VEVE

Veve Pic

I think the saddest thing about VEVE is that it had the potential of becoming the best One Fine Day Films feature. Potentially better than Nairobi Half Life. All the ingredients to ensuring it turned out to be were there, only that it got derailed by a few things.

Despite these things, the film got a lot of things right:

Exposition

A lot of local films struggle with this. Setting up characters without looking like you’re reading character audition notes is a skill that a lot of scriptwriters struggle with. Setting up the characters as, Esther, the teacher, Amos, the politician, Wadu, the businessman, came out effortlessly. When things are done right, we easily forget how easily it could’ve gone wrong.

Casting

I can’t think of a single character who seemed off. All were believable in their roles. Maybe this is due to the fact that we haven’t seen many of them in anything else so selling those characters was easier.

Performances

If I had to nitpick on anyone’s performance, it would be Gerald Langiri’s. He did not play a police officer believably and seemed intimidated most of the time. Everyone else was really good, including the farmers, who I doubt are career actors. In fact, if anyone seemed to have passionately put in work in the film, it’s the villagers, especially Morris’s grandfather. However, the best piece of acting came from Abubakar Mire as Wadu.

Wadu & Translator

Yes, these two deserve their own paragraph. A lot was said about Oti and Mwas’s chemistry on Nairobi Half Life. Without taking anything away from that pair, these two were brilliant as boss and sidekick. How some of their scenes were the most serious in the film and still the funniest is a great achievement. They seemed like they needed a whole film on their own. It’s amazing when a special thing is only offered in small servings and not forced to upstage the whole movie.

Cinematography

Except for the first bar scene where Sammy keeps getting in and out of focus, the film was very well shot. The miraa plant looks beautiful in the film (you can catch a glimpse of this in the poster). However, the scene where the cars almost crashed should have come alive in the cinematography, and it didn’t. The landscape was captured beautifully, even though there’s one particular background which was used at least three times and made it seem repetitive. You could tell they planted the camera in the same spot and decided to shoot all the car-zooming-on-the-road scenes in that one location. I might be wrong, though. That set-up might have been some sort of totem, there to illustrate the cars coming from Nairobi to Meru.

Now the things that needed work:

Editing

There are two scenes inside a car, one with Amos, the other with Esther, where there were quick cuts that didn’t make sense.

Dialogue

This is a dialogue problem that could have been fixed in post-production. Morris’s tells Conrad that “the farmers are thinking of starting a union.” Next scene, Conrad is in Amos’s house telling him, “The farmers want to start a union.” They didn’t need to repeat that bit. If you show Steve and the grandfather talking in the farm and in the next scene show Steve at Amos’s house reacting to the statement, it would have come out better. Even if those scenes were acted out, all the editor had to do was cut it just after the grandfather says, “the farmers are thinking of starting a union” and immediately have Amos’s reaction. If the audience sees Sammy at the house, they’d have to be fools not to understand that this is the message that was delivered.

Script

I really liked this story. Here, I’m just going to point out the things that seemed to derail the film. When Kenzo shows up looking for a job, it was a little convenient how that is exactly when Esther called asking for help and all the other drivers were away. Steve sending someone he doesn’t know and hasn’t vetted to help his boss’s wife wasn’t so bad, it was understandable that he was desperate and Kenzo was accompanied by a mechanic anyway.

However, giving Kenzo the car to drive all the way to Nairobi to deliver it back to the wife alone was reckless. Maybe they should have added a scene just before that showing Kenzo earning Sammy’s trust. Also, to make it a little bit more believable, maybe he should have given him directions. I mean, he just drove all the way to Nairobi, into a politician’s compound and left, no questions asked.

It wasn’t clear why Amos wanted a slow death for Kenzo. That bit seemed like they decided to adapt a film cliché with no real reason behind it.

It wasn’t clear why Amos had a clutch over Steve. Steve seemed like a nice guy, even opposing the burning down of Morris’s grandfather’s farm. But why did he do it in the end? Just because he was ordered to by his boss doesn’t make sense. They should have had a backstory, maybe Sammy owing Amos a favour or Amos having leverage over Sammy. They effectively did that with the Kenzo/Mudigi story. Maybe the suicide story was wasted on Mudigi’s reason for agreeing to do the job with Kenzo. The promise of Kshs. 3 million was enough for him to want in. They didn’t need to justify it further. I’m not saying it was wrong to have that story for Kenzo/Mudigi, I just wonder why that was more thought-through than the Amos/Sammy story.

Kago’s story was kind of pointless. At the end, it seemed like he was just there to give Sammy a reason to go to Nairobi when Amos called him at the end. However, if they made Amos save Kago when he got caught for stealing, then that would have been sufficient leverage over Steve. I know, I’m beating this point to pulp, but seriously, Steve being a good man doing bad things for Amos just didn’t make sense.

For some reason, getting a job at Slim’s Garage was easy and being Amos’s driver even easier. All this made it a little too convenient for the last scene.

Conclusion

Despite the ending being a little happy-ending-ish for my narcisitic self, I can’t blame a writer for the direction she wishes to take with her own film in. I had a problem explaining what this film is about. The easiest explanation would be that it’s a political drama set around the miraa trade. But the business end of it takes up as much time as the political bit. I would say it’s a film about power, its use and abuse. And if I am to look at it this way, maybe it should have largely concentrated on the Amos/Wadu story and have the heist as a major plot.

It’s great to see someone write a film set on African politics and not get into the usual preach-y tropes about voting in the right people and how you shouldn’t let money sway your choice. It latches onto an aspect that is essentially true in Africa: politics is just business. And the best part is, it doesn’t dwell on this. I liked that the story moved independent of any ideas about politics and business that we’re used to. That is just told a really good story and only had those ideas as backdrops. Whether this was deliberate or not, it is the mark of a mature writer.

This was a good film. If they managed to cut out the unnecessary bits (Kago) and streamlined some of the remaining ones (Morris/Clint) to work towards the same goal in the end, it would have been a brilliant film.

Note: Just before I started writing my thoughts on Veve, I realized that an interview I went for some time last year was for what turned out to be this film. I missed out on the job. As I wrote this, I realized the burden is on me to not sound bitter. I apologize if I apologize too much for opinion on the post. The more I wrote about it, the more I realized I liked a lot of things about, so I guess we’re good.

Dallas Buyers Club

DALLAS-BUYERS-CLUB-3Dallas Buyers Club opens with a scene of a coked up Ron Woodroof fucking a pair of trailer park girls under the bleachers of a Rodeo. His red-rimmed eyes staring at the cowboy unsuccessfully trying to hang on to the bull’s vigorous gyrations. The sight his eyes is set on might just be an illustration of Ron’s own life. Living dangerously. And losing.

Just like the 2012 film, How to Survive a Plague, it shows how individuals had to fight for survival in the early days of the AIDS virus. Both show how lucky we are to live in this time, when our predecessors’ fights led to the advancements we–or the affected–are enjoying today. The two films show just how the sick had to fight for their lives, fighting bureaucratic and obviously compromised government bodies to get the help they needed.

Dallas Buyers Club also shows the change in attitude towards AIDS, homosexuals initially regarded as only susceptible to. Showing the marginalization that Ron has to go through after word of his infection spreads. Interestingly, spread by one of his fuck-mates. You’d think he would want to get tested himself considering they’ve been getting with the same women. But he believes that fact that he’s not gay absolves him from risk.

Mathew McConaughey, once voted The Sexiest Man Alive, is almost unrecognizable in the lead role in what are meant to be his last 30 days alive. So is his partner in the fight, Jared Leto’s Rayon, who plays a transsexual survivor.

The film chooses to concentrate on Ron’s own life without bringing any loved ones we’d expect he’d want to live for. The real Ron Woodroof, apparently, had an ex-wife and child but the film shows not a single relation of his. It paints Ron as a lone survivor living for no one but himself, even at some point saying, “Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a life I ain’t got time to live.”

Ron takes charge of his life and sets out to find a cure, or sustenance at least. “There ain’t nothing out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days,” he declares as a rebuttal to the ‘death sentence’ issued by a doctor. He does his own research on the disease and starts one of many buyers’ clubs spread around the country. He does whatever it takes smuggle in medicine that’s working in other countries but not approved in his own.

Any other filmmaker would be enticed to make a martyr out of Ron, a man whose predicament changes his view of life and inspires him to help others. But Ron never loses his hustler core, as can be seen in one of the opening scenes where he does anything to preserve a bet he lost. Without an ounce of empathy for those suffering the same disease as him, he turns away the sick for the simple reason that they do not have money to join the Dallas Buyers Club. However, the fact that he provides safer alternatives makes him an unlikely saviour and doctor for the affected in Dallas, with advice like “watch what you eat and who you eat” to go with the subscription.

The montages of his travels also offer a glimpse of pre-9/11 air travel in a way other films haven’t really shown, the lax in airport security and the un-thoroughness of the whole process. The only hiccups he comes across are the occasional FDA busts.

Apparently, Woodroof’s real sister was disappointed with the film’s initial casting of Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and McConaughey’s co-star on True Detective, Woody Harrelson, because they didn’t share the same traits as him. It’s easy to see why McConaughey was a good choice. Save for the weight, the man who accepted the Oscar for this role is the same one who was on screen. And it’s the same man we saw on Mud and the one on True Detective, only less philosophical, “That shit is purer than a preacher daughter’s pussy.”

One of the most impressive things about Dallas Buyers Club is how the director manages to make Woodroof likeable despite the sexism, recklessness and homophobia. Another is the look he achieves and talent he commanded despite the budget. For such a big name cast (also starring Jennifer Garner and Steve Zahn, who looks more like Woodroof than McConaughey), the film was made for pretty cheap. Only $5 million.

There’s a very fancy-looking globe-trotting montage, which looks like it took up the entire budget. But most impressive is the makeup allocation. Only $250. Since the film was shot over a 28-day period, they didn’t have time for the actors to appropriately lose weight for different scenes, and it all had to be faked with makeup. So, the scenes where McConaughey looks skinnier with his cheek bones jutting out of his face, that was hand-drawn. And Robin Mathews and Adruitha Lee’s efforts were rewarded with an Oscar for the achievement.

The Oscars 2013 According to nymou

ImageThis, I believe, is the fourth year I’m doing Oscar predictions. It has been the most confusing year for me trying to put this together. I had made a couple of double-predix compiling this and midway decided to grow some nads and make solid picks.

*I will use an asterisk against the pick’s name to denote who I think should have won if they got nominated.

Best Picture
Who Will Win – Argo
Who Should Win – Silver Linings Playbook
Who Was Robbed – The Master, Marvel’s The Avengers and *The Dark Knight Rises

Argo has swept most of the last precursor awards and now leads the season with most wins. Silver Linings Playbook has won very few but the actors help make it one of the year’s finest. In my entire life, TDKR is the only film I’ve seen get applause at almost every screening I went to.

Best Director
Who Will Win – Michael Haneke (Amour)
Who Should Win – David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who Was Robbed – *Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

I cut out Spielberg for Who Will Win because I remembered that rationale doesn’t really prevail when the choice down to a vote. I am ready to be wrong on this one (and I’m almost certain I am). I pick Russell because he directed the year’s best ensemble cast.

Best Actor
Who Will Win – Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
Who Should Win – Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Who Was Robbed – John Hawkes (The Sessions), Jack Black (Bernie) and Mathew McConaughey (Killer Joe)

Day Lewis was good but he wasn’t as immersed as I have seen him in other films. In There Will Be Blood, I believed he was a turn-of-the-century oilman. On this film, I thought he was playing Lincoln rather well.

Best Actress
Who Will Win – Emanuelle Riva (Amour)
Who Should Win – Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who Was Robbed – Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)

This is one I want to be wrong on. No one deserves it more than Lawrence. She not only did great work on the film, but she has ran the best Oscar campaign.

Best Supporting Actor
Who Will Win – Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who Should Win – Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who Was Robbed – Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) and Mathew McConaughey (Bernie)

I had previously picked Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) because in a film that is looks like self-appraisal for America, he is the one who gets things done. But De Niro, an actor I’ve never been a fan of, made me root for him.

Best Supporting Actress
Who Will Win – Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Who Should Win – Anne Hathaway (Les Miserable)
Who Was Robbed – Ann Dowd (Compliance) and Shirley MacLaine (Bernie)

LOCK!

Best Original Screenplay
Who Will Win – Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Who Should Win – Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Who Was Robbed – Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) and Rian Johnson (Looper), Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass (Jeff, Who Lives At Home)

Zero Dark Thirty will not walk away empty-handed. I feel like this is the category that could go either way because a best picture must win either this or adapted screenplay. And I’m 100% sure that it will definitely be an adapted screenplay that wins it.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Will Win – Chris Terrio (Argo)
Who Should Win – David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who Was Robbed – Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (The Avengers) and Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater (Bernie), Tracy Letts (Killer Joe)

Major contenders for picture have been left out of director. Nevertheless, one might still win the big award (not Zero Dark Thirty). And this will be the best indication. What this means is, we will have the chance to know the Oscar winner earlier than usual this time round. Other years, you have to wait to see who gets director to be sure (and that is announced just before Best Pic). This year, whoever wins this, wins best picture. This is announced way earlier.

Best Animated Feature
Who Will Win – Wreck-It Ralph
Who Should Win – Wreck-It Ralph
Who Was Robbed – The Secret World of Arriety

LOCK! But don’t count out Aardman’s The Pirates: The Band of Misfits.

Best Documentary
Who Will Win – Searching for Sugarman
Who Should Win – The Gatekeepers
Who Was Robbed – The Central Park Five

I liked Searching for Sugarman but I don’t want it to win. My pal, Xola, assures me that it will because it has a happy ending. I sadly agree.

Best Foreign Language Film
Who Will Win – Amour
Who Should Win – Amour
Who Was Robbed – Holy Motors and Nairobi Half Life

LOCK! No contest.

Best Cinematography
Who Will Win – Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
Who Should Win – Robert Richardson (Django Unchained)
Who Was Robbed – Roman Vasyanov (End Of Watch), Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight Rises), Seamus McGarvey (Marvel’s The Avengers) and Mihai Malaimare Jr. (The Master)

I had picked both Django and ‘Pi but I had to let Django on. ‘Pi was less creative but it seems to have been more challenging to shoot.

Best Original Score
Who Will Win – John Williams (Lincoln)
Who Should Win – Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)
Who Was Robbed – Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises) and *Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Beasts of the Southern was pretty good, but the one category where it totally would have trumped everyone is for the score award. Other than Zimmer’s, it was the most memorable one. And on a year that had dull scores, you’d think it would have at least made the nomination.

Best Visual Effects
Who Will Win – Life of Pi
Who Should Win – Life of Pi
Who Was Robbed – The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman

It was going to be a challenge training a live tiger to do all the acting stunts and CGI came to the rescue. The only way to make the audience to understand the danger ‘Pi lived through is making the danger as realistic as possible. It was so realistic I only remembered the tiger was a (really well made) fake when it swept the Visual Effects Society Awards.

The most important thing is, I’m just hoping for a Silver Linings Playbook sweep!

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So, I found this draft I’d done early this year. I realized I might never get round to finishing or perfecting it so I just posted as I found it. Bear with any mistakes, if any.

I felt like 2011 was a year for morally upright films: characters facing a dilemma and choosing to do the right thing. There were also a number of films about familial and developmental responsibility, like We Need To Talk About Kevin. Some like The Artist, Hugo and My Week With Marilyn took us back through different eras of a golden age in filmmaking,dealing with the art’s early days and celebrity.

There was also some great effort from first time writers/directors like 50/50, Margin Call, Like Crazy. Some had great performances but maybe the stories weren’t good enough to get a notice, like The Help.

Some like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were masterfully crafted but no effort to simplify it made it confusing. There were surprises, too. Some films you wouldn’t really expect to shine did, like Fast Five and Real Steel. And some you expected to do better like the costume dramas (Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) did not. Sadly, I missed out on some films Margaret, The Mill and the Cross, Certified Copy among other noteworthy films. So, here are my favourite films from 2011. If I have mentioned a film in the above paragraphs, then it did not make it in my top 10, not even top 17.

Here are the ones that almost made it: Rango, Winnie the Pooh, 13 Assasins, MI4, Terri, Crazy Stupid Love, Source Code.

And the actual list:

10] The Descendants

Matt King is on top. He is the custodian of his legendary family’s estate. A whole island’s future/reputation, and resultantly, a huge fortune lies in his hands. But he is a frustrated man. How believable is it for one of the best looking men in the world play a man with a beautiful family and still very believably portray the frustration? Maybe even harder was having his wife cheat on him with a man played by the guy who played Shaggy on Scooby Doo. A dramedy about a father who, together with his daughters, traverses the Hawaiian islands in search of the man who his wife cheated on which solidifies Alexander Payne as the go-to director for heartfelt comedies.

9] Attack the Block

Never thought I’d ever watch an alien movie I wouldn’t consider sci-fi. Swap the huge guns you see on MIB with fireworks and former war heroes coming out of retirement to save the earth one more time with a handful of London wannabe teen thugs. A more fun and human alien story. Nothing is quintessential about this film, even the aliens aren’t the kind we’re used to. They’re cuter, and the fact that they’re not presented as super-intelligent beings, scarier. You know they can’t be all diplomatic.

8] Senna

Some stories are better told as documentaries. Ayrton Senna’s life was as colorful, controversial, suspenseful and successful and any Hollywood studio would love to adapt. But the realism of documentary makes it even better. Using preexisting footage to tell the life of the Formula 1 driver, mostly concentrating on his career years, Asif Kapadia brings to screen one of the most exciting sports stories to screen.

7] Take Shelter

This is a calculative film. It slowly builds up to one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. In between, it’s a man’s struggle with himself, whether to trust himself or his instincts. Michael Shannon constantly gives great performances and here, he tops everything he’s ever done. Question, how do you win a battle where you’re psyche is the enemy?

6] Drive

A hammer, a bullet, a satin jacket, toothpick and gloves. That’s all.

I’ve heard people say that Drive had drive scenes too few to earn the title. But if we have to be so literal, it’s a film about a stunt driver who is a getaway driver in his free time and fixes up cars in his freer time. And oh, wants to be a race car driver. What more could one ask for to justify a title? To me, it was more about his drive, his discipline. He probably survives in the dangerous field because of his strict guidelines. He does what you hire you hire him to do, no questions asked. When he sets out to do something, he’s on it to the end. He’s resilient and never changes his plan for nothing and no one. Man’s driven. Drive’s overall style is hard to put down. It’s shot ‘60s-style and very non-conventionally. The only thing Hollywood about it is the cast. It’s a bad ‘80s movies that looks good for the 2000s. The styish pop-ish soundtrack picks by Cliff Martinez don’t help.

5] Win Win

We rarely see moral tales out of Hollywood anymore. Is it because they don’t have entertainment value? Or because the tainted industry wouldn’t want the world to think it has a conscience? Tom McCarthy is one of the greatest directors ever, but no one has really heard of him. Every film that he has artistically been involved in has 90% or more on RT. A TV show he’s starred in is considered to be the best of any long form art. He played a morally flawed character on it and here he writes one that’s just trying to do the best in his circumstance. Paul Giamatti brilliantly plays a man who finds the easy way out of a problem and all the trouble that comes with it. Can’t think of a film that had better chemistry between characters.

4] Bellfower

A true indie, if there ever was one. A product of passion and love for the art, and it shows. Evan Glodell writes, directs, stars and takes part in every artistic, technical and supportive art role in his amazingly cheap film to create what we can look at, years to come, as something close to a masterpiece. A gritty love story, groundbreaking cinematography and seemingly disturbed writing come together to give birth to one of the most affecting endings I’ve ever seen on film.

3] Moneyball

A different kind of sports film. It’s almost miraculous what the director managed to do with a story that a lot of people already know, thus no suspense. It’s amazing how Pitt manages to top off every last performance, bringing color to a seemingly uninteresting character. The story is a miracle, how the film itself got made, even more so. If Jonah Hill takes the approach he explores here, this will be remembered as the film that started that ascent. But it can’t underscore the exaltation the most quotable film of the year brings to the sports genre.

2] Tree of Life

I understand people who didn’t like ToL. After all, it didn’t have guns or sex scenes. What I don’t understand is people who didn’t understand it. Watching it, I thought, “at last, a film for everyone.” Beyond the lush cinematography by one of the most overlooked DoPs in the business and a breakthrough performance by Hunter McCracken that everyone chose to ignore, ToL is one of the deepest films ever made. It confirms Penn and Pitt’s *consistency, we see the blossoming of Chastain and the promise in McCracken. Despite this barrage of talent, the film’s spirit still manages to stand out from the biggest, emerging and future stars in film business.

1] A Separation

A simple plot, great performances and focused, colorful writing coalesce into the most powerful film of the decade. The best ensemble cast of the year’s realistic performances anchor a story that—could have but—never gets lost in the complexities of legal jargon and instead centers around human emotion. It’s easy to make a legal battle into a documentary about protocol and law but Asghar Farhadi totally bases the films on the characters point of view, their hopes and beliefs. A father fights for his daughter’s trust, maybe his wife’s, too. It’s not about who’s lying or who’s right. One character’s trust—or lack of—might free the other and when it’s tested, brings the film to a shattering conclusion. The film leans, but doesn’t rely, on Iran’s culture, outlook and norms about the legal system, class and religion. Films not only condition us to pick sides, but also show us which one to lean on. A Separation does neither. Despite its duel-esque structure, the winner here is the story.

Best of 2011

Avengers

Avengers picks up where Thor left off. Or maybe also where Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk might have left off but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t watched any of them. Loki comes back to earth to steal the Tesseract, which kind of looks like the Energon cubes from Transformers and recruits Barton and Selvig (from Thor) into his team. With the help of The Black Widow and Coulson, Nick Fury, who heads SHIELD, assembles the team of superheroes, which includes Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. The team is later joined by Thor. For some reason, Loki wants to destroy earth. Why? That wasn’t brought out so clearly in the movie. He is presented as a Hitler-like character who craves power and destruction. During a face-off in Germany, Loki is arrested and taken back to the air/sea-borne SHIELD ship.

A scene where the Avengers try to figure out Loki’s mission and how to deal with him is one of the best ones. The dialogue is choppy and brings out the Avengers’ insecurities and possible cracks in their assemblage. I have a few problems, though. Other than it not being so clear why Loki looks to destroy earth, there’s a scene where Captain America breaks into a locked room to investigate something after an argument with the rest of the Avengers. I don’t understand how no alarm went off. If it was important enough to make sure the room was locked, then it is important enough to know when someone goes in. Also, Loki’s power is hypnotizing people and manipulating them. It wasn’t clear how the spell was broken. It all seemed pretty convenient for the film when it happened.

Most of the issues come down to the storyline, which I believe was written by Zak Penn. The dialogue is obviously Whedon’s, if you’re familiar with his work. Fast, sarcastic, witty but more realistic than, say, Aaron Sorkin’s. One thing that came out right was how the characters fit in their roles. I’m always impressed when through the length of a film, you don’t recall any other films the actors have done before. In this respect, I was mostly impressed by Chris Evans. I don’t think it can be helped that RDJ is the same person in all his films. And I’m starting to think Samuel L. Jackson writes all his lines for films he appears in. Always cheesy, but somehow, it works.

This is the last movie you expect to see good performances but Mark Ruffalo is brilliant as the Hulk. You never really think about someone having to play a character whose most valuable asset is actually a negative and he has to keep it bottled in. He plays really nice for someone whose “power” is instigated by rage and has to subdue it. I also like how his whole condition was treated. It might have won them the war, but no one really wants him to turn into the monster.

No character elicits such goodwill from the audience as much as Hulk did. Every scene with him was just short of drew applause and had an uppity feel to it, which is weird considering there is no method to his madness. He’s not graceful, cool or calculated. He just smashes. And you have to give it up to Ruffalo doing this despite the drama surrounding the character. The Hulk has been played by three different actors in as many films. His character is more open to criticism because the last actor (Edward Norton) in the role was actually pretty good and fans wanted him back. Unlike the other actors, Ruffalo does actually play the Hulk in his “possessed” state. The other ones were CGI but this time, it’s motion capture. So, expect for the voice when he’s the monster, it’s all him. And you can actually see that in Hulk’s face, he still does look like Ruffalo.

A lot has been said about the climax. I was afraid I was too amped up for it and it might fail to live up to my expectations. But the last third of the movie really is that good. There’s a very cliché scene where the group assembles to face the Chitauri under Loki’s command. The camera circles the team in aforementioned cliché way. Somehow, it comes off as powerful. It makes you super-excited for whatever’s to come.

There’s a scene that I don’t know if it’s meant to pay homage or mock The Dark Knight Rises. It’s involves Iron Man, his mask and kind of looks like the TDKR poster that drew speculation about the Batman’s fate. Another scene involving Barton is similar to an action sequence on MI:4’s opening scene. The actor involved is actually also on MI:4. This third act solidifies Hulk’s awesomeness and completes a pretty decent character arc for Iron Man. It humanizes him despite his douchbaggery. The thing they did with Stark tower at the end was a nice touch.

The film has good supporting characters like Maria Hill, Fury’s sidekick played by Colbie Smulders and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, which looks like a role that was written for John Turturro. The end sequence which is a vox pops of the events was also a really cool. The best bits cancel out and more than makes up for the iffy bits. The film is a popcorn flick but Joss Whedon balanced the action well with the characters’ humanization and moral issues.

The film is post-conversion 3-D and IMAX but it was done so well. The depth thing I keep saying you never see in 3-D films is actually seen here. Except for the screaming from the guys sitting next to me, it was a great experience. The best way to enjoy Avengers is on IMAX.

 

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Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

The only reason I watched Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is because it played at Sundance, I have not watched any of their previous work on Funny Or Die or Adult Swim. I wish I’d watched the trailer before making the decision, so I could brace myself for the bullshit. The film begins with the actual Billion Dollar Movie’s screening to execs at Shlaaang Corp, who gave Tim Heideicker and Eric Wareheim a billion dollars and full creative control to make the film. Not a good idea. The film sucks, a lot, and it’s too short to have cost that much. The Schlaaang Corp wants their money back. As the two wonder how they could possibly come up with a billion dollars, they see an ad for the management of a mall, where they’re promised…guess what…a billion dollars to run the mall.

The film is deliberately very silly, with somewhat second-rate, dystopian comic book components, like the wolf. It’s a hard film to judge. Why? Well, when a film looks like it was obviously made to be bad, how do you rate it? If it’s actually bad, they reached their goal, right? They were effective. Do you judge it then for its badness? If it’s bad enough, if they got it right. Weirdly, I can’t really say the performances were bad. Even John C. Reilly’s kind of annoying Taquito was fairly good, within the context of the film.

Something I can say they got right is the kid Eric ‘adopts.’ The point of the film was that he was cute. And to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cuter child. The large eyes, curly hair, pale, almost glowing skin…wait, am I describing the beauty of a child?! Anyway, point is, it was more understandable than creepy why Eric would be so taken by the child. If there was ever a classy treatment of behavior that was be considered borderline paedophilia, I’ll say Tim & Eric skirted that line fairly well enough.

The nudity wasn’t as gratuitous as I’d expected it to be. When you’re watching a film that you can clearly see is bad, you go on because you know there might be some skin to pay to reimburse you for your loyalty/mistake.

One thing that might be surprising is the ‘big’ stars that take up the supporting roles. John Galifianakis plays a Hellon-like spiritual leader, Jim Joe Kelly. By that, I mean the kind who insists you live with them. John C. Reilly (one of the coolest actors around, in my opinion) as Taquito, Jeff Goldblum as Chef Goldblum, Will Forte as a super-rude swords salesman and Will Ferrell as, Mr. Weebs, the owner of the mall.

So, was the film funny? I remember laughing about three times. The shooting scene with Mr. Weebs, the initial meeting at the swords shop and maybe bits of the Chef Goldblum ads. Laugh out loud scenes were rare for me, but I’msure there’s a huge market there for this kind of nonesense. I mean, I sat in a cinema hall as people laughed at the jokes as the Jack & Jill trailer played. There are a lot of amusing things about the film, though. Mostly, it’s the kind of businesses found in the mall, the swords salesman, the celebrity balloon shop and the other spiritual leader and his sons. You have to watch it to know why they are funny.

As bad as I think the film was, I still found it watchable. If it set out to be silly, it succeeded. So, I guess it’s a good bad movie.

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Bellflower

From the beginning you can tell Bellflower is going to be a different kind of film. One of the first scenes involve a weird underground bar that holds weird contests. This time, it’s a cricket eating competition. The winner gets $50. Woodrow is forced by his pal, Aiden, to take the challenge. He goes up against Milly, a cute girl who readily took up the challenge. I know, the last person you expect to take part in such is a cute girl. Despite the circumstances, Woodrow falls in love with Milly. It’s obvious that the girl also has.
Woodrow and Aiden are also in the process of assembling a flame-thrower. From their conversations, we understand that they’re improvising from other equipment and ordering some more online. You can tell that they’re really into it. This is apparently to be used to fight their way through the wasteland that will remain of the earth after the apocalypse. There are also numerous references to Mad Max.
This is probably the weirdest romantic films I have ever seen. Woodrow and Milly’s first date is in a Texas joint that has on its menu, day old meatloaf. Milly herself requests to go to the dirtiest, cheapest joint they can find. “I’ll be mad if I don’t get sick,” she says before they set off halfway through the country just so they could have the worst food in America.
I don’t know if I can say much plot-wise, even though some of it is obvious from the very first shot (which is one of those famous flash-forward sequences that I don’t remember seeing much before J.J. Abrams time). From this shot, we know what’s going to happen. In any other movie, we are content seeing how they get to that moment. But somehow, I found myself forgetting about all that in the middle of the story. Their relationship is really interesting and despite the weirdness of their meeting, first date and general lifestyle, they still manage to make a cute couple.
This is one of those stories that are too honestly told to have been made up. A lot of the things in the film don’t make sense in the real world. You never see Woodrow and Aiden (or anyone else in the movie) going to work or doing anything that might earn them money, but they’re always buying things to aid them in their preparation for the apocalypse. As far as I know relationships, I don’t know how they can survive in the circumstances presented in the film, especially when a hot girl is involved. But somehow, I got to believe in all of it. It’s one of those things that are too crazy to have been entirely conceived within a human being’s brain (how I also somehow feel about Pulp Fiction).
And it is somewhat true. Evan Glodell wrote it immediately after breaking up with his girlfriend in 2003. It took about eight years to make the film, from writing to production. The film was shot on an impressive $17,000, which I believe is too little even for a feature length local production. But the film still manages to maintain a very distinct and rich image quality, which can be seen even in the still shots. If you think you have never seen a film with this kind of quality before, then it’s because you haven’t.
Glodell apparently has found a way to dismantle cheaper cameras, play around with the lenses to make them produce high quality images produced like those by more expensive cameras. He used this skill to build a whole new camera. The focus on some shots are totally off and not what we’re used to. Sometimes there’s more than one subject on the screen, approximately the same distance from the camera but the focus remains on one. The greens and yellows are overly saturated and when the camera focuses on one thing, everything else is almost totally blurred.
And by looking at the credits, you can tell the film did a lot to save on cash. One of the producers (Vincent Grashaw) was also the editor, so was Joel Hodge, the cinematographer (who gave the film its unique look). And in the most acts of dexterity I’ve ever seen in a production (not that Eddie Murphy shit), Evan Glodell wrote the story, turned it to screenplay, produced it (after realizing he can’t sit around with the script hoping for someone to make it for him) and starred in the film. As if that wasn’t enough, he joined Hodge and Grashaw in post-production to edit the film. The film had a crew of about seven who were involved in the production for about 90 days of principal photography. There are scenes that would naturally need professionals to oversee. One of them involves a gas tank. Another one comes when they’re finally testing the flame-thrower. That scene, funny as it is, did not have a pyrotechnician to secure the set and control or advise on the danger that maybe posed to a guy with a gas tank strapped to his back and a flaming nozzle in his hand. Glodell himself built the flamethrower, even tuned his personal car with flaming exhausts with his own bare hands.
This film is as Indie as they get, not those films that are produced by the arms of major studios and taken around festivals like Sundance as Independent. From the work that went into it, its budget and the small, inexperienced cast, it manages to come out better than most films I’ve watched this year. Glodell didn’t study film and with full creative, manages to make Bellflower one of those movies that make you think how unfair the film industry is. It is one of those movies that deserve more attention, maybe more than The Smurfs got. The film did get distribution at Sundance last year but I don’t think enough people have seen it yet. And more people need to.
The film also has pretty cool stuff, like the apocalyptic machine, Medusa, which as I mentioned earlier is apparently Evan Glodell’s personal car. Earlier in the film, there’s the Speed Biscuit, which impressed even a teetoller like me. You have to watch it to see what it’s about.

There’s a scene with Woodrow walking down the street with a bloodied shirt, that scene stayed with me. My favorite moment of any film in 2011. Bellflower may just be an examination of relationships and what they do to us or how far they can go in affecting our lives and the direction of it. For a film about meatheads, Bellflower manages to be arty without being condescending.

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Moneyball

Moneyball is different from the other sports films. It is mostly about the backroom strategizing and politics. It’s about how the baseball leagues are played in the offices by the GMs, the coaches and owners of Major League Baseball teams. There are very few shots of actual games, which might put some people off. But the consolation is, it is the retelling of one of the most interesting sports stories ever.

Nowadays, victories and championships in almost every sport is determined by who has the most money (except when it comes to Chelsea FC). The Oakland Athletics has a $40 million seasonal budget against a $100 million budget for the rest of the other teams. Predictably, they don’t have the strongest of teams. They try to cope by finding good, cheap players who they always have trouble keeping. Soon as their contracts are up, they move to the better paying teams like the Yankees and the Soxxes.

Billy Beane clashes with the club’s scouts as he seeks out a better strategy. He meets an analyst by chance and hires him on the spot. He doesn’t cut the look of the usual baseball crowd (he wears a suit to work) but seems to know something about scouting that Beane doesn’t. He joins the As scouting team at a time when the club is about to go on a 14-game losing streak and together with Beane, pull an about-turn to set the record for the most consecutive victories in MLB history. Sounds too good to be true, but it is.

Beane and Brandt take a different approach to scouting. By looking at oft overlooked stats that can also be as important, and by accepting players who wouldn’t be picked by major teams due to minor flaws, they turned baseball on its head. Beane agrees to try out methods that are being presented to him by an economics major from Yale who has never worked in baseball before. For any film, this would be a challenge. Where is the believability? Why would a former player who’s been in the business for more than 40 years take the word of someone who’s never played the game or been involved in the sport?

We are made to understand why Pitt is ready to take a chance on Hill through a series of flashbacks that play throughout the film. They are of Beane’s playing days, from being the number one draft to gradually degenerating into the B leagues and leaving MLB as a failure. He has reason enough to believe that conventional scouting methods might not be reliable, because he is the testament.

I found it fascinating that the kid that plays younger Beane looks very much like Pitt. He doesn’t have much to do performance-wise, though. Pitt is great in the film. He looks disheveled and stressed but with just enough hope to shuffle his team one more time. Hill also believable plays a smart-ass, the last thing I’d expect from him. He’s very eloquent explaining baseball stats as he is telling vagina jokes on Superbad. The awkward triangle between him and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as coach) and his trusted relationship with Beane creates one of the best—and smallest—ensemble performances of the year.

The score is great, one of my favorites of the year. The direction and writing is good. There’s an interesting story about the adaptation of the book from the initial Sorderberg draft to this one by Zaillian and Sorkin. The book was written by Michael Lewis and the story around it written by Stan Chervin. Steven Sorderberg, who signed on two direct, wrote the screenplay but his draft was thrown out and he walked out of the project two days before filming started (dunno what happened first). Steve Zailian wrote the next draft, which they used to shoot. Somewhere between all of this, Aaron Sorkin also made contributions. The real story around the screenplay is kind of murky. But they say the movies that have the most trouble during production come out best (think Apocalypse Now). Pitt managed to steer this rocky project to become one of the best sports films ever. Not a lot of films about numbers ever get made because execs don’t trust viewers to enjoy them, but this one is proof that it can be done.

I love Sorkin’s work but this does looks like a diluted down version of his scripts, which I love. Because unlike his smart-ass characters, when he is watered down, the characters feel realer and not a rapid fire word minting machine. But the dialogue is still very quotable. One of my favorite scenes is one where the Beane has an argument with Grady. Said another way, whatever Pitt says isn’t all that great, but it’s the delivery and the emotion that make it classic. Same goes with the scouting scenes and the little pep talk with DJ. But the best scene and one that seals Pitt’s as one of the best performances of the year is one where he negotiates for a number of players with Brand in the room.

Another thing I loved is how the entire winning streak was treated. The long montage that not only used footage from actual games, it didn’t show much of the actual performance the team. Showing the streak through the fans made the triumph more emotional. Puts you right there in the shoes of Oakland natives, seeing their team lose every game of the season and suddenly smell victory. How they decided to end the film, I don’t know what to say about that. It puts to perspective and challenges the viewer to figure out what really was important or central to the story.

But Moneyball is still a great film, perfect, no flaws. There are a lot of strong adaptations from 2011 so it not winning everything doesn’t take anything away from it. One thing I haven’t heard anyone talk about is Chris Pratt’s performance. I found it very touching and emotional and if the Oakland A’s needed a face and a demeanor to illustrate where their team was at that moment in time, Pratt did a great job at portraying it.

 

Win Win

Win Win is probably the most apt title for any film this year. It’s a another notch for Paul Giamatti’s ability to sniff out little known, but ultimately impactful projects. He did it with Sideways, Bernie’s Version and again here. Other knowledge of Giamatti and McCarthy’s involvement, this is one of the few films I watched without being privy to additional details.

Mike Flaherty is a lawyer down on his luck, his practice isn’t as lucrative as we assume law is. In his free time, he coaches a high school wrestling team. He anticipates further downturn when one of his clients, Leo, can’t locate his daughter to act as his guardian. If the daughter is not found, his assets will be placed under the care of the state and he will be taken to live in a home, which he doesn’t want to do. Mike decides to appoint himself as his client’s guardian, and with it, automatically comes a $1,500 cheque every month. Things start looking up until his client’s grandson shows up from nowhere to live with his grandfather. Mike is forced to live with the kid as finding his mother cannot be located. Things really start looking up when it turns out the kid is a wrestling prodigy. Win win.

And that is where I will stop with the plot. One thing I loved about this movie is the writing. Of course Giamatti is one of the best actors of our time, but I can’t say he does anything special here. Not to take anything away from the performances, they were all good. But the screenplay by McCarthy (from a story by Joe Tiboni, who he was wrestling partners with as teens, and himself) is the most impressive asset. Win Win is sadly one of the films that have fallen off the way during this awards season, but it’s a film that definitely deserves a screenplay spot. Some critics’ groups have noticed, though, and it has a couple of nominations.

From the beginning of the film, you can see little things that have been placed to either show what kind of person Mike is and/or the situation he’s in. There’s the scene with Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) in the boiler room and a few with his assistant. The film doesn’t have any unnecessary bits, everything fits right in. The dialogue is tight and funny without going overboard. The supporting actors are interesting. Terry (Bobby Cannavale) spends his days outside his ex-wife’s house ‘cause he suspects she’s being banged by the plumber. Tambor is Flaherty’s co-coach and they make for an interesting couple, especially in their interactions with the wrestling team. Though I suspect Tambor is just one of those guys who find a way to make anything seem funny.

After the regular checks, things start looking up. Little things set up the situation and show the progression. The issue with the tree, the boiler and the moment Mike calls his wife about the insurance almost look like they’re just there to fill out the story but they do a lot in revealing where we’re at in the story. One thing that I think might go unnoticed because it’s not too glorified, are the fight scenes. They are very well choreographed, you can tell at the points where there are no cuts especially.

Another thing I liked about the film is the genesis of the characters. They never really change, it’s just their situations that do. It would probably have been easier to write Leo’s grandson, Kyle, as a troublesome kid and have him transform as his stay with the Flahertys is extended, or make Mike a nasty, selfish guy and have him see the ‘light’ by the end. But the film instead of transforming characters, just puts everything in perspective, in a way Mike hadn’t properly anticipated before, and maybe the audience, too. It was all right there in front of us, not even tucked away, it’s very obvious actually. Writers try to keep audiences engrossed by turning the tables. Here, nothing changes but it’s still very interesting and believable.

This is probably the most righteous film of 2011, by the end it’s about values. You don’t see films with a moral at the end much nowadays. And that it does while still maintaining the entertainment aesthetics required in a film. To tie with that, I noticed that the writer/director shared a name with cast member from The Wire (as seen in the end credits of the fourth season). Turns out, it was the same guy and he played, Scott, a character who was caught between choosing to do the right/wrong thing in order to survive at his job, which is somewhat the situation Mike faces on Win Win.

McCarthy has directed all but one of the films he has written (Pixar’s UP). All of those films have more than 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The last one, The Visitor, brought a lot of attention to Richard Jenkins, even at the Oscars but the film itself got more attention at festivals and industry group award shows. His first film, The Station Agent, gave Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson a lot of awards for their performances and McCarthy a few for writing and directing. This probably means McCarthy is one of the best writer/directors around but his work is still fairly low key. Hope Win Win draws interest to his other films and to his next. And wouldn’t it be cool if a film called Win Win actually won something.

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

If you love great action choreography, a serious movie that still manages to be funny, sexy cars, or seeing Tom Cruise run really fast, then you should watch Ghost Protocol. The Mission Impossible franchise has taken a couple of chances in its four installments. With the third one, they entrusted it with a director who’d never directed a feature before, making it the largest budget film for a debuting filmmaker. This time, they picked a director who had never directed a feature live-action film before. Seems like a big risk, but when you think about it, who better to direct an action film than someone with so much experience in computer generated animation. Animators have to calculate shots and actions to precision. I’ve seen an animator work. They actually get up and simulate the action just to be sure of how it’s supposed to look.
With that said, Ghost Protocol is really good where it matters, in the action. It begins with an extraction mission, which leads to probably the most exciting set up of the title sequence in the series. It moves briskly to the mission: break into the Kremlin to find documents that could lead them to the person who might be responsible for the failing of another of the group’s mission. They come to the realization that they were not alone in the mission, which sets them off to a globetrotting adventure from to Dubai and Mumbai.
In between, he meets the IMF secretary who informs him that Ghost Protocol has been commissioned and that they are to work independently to solve the mess they are in. This means no support, no funding and no back-up. For the biggest mission the IMF has had to encounter, they’re working with much less than they’ve ever had for resources. With Benji for technical support, field agent Jane Carter, ‘analyst’ Brandt and a container with all their equipment, Hunt has to annihilate the threat of nuclear war that is about to be waged by Hendricks, this installment’s villain.
What I loved about Ghost Protocol is that the locations that they go to are essential to the action. In Dubai, the centerpiece to the action is the Burj Khalifa, and in Mumbai, it’s a motorized parking lot. Ethan Hunt is probably the only agent that can break out from confinement in an unfamiliar city with nothing more than pants and five minutes later, he has contacted mission control.
Once the film hits the pedal, it doesn’t let go. From the moment they arrive at the Burj, the action goes on for a huge amount of time, which leads me to believe the Dubai scenes must have taken forever to film. And to consider that most of those scenes had to be shot on location as opposed to an assembled set. In probably the most awe-inspiring scene of the year, Hunt hangs from the side of the Burj by nothing more than suction gloves. Even on a non-IMAX screen, this scenes might give you a headrush. Cruise shot these scenes himself and as much as you’re sure they had cables securing him to the building, it looks pretty scary. In one amazingly cool sequence, he runs the entire width of the building, and as carefully as I looked, there seemed to be no CGI involved.
The actual mission inside the hotel is very well written and directed as there are two components that are not only reliant on each other, but have to work simultaneously. The fact that they do not have a lot of details to do with this mission (since they have no support), makes this scene even more interesting. The ensuing foot-cum-car chase in the middle of the desert elements adds to the excitement. One thing I’m not sure about, though, is how fast the pursuee was was, considering his age.
The film has some forgiveable product placement as they are well orchestrated into the story. Unlike in Dark of the Moon, where you rolled your eyes when a brand was shown, here you might actually find yourself drooling at the sight of the products. From a Macbook Air, iPads and a really sexy BMW. If you are an IT geek, you might also salivate to a shot of some Dell hardware. In one of the fight scenes, they exchange punches and kicks over, under and around another BMW.
As mentioned earlier, the film rarely let’s up after the action begins. The credit goes to the direction. Even in the moments of relative lull, there’s a sense of excitement. But this shouldn’t be surprising. Brad Bird’s Pixar flick, The Incredibles, is probably one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen. The writing by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum is probably the strongest so far in the series. The film doesn’t totally have to rely on the action like the others. I don’t like it when action films also try to be funny. Most of the times, it just doesn’t work. Here, it does. They’re not getting nominated for any screenplay awards, though.
I don’t think this is a film that performance is important but I have to mention that it felt right. I wasn’t sure about pushing Pegg to a more prominent role, but he blends well with the rest. His conversation with Renner on the plane was pretty funny and considering that they’re left to continue the franchise, we can say that the series has been left in good hands. The handover at the end was pretty cool and you actually feel excited about the changes that the series will inevitably undergo.
For some time, Tom Cruise was the business when it came to action and also, the most powerful name in Hollywood. Then came the period of failure (in Cruise terms at least) and even loathing from fans and the media. I don’t know if he has any intentions of staying in the action game, but if he is, this film surely launches him back and cements his credentials in the genre. Move over, Statham. There’s a new, kinda old action star in town.

Viva Riva!

Everyone (who has friends) has a friend like Riva. People never really seem to give a shit, always speak their minds and don’t bow to authority. They’re mostly loudmouths and whose actions border on destructive narcissism. In a lot of stages of the film, you realize that if Riva was a laid back guy, the story would totally be different (and probably really boring).

And that is why I totally loved the film. The writer obviously took time sculpting his characters to ensure that their various traits are what drove the story. Riva’s self destructive nature explains how he left the Congo, how he came back and the trouble he gets himself into after. Also, with the rest of the characters, we see glimpses of their private lives either in action, or as one explains and we get to understand why they make the choices they do.

Riva is the egoistic hero of the story, who is in a vantage position amidst the Kinshasa oil shortages: he has a lorryful of product, which he stole and smuggled across the border from Angola. Making the most he can out of the oil is a balancing act as he should ideally sell it before the Angolans catch up with him, but he also has to wait until the price of oil is at its highest. Meanwhile, the Angolan is fast on his trail after he commissions a Congolese commandant to help him track Riva down.

As he waits for the prices to rise, he and his brother go around Kinshasa living the good life. He puts up at a hotel, punctuating his stay there with trips to night clubs and whore-houses. On his first night out, he meets a redhead named Nora. He instantly falls in love/lust (we never really know). Nora is ‘married’ to local kingpin, Azor. Riva overlooks this fact, which of course further complicates an already mucky situation.

Viva Riva! is a brave film, maybe nothing like any other mainstream feature film from the continent. The first film I’ve seen that has gone full on with themes of sexuality. The scenes of nudity are graphic but not in a pornographic way and weirdly, even I found them necessary. Some of them, I believe, made clear when the situation between Nora and Riva changed. Another one was, in my opinion, used to reinforce the character of one of the commandant and justify her nature. There’s a scene that will surely go down as one of the most erotic I’ve ever seen on film. Hint: a gate is involved.

The film’s best asset is its almost thriller-like storyline. From the top, it’s simple. Sell the oil, get rich and win over a girl. The commander (to ensure her sister’s safety) is to help the Angolans (to get their oil back). The stories weave into each other seamlessly and so professionally directed by first-time writer/director, Djo Tunda Wa Munga. Seemingly minor characters like Anto and Malou are the cogs that push the film in its most interesting directions.

I like it when a writer sets rules for his/her story and is brave enough to follow through without throwing the audience off so as to surprise them later. It’s a device writers sometimes use to bait the audience but it usually doesn’t work so well in the case of Shyamalan. One of the character makes a ‘promise’ somewhere in the middle of the story and that is never tampered with and contributes to an interesting ending.

The acting was natural, which is something we rarely say for a lot of African films. The scene where Riva goes back to his parents’ house is emotionally charged and brings out great performances from Patasha Bay and the actors that play his parents. The Commander and the pimp-like leader of the Angolan bounty hunters give great supporting performances, for which they won AMAA supporting acting awards. The film also won for production design, cinematography, director and the ultimate best picture at the same awards in 2010.

Another thing I liked about the film was its authentic Africanness. Riches are not glossy, as you can see from Azor and Nora’s household. The extravagance is un-Westernized. Even the porn Azor watches in his house is African. The locations are part of the story, and that’s why the film reminds me a bit of City of God. The score and the choice of Lingala as the soundtrack reinforces the authenticness.

I usually dumb it down in my head when I’m watching an African film and let some things that I normally wouldn’t fly. That wasn’t necessary for Viva Riva! as the film is expertly made and does enough to deserve a comparison with other great international films of the gangster/thriller genre. Manie Malone who plays Nora is one of those bombshell sirens you’d expect to see as a Bond girl some day. Sam Mendes should take note.

 

Margin Call

Margin Call doesn’t look like a film that was made with a $3 million budget when you look at the cast list. Zachary Quinto (also producer), Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and the ever cool, Jeremy Irons took pay-cuts and a chance appearing in J.C. Chandor’s debut as a filmmaker in a story that follows the most important people in a financial firm during the last 24 hours before the global financial meltdown. The film claims to be fictional but somehow, the CEO’s name is Tuld.

It begins just as the company is sending home the first victims of the meltdown. One of them is Eric Dale (Tucci), a mid-level manager. As he is escorted out of the building, he hands a flash-drive to one of the young execs, Peter (Quinto), who has survived the first wave of layoffs. The only thing he tells him about the contents is that they never let him finish, and that he should be careful. The young exec stays back as his colleagues go out to celebrate surviving the downsizing. Whatever he finds in the flash-drive is enough to bring the company’s bigwigs into the building in the middle of the night by any means necessary.

Most of the film takes place in the company’s headquarters and the characters appear in the same scenes a lot, which explains how the rookie director managed to shoot it in two and a half weeks. Jeremy Irons as CEO Tuld introduction was a bit too dumbed-down but I guess it was done to illustrate how even the company’s head knows nothing about how it works. And from the events in the film, you can tell that he also doesn’t care as long as the money is flowing.

I didn’t know what the fascination with Simon Baker’s age was because I didn’t see anything about it by the end. There was a scene in the toilet involving Baker’s and Penn Badgley’s character, I also didn’t see its significance. Aasif Mandvi has been in a lot of serious films but I can’t take him seriously after The Daily Show, but he was okay as one of the company lawyers (or some sort of mathematician).

The rest of the film, though, is really good. If Tucci had more scenes, I’m sure his name would be on everyone’s lips for an award. I felt that he was underused, but it made sense and his disappearance was a huge and very important part of the film. The scene in the bathroom interrupts a sobby Badgley in a toilet stall, when he’s faced with the fact that he might also lose his job. It’s hard to feel sorry for a 24-year old with a six figure salary.

Paul Bettany, who has made terrible choices over the last couple of years, finally finds something that he not only fits into but also performs really well in.  His character is a douchebag, but in a good way, if such a thing exists. He is used to depict how a lot of Wall Street types earn too much and blow it all on their vice of choice. It shows how people who are entrusted with a lot of clients’ money don’t even know how to manage their own. Despite his huge paycheck and extravagant lifestyle, he still comes off as cool, which works well to justify why his juniors would look up to him and probably continue the cycle of wild Wall Streeters.

Peter is a classic case of industrial brain-drain. How people who could be doing groundbreaking work have no choice but to work in high-paying but pretty ‘easy’ jobs for people who have no idea how their companies run because the pay is good.

Spacey’s character is the moral voice of the film. He is torn between doing something that he knows is wrong and something that will make him a lot of money. He is exactly the opposite of Tuld, who is not a bad guy, at least in the context of the film. Their characters just stand on different sides of the battle between conscience and selfishness. At one point, Tuld gives a speech about money, where he says its only purpose is to keep us from killing each other food.

The final scene, which was shot at Citigroup’s actual trading floor is almost classic. It makes you fall in love with Paul Bettany, you know he’s screwing people over but you have no choice but to admire his charm, but the credit goes to the writing there.

J.C. Chandor gives an unglossy apocalypse-like narrative of not how the problem started but how some of the people who found out about it first reacted and contributed in worse. If you want to know how it started, watch Inside Job. He does his best to make some aspects of the meltdown simpler to understand but it still remains complex, which makes you realize how some of the financial institutions dug themselves into holes they ended up getting into. The CEO, in his intro, says that to survive in the business, you have to be FIRST, SMART or CHEAT. By the end of the film, you realize which option some of the companies chose.

Attack the Block

Attack The Block is one of those films that get straight to business. It doesn’t waste time investing in a back story and only captures a particular moment. The whole film takes place in what would be just a couple of hours of one night. In fact, it might even be real-time, as there are really no time lapses. It begins just before an alien ‘invasion’ takes place in a London housing block.

A gang of teens robs a woman (Sam) of her phone, purse and ring. The incident is interrupted by a meteor-like explosion on a nearby car, distracting the boys and giving Sam an opportunity to escape. The alien attacks the group leader, Moses, who shows great bravery hunting it down and killing it. But that is just the beginning.

ATB is funnier and seriouser than you would expect. I respect films that find the perfect balance between drama/action and comedy. Moses provides the serious and is the focused one of the bunch, which at first looks like a braggadocios’ attempt to prove himself to his friends but turns out to be dealing with serious issues. He looks older than, as Sam points out, but you also learn that he needs to be because he has to be his own adult. And through John Boyega, in him, the film creates one of the year’s best heroes.

Even at its seriousest, the film still manages to be funny. This is in a scene when Moses provides his thoughts on the government’s role in the invasion. That is one of the scenes you see the deepness of his character. Here you see the difference between him and the other kids. The difference between his and their theories on the incident show where he is in life and how different he is from them.

The rest of the gang provides the laughs. Pest’s conversation with Sam about the ‘quality of life’ in the neighborhood is madly hilarious, so are the conversations inside the weed guy’s apartment and basically every time the kid’s open their mouths. Maybe the accent helps, but the script by Joe Cornish is really good and in my opinion should get a shot for Original Screenplay. It’s almost hard to believe that this is his first film as a director and only second one as a writer. His other project is Spielberg’s Tintin, which is yet to be released. So it’s fair to say that he’s relatively new to this.

This is most of the cast’s first feature or at least one they feature significantly in. Everything is expertly handled under the care of a fairly new director and in the hands of a relatively new cast. This is a great start for Cornish and the kids. The film has a great soundtrack, which made me start liking a song that I had already heard but never really paid attention to. The score is one of my favorites this year. It was almost scary how perfectly the girls sung The Fugees’ Ready Or Not. The film has one of the best supporting actors this year. From the girls to the characters on the weed guy’s apartment and the wannabe gangster kids.

The character design is unconventional and somewhat refreshing. We’re used to aliens portrayed with a basic human form with bloated heads or with predator-like variations. Here, they are actually beast-like and look like a cross between the polar bears from LOST and something from Underworld. They provide some genuinely scary scenes, which punctuate the funny bits without providing an unrealistic contrast. The aliens are cute, scary and the fangs’ glow is fascinating. Makes you wish someone would make a stuffed animal version of them. Other than the fact this time it’s a gang of inner-city kids fighting the aliens, another thing that sets ATB apart from other films on extra-terrestrials is the fact that they’re depicted as super-intelligent  beings with sophisticated weaponry. Also, you don’t need sophisticated gadgetry to kill. It may look like it simplifies the whole film but I felt that it made it seem a bit more realistic.

There’s a scene towards the end that shows Moses running away from a pack of aliens as another one is strapped on his back, a shot that will definitely make it to one of those best scene montages for 2011. This and every other scene with the aliens are shot really well and provide some great cinematography.

This is this year’s District 9. An unexpected hit from unexpected individuals from a place in the world that is not Hollywood. The film seems a little too small for a Best Picture nomination, but then again, so was District 9.

“If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what.”

The Driver drives for the movies, he does stunt works commissioned to Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who also supplies the cars for the movie industry. Shannon walks with a limp, which probably points to a history doing the same work The Driver does now. The Driver has a quiet demeanor and selfless work ethic. He works extra hours as a mechanic at Shannon’s garage. As if those aren’t enough jobs, he also drives robbers. Unlike a lot of heist movies where robbers are a tight unit all in on the deal, Drive takes a different route.

Robbers outsource the driving work to The Driver and he drives them in and out of their ‘jobs.’ His work is to make sure they come out of the situation with as little interference from the cops as possible. With a one-way radio, he outwits the cops, smartly, not driving around the city, burning rubber and hitting grocery stands. In fact, in some of the police chases, he seemed to be doing less than 35 miles an hour.

Shannon has bigger dreams and notices potential in The Driver. So much so that he convinces local ‘mogul’ and former film producer, Bernie, to help him get into the professional racing business. Meanwhile, The Driver starts getting close to his neighbor, who is a single mother to Benicio, who he also seems to be connecting with. Awkwardness and complication ensue when the kid’s father, Standard, returns from jail.

Drive is one of those films that you either really like, or you don’t at all. And mostly, it’s don’t at all. That is a little understandable, the trailer and the title being somewhat misleading. But I think if you’ve followed Gosling’s career or know the kind of films Nicolas Winding Refn does, then you would’ve known what to expect. I understand the people who don’t like it because it didn’t have a lot of driving in it (I mean, the main character’s name is The Driver), but I’m not sure if the film is really as slow as people have said. I would like to call what they experienced ‘subtleness.’

I found the whole film exciting, from start to finish, full of suspense, mostly emotional, though. I know a fast-moving film for a lot of people involves guns and explosions, and (understandably in this case) high speed car chases. The only ones that come along are a couple of car chases but only one is even close to exciting. I particular loved the sequence where a car hits barriers on the road. The point-of-view is from inside the car in the front. I realized I’d never actually seen such a shot in a film. This and other aspects make Drive a not so conventional film.

Drive’s best asset is the story. I felt that maybe the title comes from the main character’s disposition. His focus and precision is what has kept him disciplined in his work and in the challenge that is presented to him in the middle of the film. The choices he makes are well defined by his drive whereas for a mere being like me, it would present a dilemma.

When the performances of characters in a film are very in tune with each other, none seeming over-the-top more than the other, I feel like it’s the director’s doing. There’s some individuality and maybe polarity in the performances but they all seem to come from the same DNA. The Driver’s quiet nature, Shannon’s excited giddiness all somewhat find a place in a mellow but exciting film. And that would explain his best director prize at this year’s Cannes.

Benicio (Kaden Leos) and Irene (Carrey Mulligan) are adorable. Heartthrob, Rob Perlman’s Nino is menacing as he should be alongside Albert Brooks Bernie. You’d expect Standard to be repulsive, because in such a movie, it’s the only way there would be a happy ending (The Driver ending up with Irene) but in this film, it’s different. In fact, you hope that he’ll come out of the situation. When it was very easy not to, the writer creates a sympathetic character out of him, which helps in further complicating the situation and in so doing, creating a unique storyline.

Gosling is almost always quiet and seems to be those people who never have filler words in their brains. Only speaks when absolutely necessary. For some reason you get used to the mouth on his innocent-looking face producing some bad-ass threats.

If I was to point out anything remotely negative about the film, maybe the music. It was really good but sometimes it never really seemed like the kind of stuff you want in the film. The score was good, especially when it was punctuated by The Drivers rubbery gloves squeezing into his hands. And who else can make a shiny silver jacket look manly.

NB: One more thing, is it me or is Christina Hendricks, who plays Blanche in this movie, built like an African woman?

Drive

Simiyu Samurai

Simiyu Samurai tells the story of a young man who left Kenya for Japan to learn ancient martial arts. The pilot briefly shows scenes from his stay in Japan and the relationship with his master. He returns home to his grandmother after an earthquake and with him, he brings trouble.

Simiyu Samurai is a Kenyan production meant to be a TV series with the help of its viewers. The show is trying out a new concept in Kenya, where fans chart the direction of the show and in so doing, funding it. The concept is clever and brings on a new level of interactivity. At the end of each episode, viewers are given multiple scenarios, which the hero might use to forward the story. They choose the desired scenario by sending a text message with an assigned code. The makers will shoot the next episode based on the popular vote. They make money by charging texts at premium rates, Kshs 50, of which, according to Robbie Bresson (the director), only Kshs 15 makes it to their pocket. It’s probably the best way to make a TV show because if the money isn’t flowing, then you know your show isn’t good enough.

I have to judge it from the pilot episode if the show is worth a Kshs 50 text. To a certain extent, I think it might be worth it. I mean, that’s the amount we spare to buy DVDs, right? And besides, this production needs it. Tom Cruise doesn’t really feel the pinch when I do it… I guess. Besides, I look at it as a way of growing the ‘industry.’

But of course, I want to be repaid for my kindness. And that is making the show decent enough for us to watch. And that means there will have to be a lot of improvement from the first episode. Someone at the screening asked if the show should be taken as a serious drama or some sort of comedy. I also had a bit of a problem with that. I wasn’t sure if some parts were meant to be funny or it was just bad. The acting was too stage-like. Wally B was probably the worst actor here. But when significant number of the cast is doing a bad job, I think the director is solely to blame. The fact that that was good enough for him, tells a lot about his standards.

A positive though: the fighters looked like they were really into it. I can’t say much about the choreography of the fights if I’m not sure if they were meant to be comedic or not, because that’s how it seemed. I would also commend the production for the Japan scenes, which were actually shot in Kenya. Good art direction.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life is one of the most poignant films I’ve ever watched. Even before the end, I started a process of self reflection. Interestingly, the film is almost silent. And it still might have worked if it was. It is very performance-driven which really engages with the audience because a lot of things are not explained, they are projected through the stars’ performances. The first 20 minutes might prove unbearable for passive viewers. In fact, at the beginning, the only incentives for watching the film are the names behind it (Malick, Pitt) and the fact that it won this year’s top prize at Cannes.

The Tree of Life concept is a theological concept that has been used by different civilizations of the ages. The Chinese, Africans and ancient Mayans, besides most of the recognized religions like the Baha’i, Christianity, Buddhism and Kabala. Some of the ideologies of the Tree of Life mythology have been revisited in other films like The Fountain as based on the book of the same name.

As for plot, the film doesn’t really have a discernible one. There is really no way to explain what the film is about, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily complicated. In fact, I find very accessible, in terms of, every one can totally relate to whatever the characters are going through. We can simply say the film is about life. I’d call it a montage of the soul. There are various montages that seem to question (or at least encourages you to) question the meaning of life. What are we doing here? What am I meant to do?

There’s a sequence involving an arrest, where one of the O’Brien ponders if he could also end up like that. I also found myself questioning why humans are so different. Why is it that all creatures of the same species are alike? Like, all lions have the same characteristics, right? How come no two human beings are the same? How come you can live or grow up under the exact same conditions with someone else but still have very noticeable differences?

The film shows the ways the O’Brien’s have chosen to bring up their kids. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is firm and authoritarian. Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) is more democratic. Despite his treatment of his children, you never once think of Pitt’s character as a meanie or a villain. Within the harsh words and slaps, there is a caring parent who wants nothing more than to bring upright children who can defend themselves. His wife serves as a balance to her husband’s highhandedness. As much as the couple’s approaches to parenting are very different, they never really seem to oppose each other. In any other scenario, it would be a recipe for tension and maybe even marital strife. Except for one scene, we never get the sense that that might be the case. Through Mr. O’Brien’s toughness, we realize, there’s probably some insecurities or maybe him just making up for what he lacked in his childhood.

The film is set in the ‘50s in the City of Waco, Texas but it might as well be a suburban Kenyan estate in the ‘90s. The times are innocent, kids play outside all day. They go out on adventurous expeditions and are cruel to small animals. They break windows and swim in forbidden rivers. Everyone can see themselves in the children. The streets are always empty and there never seems to be any danger. The kids have nothing but themselves to be occupied with. No gaming consoles, Slip ‘N’ Slides or even toys, for that matter.

An incident in a swimming pool is the kids’ first experience with death and they have pretty naïve questions about it, which might as well be more mature than an adult’s perception. It reminded of my first experience with death when I was six years old and how it shaped my feelings towards such things. Up to this day, I never EVER view a body.

Since the story doesn’t really have a plot we can talk about, the thing to be discussed are the performances. They are all very good, sometimes even fascinating, if not shocking. I’m referring to a scene where we see Jack’s (the older version played by Hunter McCracken and Sean Penn) character as a baby. You see the fascination and the reception he gets as only new parents could afford. We see baby steps, and the first sign of Mr. O’Brien’s parenting style.

The fascinating scene is when the next child is born and you can clearly see the child’s confusion at another being of its kind (and size). You can even sense jealousy in a close-up of the child’s face. There’s obviously know CGI involved. That, and the resulting sequence is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on film. It’s hard to imagine how Terrence Malick was able to direct a kid who is less than a year old to perform an action, and how he did it with no cuts. The saddest thing about the performances in this film, as good as they are, I don’t any of them getting any of the major award nominations (though I’m almost certain they’ll get one for ensemble at the SAG). This is because the performances are very contained, all they do is project in a very restrained way and nothing more. They don’t make sense without the very close and intimate camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki who did Nike’s Write the Future commercial (partly shot in Kenya) and some astounding work on Children of Men, most famously, a seven and a half minute no-cut action shot.

The gaudy camerawork creates an almost out of body experience for the viewer, maybe why we feel like the events mirror our own lives. Hunter McCracken is a revelation, his is probably going to stand as one of the year’s best performances. For some weird reason, he does exude some Sean Penn-ish air. Penn plays the old version of Jack and seems be greatly affected about his relationship with his father even later in life.

The almost absent dialogue probably explains why the performances are very restrained and why the camera is so close to the character’s faces. Where words are absent, we have to understand their feelings from their emotions. Sometimes whatever they feel is told through some kind of voiceover mechanism, almost like thoughts. The few times that you can see interaction and dialogue, the sounds are drowned out by Alexandre Desplat’s score. Listening to his work on this film, I wasn’t sure if it was original work but it is amazingly good. That’s an Oscar in the bag if it is.

The film is told on three planes, the story of Jack’s upbringing, Jack’s adulthood and the creation of life forms, from what I assume is the big bang, to the formation of organisms in the sea, dinosaurs and the oneness of nature. From all this, the audience is meant to deduce the connection and put it all together. To be honest, I did not fully connect the nature bits with the story in the film though I’m certain it must mean something. In almost every shot, there’s a sound of nature. Wind, rustling leaves, water besides the score. There’s also a lot of emphasis on a tree outside the family’s home.

Tree of Life may not resonate with a lot of audiences because it is not campy or blockbuster-ish but it is definitely one of the finest films ever made, and its effect or greatness will only be realized later on multiple viewings. With all the great films coming out around this time, I’m still almost certain that it is the film to beat at next year’s Oscars.

Super

It may seem like the market is getting saturated with faux superhero stories. But maybe that is because they all seemed to have come out at around the same time. The most notable one was Kick-Ass, since it was very well received and even got a Brit Awards screenplay nomination besides appearing in various film critics Top 10 lists. In reality, there are only about four of these kind of films, all released within the last three years.

Super is one of them. Written and directed by James Gunn, it follows the usual almost predictive plot. An ordinary Joe wonders what it would be like if he/she became a superhero. In this instance, it’s Rainn Wilson’s Frank Darbo, after his wife is ‘stolen’ by a drug baron, Jacques. Frank works at a diner with Lawrence (Andre Royo), his life only seems to revolve between his house and workplace. This is evident after he explains the most exciting moments of his life, which are just two: the moment he married Sarah (Liv Tyler) and an incident that involved him ratting out a fleeing criminal to the police.

Frank’s character is awfully close to Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute in The Office. He is maniacal about stopping crime. He takes it a little too far, but when you think about it, Dwight putting on a costume to fight insecurity and vice doesn’t seem like a long shot. The difference between Frank and Dwight is Frank’s self-consciousness and insecurities about his looks.

The story really begins when Sarah elopes (I think that’s what it’s called) with a local mafia-like fellow, Jacques. After Frank’s attempt to enlist the police’s help to bring her back fails, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He believes that he has been anointed by God to take up the role of ridding the earth of scum. With a nicely fitting costume, mask and catch-phrase (Shut up, Crime!), he sets off on heroic pursuits, attacking petty drug dealers, child predators and line-butters.

To learn more about superheroes, he visits a comic book shop, where he meets an enthusiastic store clerk, Libby (Ellen Page). His relationship with the girl who looks half his age is complicated and awkward. I liked that Libby’s character was not given the clichéd treatment. A teenage-looking girl working at a comic book store, who seems to gravitate towards an older man, is most likely to be presented as a geek and loner. But in one scene, we see that she actually has a social life and tons of friends. It seems that she just wants more excitement in her life.

There’s only one thing I can point out from the film that would seem negative though I’m not sure myself. I kinda didn’t understand why Frank would take up fighting crime. He is presented as a guy who likes stability and security. The reason, I assumed, is because he wanted his wife back. But the first thing he does after wearing a cape, is sitting out on the street waiting for common criminals. But then again, we can argue that he actually takes up crime-fighting after his incident with the Finger of God. If this is the case, then it makes sense.

The film, to me, was pretty solid. No unnecessary scenes and they all built up to the final scene rather well. I expected the final moments to be a balls out, flaming glory type of sequence, I can’t say it wasn’t, but it wasn’t as much as I’d expected. Even with that, it was very satisfying and more philosophical than I would have expected from a ‘comedy.’

The film has a small cast and the performances were all pretty good, except for the African guy at the end. Not that he was bad, his just wasn’t as good. Apparently, John C. Reilly was considered for the lead role (and it actually looks like he’d be the perfect fit) but Rainn Wilson is amazingly good. I even feel he should get an Oscar nomination, especially for the crying scene. But that’s not going to happen. Ellen Page is fantastic. Her excessive giddiness would have very easily bordered on overacting but it managed to come out just right. Her ‘bothered’ scene was pretty convincing and weaker males might need some Kleenex to get through it (and I’m not talking about wiping tears).

Maybe Lawrence should have had more scenes, and more classic lines. His rant at the beginning was very amusing and maybe if they found a way to keep it up, he’d have been a classic Coen-like character. We don’t see much of Liv Tyler, she is coked up most of the time, but that isn’t such a hard role to play considering who her father is. I enjoyed every scene with Nathan Fillion, who actually wears a cape in every of his scenes. His parts come as a segment, with him playing the Holy Avenger, a Christian caped crusader taking on evil (or sin).

I like Kevin Bacon’s recent choices and he doesn’t go wrong with Jacques, who despite being a baron of sorts, has an air of nervousness, especially when he’s in shit. My favorite scene is when he’s complimenting Frank’s eggs (not what you’re thinking). The scene almost looks like the Inglourious Basterds opening scene. He is convincing, in a creepy but lighthearted way, just like Col. Hans Landa.

I don’t think the film should be judged as a comedy. Yes, the funny bits were really funny but those they weren’t very many. I found the film darker than the most serious superhero film I know, The Dark Knight. Maybe that’s because most of the things catch you off-guard, it’s not really what you expect from a Wilson/Page film. I realized that is not the first time we’re seeing the two together. In Juno, there’s a short but pretty funny scene but the roles are reversed: Rainn is the store clerk. The film is rotten on Rotten Tomatoes but it’s one of my favorites this year. Maybe to some, the film is confused. It doesn’t know whether it’s a comedy or drama, but it is very entertaining and, surprisingly, thought-provoking.

Emmy Record-Holders

This year’s Emmy Awards are slated for 18 September. The night is symbolic of the achievement and workmanship that those in the television industry put into their work. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences rewards outstanding work that has been done in the television arena over the past year. Some have consistently shown the workmanship that has seen them take the award multiple times. Here is a list of Emmy facts on such: Hector Ramirez is the most nominated individual in the history of the Emmys. This year, Ramirez got five nominations, bringing his total to 64. Ramirez has been a cameraman for such shows as Dancing With The Stars, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and awards shows such as the Academy Awards. In addition to the Oscars, this year he has been nominated for his work on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert, the Grammys and the Kennedy Centre Honors. Ramirez, who broke Jac Vanza’s (TBS producer) record of 57 in 2010, has 15 prior wins. Saturday Night Live, a show that Ramirez has worked on, beat ER’s record to become the most nominated show in history. It won 16 nominations this year to bring its tally to 142. SNL was officially eligible to compete for the Emmys since 1976 and with the exception of 1981, 1982 and 1988, has received at least one nomination ever since. On September 18th, we will know if it will add to its 28 wins. Sheila Nevins, HBO’s President of Documentary and Family Programming, is the most celebrated individual in Emmy history, winning the statuette 22 times. She recently surpassed James L. Brooks Edward J. Greene’s record of 20. The most feted performers are Cloris Leachman (8) and Edward Asner (7) for a broad spectrum of TV work including guest performances, programs and TV movies. The most awards won for the same role by a performer is five each by Candice Bergen and Don Knotts for Murphy Brown and the Andy Griffith show respectively. Candice Bergen won her awards between 1989 and 1995, while Don Knotts won them between 1961 and 1967. Frasier is the Emmy’s most awarded TV series ever. The show, which ran between 1993 and 2004, collected 37 Emmys in total. The show also holds the record for most consecutive wins in the comedy show category, with five wins between 1994 and 1998. Eight of the 37 awards are for the show’s stars Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce. The character of Frasier was played by Grammer on two other TV shows, Cheers and Wings. He was nominated for those performances too and he now holds the record for most nominations for the same character in multiple TV shows. Grammer was nominated for all but one season of the show’s run, Pierce was nominated for every season. The highest number of wins by a TV show in the drama category is jointly held by three series: The Hill Street Blues, LA Law and The West Wing. Hill Street Blues also holds a record for most actors in a single category after all five slots for Best Supporting Actor were filled by its cast in 1982. It won best drama series consecutively between 1981 and 1984. LA Law won the award between 1989 and 1991 after winning it earlier in 1987. The West Wing also won the awards in consecutive years between 2000 and 2003. The West Wing broke the record for most awards won by a debut show after it surpassed Hill Street Blues’ eight wins and winning nine. That is also the record for most wins by a TV show in a single year. This year’s awards may also bear a historical significance in the drama category. Mad Men has three prior awards in the drama category and a win this year will put it at par with ‘Blues, ‘Law and ‘Wing as the most feted show in the drama category. Mad Men is still popular and has the chance of surpassing that number next year. But it has to fight off such strong shows as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones to achieve that fete.

X-Men: First Class

I haven’t watched any of the previous X-Men films. I heard this was the best so I just decided to hop on to it. But probably what attracted me to it was the fact that Mathew Vaughn was directing this one. I’m a great admirer of a director who can effortlessly mix drama and comedy without making a film seem like it’s a dark comedy as he did on Kick Ass, his last film, and one of my favorite pictures of 2010.

Not that thought First Class was any bad, but I couldn’t help but think how bad the other ones must have been if this is considered the best of the series. Even people whose opinion I don’t trust hated Wolverine.

I can’t explain how the film started because after I bought the tickets, I went to the supermarket to buy stuff to smuggle into the auditorium and didn’t anticipate the check-out queues. I got in just as young Erik was being interrogated by Dr. Schmidt at Auschwitz. The resulting incident teaches him a lesson about his abilities.

We also see a Charlie’s encounter with a shape-shifter in his house, who will obviously grow up to be Raven. Apparently, she is homeless. They grow up together as brother and sister, which is the source of some awkward moments later in the film.

These first few moments of the film are the only ones where if you think to rationally, you’d say there are flaws. I don’t know how things worked in the ‘40s but I find it weird that a family will just take in a stranger. But if it was in the comics, you can’t really blame the screenwriter. The other thing is, as my pal asked, why didn’t Erik kill Schmidt then? Why waste his adulthood traveling the world looking for his enemy when he had the chance. This, if even was so in the comic book, should have been rationalized. They should have given Schmidt an escape route or something.

The rest of the film is smooth, in a comic-book film sort of way. After witnessing a weird incident in a titty club in Vegas, which later acts a catalyst to the escalation that resulted to the Cuban Missile Crisis, CIA agent McTaggert, contacts the adult Charles Xavier who is doing his thesis on mutation. Schmidt, now known as Shaw is established as a threat and Xavier uses a satellite-like, spherical device to track down other mutants in a bid to get them together to form a team that can take out Shaw.

This is my favorite part of the film. Not only because Gnarls Barkley’s Run I’m A Natural Disaster plays in the montage, but also because it has pretty neat cameo by an X-Man. Unlike a lot of cameos which are usually just pasting of a character onto the story, this made sense in the context of the events.

The film succeeds in explaining how the X-Men got to be as we know them. From the alliances they maintain to their physical attributes, even their names. I liked how that part of story was handled, I just don’t know why Xavier had to keep repeating himself as he lay on the beach near. If you’re smart enough and you are a fan of the series or at least have watched the other films, you’ll get the gist of what had just happened. The way that bit was treated came out a little bit too imposed. Another thing that seemed to have been overdone is every time Xavier had to use his powers. He placed his fingers on his temple every time he had to use them. That was okay at the beginning but it seemed useless by the time we got the middle.

The acting was as good as it can get in an action flick. But a standout performance was undoubtedly Michael Fassbender’s. The guy has been in everything since Inglourious Basterds and he always dazzles. He was simply the best thing about the movie. He made Magneto sympathetic and might have just changed people’s perception about the character.

Vaughn treatment of the action pretty good, the build up to the end was really solid. There’s an awesome scene at the peak of the action involving Magneto and a couple of hundred missiles that should definitely make it on every 2011 Film Moments reel. This was definitely one of the better films of the year so far.

 

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

Why would I, in my right mind, go out to watch a Transformers movie? Especially after I only managed about half an hour of the second installment. Especially after I said I’d only watch it if I was forcefully dragged into an auditorium, strapped on the seat and my eyes held up with tape. Well, that  kinda happened.

I went in voluntarily, I wasn’t strapped to the chair and neither was my eyes held back. In fact, I was actually excited. That’s because I paid and actually was holding X-Men: First Class tickets. After the usual very crappy ads (how do you make a TV ad by just panning over the poster?), that weird Pearl & Dean music that no one knows is about, we sat in the dark for a while before someone came in announce something no one heard but everyone understood that there was a scratch on the X-Men CD or something of the sort. Then he disappeared.
He later came back. This time, we could hear what he was saying. He offered us Transformers 3 instead of X-Men. Just as I was about to get up in protest, I’d even started chanting, “SUCK MY DICK!,” my efforts were drowned out by a cheer.

Here I was thinking that I was sitting with a bunch of grown-ups who had fought of pressure and intimidation by the hundreds of meatheads lining up for Transformers on the other screen. You know how awkward it is standing on a line with four people when the next line has about 50 people?
Anyway, that’s how my fate was sealed. I realized that maybe God just wanted me to watch Dark of the Moon, so I reluctantly embraced God’s purpose for me that evening.

They started playing the movie before handing out the 3-D glasses. The movie finally started with the Moon Landing episode. Actual footage of the Landing is shuffled with Bay’s dramatized version, suggesting the mission was all about inspecting a crashed bot ship on the dark side of the moon.
This is not the only time Transformers 3 juxtaposes its storyline between a historical event. They also use the Chernobyl disaster site as a prop for another sequence to promote a conspiracy theory. Any attempts Transformers makes at making this one a brainy one ends there. Just like in the second one, things just happen. There is really no tangible plot and not a single sub-plot.
Through their conversations though, you learn that Sam doesn’t have a job despite having saved the world twice. And he also has a new girlfriend, that’s about it (they don’t forget to take a swipe at Megan Fox). The story is populated with the characters of John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Patrick Dempsey and Frances McDormand, among the usual crowd, the only one worth noting being the always cool John Turturro and his bodyguard/PA, played by Alan Tudyk.
Other than the fairly clever Moon Landing plot, the rest is the usual Sam running around trying to convince the authorities that some major shit’s about to go down and him being ignored and him getting Bumblebee boners along the way.

If Transformers is one thing, it’s a huge commercial for…everything. From Lenovo monitors which are in virtually every indoor scene to a very brazen plugging of some. Mercedes SLS-AMG, I actually remember that off the top of my head because they not only mentioned it, they made sure they even gave us stats about the car. There’s a scene which is probably the worst product placement sequence I’ve seen in a movie. Mearing, in her suit walks with her team, she suddenly stops, kicks off her shoes, then someone places some multi-colored Nike sneakers on the floor. Mearing puts them on and continues walking *end scene* There are countless others: a shot of Dempsey’s dealership and in it, logos of probably every American car company, etc.
There’s not much to say about the acting. Except for Tyrese, no one was actually bad. It just felt like the characters were mismatched, or just in the wrong movie altogether. Jeong and Malkovich looked like they were in a different movie, a better one. And everyone else was in another movie. It’s like, you wouldn’t put Pee Wee Herman and Kristen Stewart in the same movie, right? John Turturro as usual stood out alongside Alan Tudyk.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely was just there, reading the lines she rehearsed. She also ran beside Sam for some part of the movie. From the scene where she’s introduced, you can tell she’s in the movie for her curves. She sexily enters and exits the Mercedes, stands over the camera at the perfect upskirt angle and so on and so forth. That’s when you get to understand Megan Fox’s alleged reasons for leaving the franchise.

The 3-D is okay, not eye-gouging as I expected it to be considering the action-heavy nature of the movie. Thing is, I found it unnecessary. Except for the title sequence and some other cool sequence which I can’t remember, there was nothing else of note. Which is a shame, I mean, Transformers looks like the kind of movie that should kick in the format. Thank God, Fox doesn’t surcharge on 3-D tickets. Otherwise, I would’ve considered it a waste.

Now to the direction. Transformers is, first and foremost, a Michael Bay film. His signature is written all over it. From cars rolling when they haven’t been as much as touched, falling buildings and needless destruction of property. If anyone else was to take over, it would look totally different. Instead of studying Transformers and finding possible ways of execution, he’s taken his style and pasted it onto Transformers. This has totally skewed the creator’s intentions and even the laws of physics and common sense.

You don’t have to be a geek to know that robots are very mechanical. They move rigidly. Unlike humans, they can’t do anything further than their programming. Humans have muscles, which form over time and it is within our power to develop them further to do something someone else can’t do like, say, run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds.

I understand Autobots and Decepticons are alien life forms but still, they are cars that turn mechanically, not magically, into robots. It’s looked very stupid when Optimus Prime did that backward spinning, kell-’em-all stunt almost effortlessly like he/it had taken a mixture of karate and ballet lessons.

Even the original cartoons moved realistically. I understand that they are an intelligent form, which explains how they can speak English, but why is there one with a Japanese accent. In the first movie, there was one with an African American accent. The villain of this installment, Sentinel, is aged in a very human way. It has wrinkles, scraggly hair and a gruff voice. What next? Poor eyesight.

There’s a scene where some Autobots are captured. They’re huddled around and forced to kneel, that seriously does not make sense to me. Shouldn’t there be a switch you turn or a fuse you remove to disable a bot? Why do Bumblee’s eyes water when he’s feeling emotional? As @Radacque asked, how come he can take bolts out of his ‘body’ and throw them around and not be affected? Enough about the bots abilities and design, there are too many questions. I didn’t understand why the Decepticons were killing off innocent humans despite saying they needed people to rebuild their world? There are also some really corny lines, especially between Prime and Sentinel. I don’t get why bots have to dispel their wisdom on each other as they fight.

There was one cool scene though: when the main characters are very conveniently stuck on the top floor of a building that’s half-keeled and shockwave, a killer bot is approaching. The following sequence is probably the film’s best part, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. One problem: There’s a continuity error though, for some reason, they end up at a point where they’re still on top of the building though they shouldn’t be. You kinda have to watch it to understand.

For the first time ever, I actually kept looking at the time, wondering why the film so long. Even Dark Knight and Inception, which are probably the longest films I went to watch, I never realized how long they were until I got out. It just seems like Bay thought of a battle scene and constructed a whole film around it. I didn’t see why we had to wait for so long because no coherent plot built up to the moment. And even the final battle, let alone Optimus Prime’s much hyped ‘ice-skate’ sequence, was cool enough to sit through the whole thing. Do not expect awesomeness, go to Transformers with an open mind. In fact go in with a mind so open, intelligence has escaped it. But even then, I don’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it.