foxcatcher”
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- “Guardians of the Galaxy”

ORIGINAL SONG

- “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”
- “Glory” from “Selma”
- “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
- “I'm Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glenn Campbell... I'll Be Me”
- “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

- “Aya”
- “Boogaloo and Graham”
- “Butter Lamp”
- “Parvaneh”
- “The Phone Call”

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

- “The Bigger Picture”
- “The Dam Keeper”
- “Feast”
- “Me and My Moulton”
- “A Single Life”

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

- “CitizenFour”
- “Finding Vivian Maier”
- “Last Days in Vietnam”
- “The Salt of the Earth”
- “Virunga”

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

- “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
- “Joanna”
- “Our Curse”
- “The Reaper”
- “While Earth”

Next week we'll start taking these one by one ;) ...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Most Wanted Man (2014)


I've watched "A Most Wanted Man" between the winter holidays. I wanted to write this blog entry last weekend but, of course, I didn't have the time. After the unfortunate events happened this week, I seriously considered to change the topic. But I don't have anything better, and I already took a long break since my last entry. So ...

The movie is an adaptation of a novel by John Le Carre. For who's not acquainted with John Le Carre's work, chronologically: "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", "The Russia House", "The Tailor from Panama", "The Constant Gardener", "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (and maybe others). To summarize, we're talking about a British author of spy thrillers, but on a subgenre that's totally opposed to Ian Fleming and anything related to James Bond. To be more precise, we have stories that relate to the activity of various intelligence services, stories that are placed in a real historical context, and which "feature" less action and more social drama. In "A Most Wanted Man" the setting is Hamburg, where a division of the German intelligence is involved in an operation targeting a possible thread on financial support for terrorist activities. In the middle of their investigation they suddenly get an unexpected help, in the form of ... a Chechen illegal immigrant, suspect of terrorist activities, freshly "unloaded" in the Hamburg docks, and who could finally lead to "the big fish" (to approximately quote the movie). Well, with the minor condition to be left free. Which of course seems to be a problem for the internal security. And I already told the whole story :) Sort of ...

Again, for who's not acquainted with John Le Carre, given also the "mega-spoiler" above, there is high chance to get bored by the movie. As it happened to me long, long ago for instance with "Russia House" (leaving aside that that movie wasn't very good anyway). However, if you know what to expect = a relatively short-spanned action development (with maybe some flashbacks), during which you have a ton of character build-up including a fine touch of psychological analysis, and you might get anytime a life irony hit like the right man at the wrong place (or the opposite), then ... Well, you got the right movie :)

Anton Corbijn, the director, manages to get in "A Most Wanted Man" something that he wasn't able in "The American". I'm not very inspired now to describe the result. But, if you've seen both movies, probably you'll know what I want to say. It's true that the typical John Le Carre based script helps more than the story in the other movie. It's more solid and it has a proper ending, so it shouldn't cause long yawns and a "what was that ?!" after the final credits. But it's also the case for the directing to help the script here. I think it's the best adaptation I've seen for Le Carre. It keeps a good balance between the romantic illusion present in spy novel, and the real life coldness that constantly hits back. To compare with, "The Constant Gardener" had mostly the first, and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" too much of the second. A solid help in all this comes from the exceptional cast, starting with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman unfortunately in one of his last roles, who shows again how wide was the range he had as an actor.

I'll close with a personal remark, getting back to the intro. It's an awkward feeling to write a review for a movie that revolves around the activity of a terrorist cell, in such an unfortunate moment when almost all the media channels are full of debates on similar topics. And the awkwardness doesn't necessarily come from the associated topic, but from the fact that a movie, or well - the book behind it - a fictional piece of work after all, seems to be more decent and even more credible as approach regarding the complexity and the implications of this type of situations compared to plenty talk-shows or briefings I heard on various news channels.

Rating: 4 out of 5





Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Redshirts"



I've chosen for the final entry of this year to do something that I don't remember doing before = instead of a movie to pick a book as subject for an entry: "Redshirts" by John Scalzi. Don't worry :) considering how much I'm able to read outside work related stuff, it definitely won't become something regular.

Looking at what I just wrote is somehow irrelevant to say that "Redshirts" is one of the best books I've read in the last five years ( with an average of something like one book/year :) ). Maybe it's more relevant to say that's the book that got the Hugo in 2013 ( + the Locus award ). If that doesn't say much either, maybe you're not a SciFi reader and normally I would recommend picking another book. But maybe you enjoyed "Star Trek" :) or maybe you're attracted by time travel ( oh yes, I'm back to that ;) ).

What's the link with "Star Trek" ? "Redshirts" starts as a sort of satire taking place on the Earth's flagship, and you cannot miss an obvious similarity with: "Enterprise" and the missions "where no man has gone before". With something particular though: we see the action developing through the eyes of some crew members who don't have a high rank on the ship, and who are asking themselves why only a small group of officers are surviving each away mission. And more precisely, why each time somebody of a lower rank must die in the most crazy and tormenting ways that nobody would predict. That's actually where the title comes from .. in "Star Trek", the original series, the red uniform bearers where apparently cursed to a similar fate.

What's the link with time travel ? Well, without spoiling much, solving the above issue seems to rely on time traveling :) And again, we have a quite nice approach of the topic, even though this time it's pure fantasy (no life loops theory analysis, just a light version of alternate universe strings).

Leaving the subject aside, I have to point out the literary style. It's the only book by John Scalzi I've read, and if the early beginning didn't seem to show much more than a cheap novel, what followed changed dramatically this impression :). The satire in the first part of the book is excellent, and the comic punchlines in some dialogs take you by surprise. I don't remember laughing loud while reading another book. The second part switches towards drama, and the final is again surprising (positively) in the way it's approached. Normally you would expect a novel ending in a final chapter .. or well, with an epilogue. Here, we have three codas. Narrated in the first, second and third person. And if you are still thinking that what you've read is some light satire, this part will probably change your perspective. Besides boosting the drama effect (although keeping the comic side), the ending manages somehow to integrate also some romance in this story even if (light spoiler) up to the last page it won't be obvious how solid (and surprisingly non-cheesy) is this nuance.

To conclude, despite being an often acid satire, after you turn the last page you realize that "Redshirts" it's an incredible warm book. And short, to "burn" fast :) So I recommend it warmly. That's all for now ... and of course Happy Holidays ! ;)





Saturday, December 20, 2014

Predestination (2014)



I would like to be less tired when writing this entry, but I don't see any chance for that in the near future. Which invariably leads to the question, can I foresee my near future ? :) And if I can, can I change it ? Or can't I ? Well, I had the same dilemma 6 or 7 days ago after watching "Predestination" between 1 to 3 AM = I told myself I'll wait catching some time to write an entry before midnight. And since then, every day, the moment came still after 3 AM. So, maybe the destiny decided I should do it at such hours. Let me try a hack in the loop :P = I'll start the entry now, save as draft at 3:16 AM and continue when I'll be more awake ;)

It's 00:20 after one week (no kiddin'): I don't think I'm less tired but I gave up trying to cheat the karma and finish posting this before midnight :) Sooo ... what are we talking about here ? It's a SciFi made in Australia, based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein. That's an info that I fortunately found out after watching the movie. Because for me by then Heinlein = "Starship Troopers" = the only SciFi subgenre that I'm not attracted to. And in "Predestination" we have something totally different ...

Considering my enthusiasm in the double introduction (+ the hints between the lines :) ) I think it's clear enough that the movie's topic is time travel related. I'll limit at giving "Looper" as reference although I've seen already many contrary opinions on that. Mine is that the foundation is very close, although the two stories are indeed quite far one from another. What's exactly there, I'll leave it as surprise. However, I should give two warnings ...

The movie has a long intro. Very long :) I think it's almost half of the movie (we're talking though about a relatively short movie = less than 100 minutes). I liked this part, but I still noticed the length. Giving a light spoiler I can say it's a life story, out of the ordinary, told at a glass of whisky in a bar (don't worry :) we don't stay 50 minutes in a bar, it's mostly based on flashbacks).

The second warning is more an assumption that the story might seem ... I don't know .. let's say a bit "sick" once it gets far enough. Just might ... Because I assume if you're open minded enough + you stay aware that what you're watching is a SciFi, you shouldn't be appalled by the author's imagination. The real problem is another one, once you get the key detail you'll probably guess what follows .. and as your guesses are confirmed you'll know everything before the end. But even so ...

I must admit that in a sense is an original approach. And that's because that short story was written before "Looper" ;) This time I didn't bother though searching for logical answers about the time travel effects & consequences and trying to convince myself that what I've seen in the movie is at least theoretically possible :). I assume I was too tired to do that after that 3 AM I mentioned. Anyway, the "life as a loop" idea is an interesting one. And, let's say ... feasible in regard to some paradoxes. The question stays though on how to start a loop like this, and if you can get out of it ;) (just in case where you'll get sucks) ...

Rating: 4 out of 5