Isle of Dogs Review

I feel like reviewing Wes Anderson’s latest film Isle of Dogs is almost an exercise in futility. Any filmgoer should know by watching the trailer if this film is your cup of tea or not. Anderson has his own unique style that does not appeal to everyone, but fortunately it appeals to yours truly and since animation is my thing I had to review it! (One of my friends from church asked me if I was going to see ‘that horrific looking dog film’ so that shows you how different the response can be to the trailer!).

Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s second foray into the world of animation; his first being the 2009 animated film Fantastic Mr Fox. I recently did a collaboration with my friend Justin on his channel where I shared my thoughts on that film, so check that out:

While I enjoy Fantastic Mr Fox a great deal, I think I actually preferred Isle of Dogs. It’s weirder and more simplistic narratively but I laughed more and found it more charming to watch. I really thought Isle of Dogs was a great time at the movies.

Isle of Dogs tells the story of a dystopian futuristic Japan that has banished all dogs to a Trash Island. This is done out of fear over a dog flu which is hyped up by the tyrannical rule of Mayor Kobayashi. This was hilarious for me because the company I work for is called Kobayashi America, a branch of Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals in Japan,which is mentioned in the film! Luckily everyone I work with is completely lovely. No dictators present!

Anyway, Kobayashi is made a ward over a nephew named Atari who he then sends his beloved dog Spots to Trash Island. Atari, desperate for his dog, steals a plane and flies to Trash Island. Upon landing he meets 5 dogs: Rex, King, Duke, Boss and Chief. They are all eager to help find Spots except for Chief who is cynical and just trying to survive another day.

The rest of the story is pretty simple with the dogs and Atari traveling to find Spots and facing various challenges along the way. The joy of the film is the droll dialogue from the dogs and the sweet moments between boy and dogs. There is also a subplot with an exchange student named Tracy who investigates Kobayashi but the real fun is spending time with the dogs.

There are so many things to praise about Isle of Dogs. First, the animation is just tremendous. I honestly don’t know how they were able to do the fur and make it seem so lush and textured. These are not the clay figures of Rankin Bass or other old-school stop motion animated animals. It blew me away. I also loved the textures in all the backdrops and props. There are a lot of scenes behind walls of glass and the colors reminded me of a Chihuly art glass exhibit. Simply stunning! They could have used bare-bones backgrounds but they chose to go the extra mile and fill the screen with textured details and color.  If the Academy wasn’t so closed minded I could see it getting nominated for best production design.

The voice cast is also fantastic with many Anderson regulars such as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton and many more. It is narrated by Courtney B Vance and the music is superb by Alexandre Desplat.

I suppose if someone were to push me for flaws in Isle of Dogs I would admit that a white savior trope is applied to the story in an unnecessary way. Anderson makes the choice to have the Japanese characters speak Japanese with little to no subtitles, which I thought was really neat. However, it necessitated having an English character confront Kobayashi so that we would know what she was doing. I’m not sure how he could have gotten around that, but I can see why some would complain about it.

It’s also not supposed to be an accurate depiction of Japanese life. It reminded me of anime in that regard. Films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell also use Japan as a dystopian futuristic background to tell their stories, so any cultural appropriation should be taken with a massive grain of salt. Any culture should be allowed to have a wide variety of takes and stories set in it, so I don’t think it is a problem but I’m not Japanese. It will be interesting to see the response to this film over there. I could see them being offended or flattered.  It was cool at least that Anderson took some risks with language and storytelling that made it unpredictable to watch.

Like I said in my intro, if you watched the trailer for Isle of Dogs and responded positively to it then you should definitely see it. I’m certainly glad I did, and I look forward to seeing it multiple times. Incredibles 2 has a tall order to top it in my best animated film of the year list. We will see!

Overall Grade A- Smile Worthy

Here is a podcast I did with my friend Conrado on the film

https://soundcloud.com/rachel-wagner-350487958/talking-isle-of-dogs-with-conrado-falco

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Blind Spot 13: Moonrise Kingdom

moonrise-kingdomrJanuary has proven to be a very busy month with my birthday, finishing up my Disney Canon series, end of the year lists and Sundance Film Festival (half way through. Update to come).  However, I wanted to keep my commitment to the Blind Spot series and watch the January pick, so I squeezed it on Saturday.  The film is Moonrise Kingdom and I’m glad I did because it is a charming little movie.

Directed by Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom, shares all of his hipster cuteness but in ways that feel appropriate to the story. It’s about two 12 year old kids that run away together causing their community to madly search for them. They believe they are in love and share a sweet chemistry together. moonrise-kingdom6The town is eccentric like most Wes Anderson films characters are but there is a brightness here that sometimes his films miss. I know everyone is in love with Rushmore but I much prefer this. I found Rushmore to be a little mean spirited and harsh in tone where this is light and joyful. Edward Norton is particularly good as Scout Master Ward.  It made me laugh because my father is the world’s most diligent scout master.

moonrise-kingdom7The rest of the cast is fantastic including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and more. I also liked the two 12 year old actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.

The cinematography by Robert Yeoman was done in 16mm film and it almost has a sepia quality to it. It feels old fashioned and comforting. The production design was excellent as well as the costumes.

moonrise-kingdom5But the main reason to watch Moonrise Kingdom is the writing. I can see why Wes Anderson was nominated for an Oscar for original screenplay because it is delightful while having moments of emotional truth hidden inside. It has a dry sarcastic sense of humor without becoming harsh or judgemental. It was really entertaining to watch.

I suppose the pacing may be a little slow for some and others may find it the hipster style a little grating but I didn’t mind it.  Moonrise Kingdom is a real winner from Wes Anderson and I’m glad to get to start 2017 on a high note!

Overall Grade- A-

How to Fix Alice in Wonderland

Recently a lot of people enjoyed my piece on ‘How to Fix Superman‘ and I was thinking about it in regards to 2 movies I saw this weekend- X-Men Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass. I didn’t like either film and started wondering about what  would I do to make them better. X-Men is kind of an easy question because they already made a near perfect X-Men film in X-Men Days of Future Past. Just do that again…But Alice, now that got me thinking. How would I change Alice and make it work for a modern audience? Let me lay out it out for you:

1.Use the books!

Mockturtle_tenniel None of the Alice in Wonderland films have done particularly well at using the actual Lewis Carroll novels. The 1951 animated film is certainly the closest but it cuts out a ton of the characters and scenes in the book.  For example the Duchess and her entire plot with Bill the Lizard is eliminated.

Naturally you have to take things away when doing any adaptation but it would be nice for once to see a very close telling of Carroll’s book. In Disney’s animated version they bring in incidents like the Walrus and the Carpenter which is in Alice Through the Looking Glass and leave out the Mock Turtle and other good stuff in the Adventures in Wonderland book, so there is time to include more from each book.

The reason I think this would be a great fix to Alice in Wonderland is it would feel new while still being authentic to the world of the story. One of the many problems in Alice Through the Looking Glass is the new characters they invented (movie has nothing to do with its titled book) felt extremely generic.  There certainly wasn’t anything nearly as creative as a gryphon or Mock Turtle.

Alice in Wonderland is great because it is unpredictable. It has little plot but it constantly surprises the reader with a new creature, idea or joke (more on that later). This makes the book charming and the animated film captures this appeal but it could be expanded upon.

2. Embrace the Nonsense

alice in rabbits houseOne of the best things about the animated Alice in Wonderland is the embrace of nonsense. I love when Alice says “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

This quote does something that Over the Rainbow does for Wizard of Oz. It gives a reason for our heroine to be seeking another world and then when she lands there let her be dazzled by the nonsense.  There is no need to explain why the Red Queen has a large head like they do in the latest film. We don’t need a story about the Hatter’s family. We simply want Alice to meet a lot of fun creatures and get home at the end. It’s as simple as that.

Nonsense at its core should be unpredictable while exposition and dopey plots are not. Alice doesn’t work unless it is unexpected.

3. Embrace the Humor of the Book

alice 1933-2One of the things the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland gets right is the wicked humor in Carroll’s writing.  When I recently read his books I was surprised how much I laughed. It’s a kind of absurdist humor and can be very dark but that is part of its charm.

For example, I love when the Duchess’ baby turns into a pig.  This is not only funny but wickedly grotesque in a way.  Either way it is unexpected and once again that’s what we need in a new Alice.

Other funny characters can include- Cheshire cat, Mad Hatter, The King,  Tweedledee and Tweedledum and more.

4. Do not ‘YA’ it up

fairytale retellingsOne of the absolute worst trends in recent literature has been the YA retellings of classic fairytales.  I blame Wicked but then Twilight took it to a new level with their ‘new take’ on classic vampire lore. These terrible novels almost always contain a love triangle and a mysterious heroine who is bland, bland, bland.

The 2010 Alice in Wonderland didn’t go the love triangle route but it tried to YA Alice with a bland heroine who is the chosen one and is going to set everything right. Maleficent certainly tried to follow this trend. Ugh. I hate it, hate it, hate it.  Every character somehow gets turned into this mopey, annoying, brooding teenage girl and you know what that is- boring!!!

Fairytales have somehow managed to appeal to people for hundreds of years without love triangles and chosen ones and all this YA nonsense messing them up. People hate on Frozen but at least it did a few things that were different and unexpected to most people.

5. Embrace More Realistic Style and Production Design

alice in wonderland hipsterWe’ve gotten 2 movies where we have CG’d our brains out in Wonderland. Let’s try something different.  What if instead of a totally synthetic world we embraced a Wes Anderson type of sensibility for our new Alice in Wonderland? What if it wasn’t actually a rabbit but a woman with rabbit ears? That would be intriguing and different? It could be more like the fairytales of the 1980s where the dialogue and costumes did the talking rather than the special effects.

Alice could still be in a new place and it could still be Wonderland but why does everything have to be new? Having a more subdued aesthetic to Wonderland might force writers to focus on the dialogue, which is where Alice in Wonderland should really shine anyway.

moonrise kingdom2You wouldn’t have to get Wes Anderson but he is such a great writer I would love to see him work on it. And I would love to get cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki involved and his famous long takes. How great would that be?

pans-labyrinth4Another film I would point them to for inspiration is Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. This is obviously a more horror take on a fantasy world but look how real the creature looks? Like you could reach out and touch it. How neat would it be for Alice to meet a character that feels so palatable and real?

del Toro obviously used CG and special effects in Pan’s Labyrinth but never in a way that takes you out of the movie. It’s too add flair rather than compensate for lazy writing. And most importantly it was something new and totally unexpected and again that’s what we need for Alice to work.

pans labyrinth bookIn conclusion, if I had was asked to pitch a new Alice in Wonderland here’s what I’d suggest:

Alice is a young girl in the 1950s who is bored with her strict parents and teachers. One day she stumbles upon a book in the library about a rabbit and his adventures in Wonderland. The next thing she knows she is in a version of her school but everything looks different- like it has been reversed. Some people have strange costumes on and she wonders if it is a special costume day and nobody told her.  Then she see’s a boy with rabbit ears on who looks scared.  He is rushing out of the school and she follows him into a strange woods. There she meets a variety of creatures and people, some of them funny, some nonsensical, some scary. Eventually she figures out her boredom is really her own fault and there are things she needs to be doing back in her regular life. She wakes up in the library with the librarian telling her class is dismissed. On to further adventures she goes ready to live a dynamic life!

Don’t kill me that it isn’t perfect but hopefully it gives you a flavor of the kind of story I think might work very well. Either way it would be something new and visually different than we have seen in Alice in Wonderland.  It would stick closer to the book, embrace the humor of the story and avoid all that YA crap.

What do you think? Am I on to something? What would you do to make Alice in Wonderland good again?

Over the Garden Wall is similar to the type of aesthetic and combination of humor/magic/realism that I think would be great.

Oscar Reactions

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

So the Oscars came and went last night and for the most part I was really bummed out.  I did horribly on my picks so hopefully none of you went off my ballot…(I think I got 9 right). I know it is the Oscars and they usually screw it up.  It is just a stupid awards show but at the same time it feels good as a film lover when films you love get recognized.

Highs-

There were some highs of the extremely long telecast (honestly next time make it an hour and get this done more quickly!).

1. Lady Gaga singing Sound of Music and Julie Andrews coming in was the highlight of the night.  I didn’t realize it was the 50th anniversary of Sound and have now ordered the 50th anniversary bluray which comes out next month.  Sound of Music is my favorite musical and I was shocked to hear Gaga have such classical pipes.  Who knew?

2. All the musical numbers were ok and at least brought some energy to the show.  I particularly liked Everything is Awesome from Lego!

3. John Legend and Common were very good singing Glory from Selma but I thought it was strange they used their real names for the award.  They don’t do that for the Grammy’s or any other award or any other part of their music? Kind of odd.

4. I was happy with all the acting winners even though I haven’t seen Still Alice (I can only handle so many depressing movies at once guys!).  They all are deserving winners.  I was especially happy for Patricia Arquette as she will go down as my favorite Mother in the movies ever.

gal_oscar_winners-620x4145. I was also happy to see Grand Budapest Hotel win so much but it should have won best original screenplay.  Birdman’s script was nothing special.  I also didn’t think Imitation Game was the best adapted screenplay of the year but the winners speech was great. I think Wes Anderson deserved it for GBH’s script.

grand-budapest-hotel

6. We all knew Kaguya and Song of the Sea weren’t going to win and if Lego wasn’t going to be included than I am thrilled Big Hero 6 won.  I like How to Train Your Dragon 2.  I gave it an A. However, I think out of the 3 mainstream Big Hero 6 had more heart. I connected more with it emotionally and it is more creative with its cityscape and characters.  The fact is I’ve seen movies that look and feel like Dragon and Boxtrolls.  They are both great but I’m super happy Big Hero 6 won.

BigHero6Team

Lows- oh boy there were a lot.

NPH-host

1. Neal Patrick Harris can be so great.  I’m a huge fan of him on How I Met Your Mother and he’s great hosting the Tony Awards. But I think he may have gotten the HIMYM finale writers to write the jokes for the Oscars because they all fell just as flat.  Not one joke worked. In fact, most were really awkward like when he bothered seat fillers or appeared on stage in his underwear. Also the belabored unfunny bit with the predictions box was terrible.

Here’s what you do Oscars- have a 1 hour show where you give the awards for acting, best picture, animation, music, costumes, effects and screenplay.  Have a couple montages a combined number that showcases every song and your done. 3 and 1/2 hours was brutal.

sq_birdman2.  I sincerely don’t understand the Birdman love.  It is a well made movie and Keaton is good but for it to win director, script and picture is baffling to me.  I don’t get how nobody else seems to see how misogynistic and predictable it is?  Characters like the critic are so poorly written and completely unbelievable.  Honestly out of the 8 nominees it would have been my 7 out of 8.  People said Boyhood was overrated but I think Birdman is very overrated.

I guess it makes sense for Hollywood to love a movie about how hard it is to be in Hollywood, how tortured and difficult it is to be a star but why the rest of American moviegoers championed it is a mystery to me…Boo!

Caesar (played in a performance-capture suit by Andy Serkis) is the leader of the ape nation in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes got the shut out last night which was easy to do because it was only nominated once for visual effects.  I loved Interstellar.  It’s one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen.  But come on, as great as Interstellar looked we’ve seen visuals like that before.  Just last year we had even better space visuals in Gravity.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes created whole characters that were not there and made them come alive.  They were flawless visual effects. Andy Serkis should have been nominated and I thought Gary Oldman was terrific in that movie (I will never forget the scene where he finally loads the battery in the ipad and can see photos of his dead family. So powerful).  Sigh…

4. Citzenfour wins- It disgusts me anyone would award a film even mildly praising Edward Snowden (and then she did in her speech too).  He has hurt our national security and put people’s lives at risk. America is a weaker less secure place because he thinks he knows what is best and he twists his recklessness and ego into supposed honesty.

I rarely agree with President Obama but even he said about Snowden:

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”

Boyhood-poster-quad4. The Boyhood snubs really bummed me out.  And it’s not just because it took 12 years to make.  It is a movie about LIFE and all the small things that make up a person.  It’s about the journey of adolescence and how you  become who you are.  I honestly think we will look back and wonder what the heck were they thinking?  Kind of like when Saving Private Ryan lost or the way we see American Beauty as a bunch of pretentious nonsense now.  I think Birdman will not hold up like Boyhood will.

I can see film students for years studying Boyhood and the small moments of authentic conversation.  Scenes like when Mason is in the photography lab with his teacher.  That is so authentic to life. I think if we all could be a fly on the wall we would realize how many small voices are championing us along the way. Again I quote…

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

It makes me sad so many people missed what was special about Boyhood.  Why does every movie have to be the same? Not every book tells a story.  Some are random, some teach us, others are poetry and others are art. I think movies should be granted the same license to take on differing forms and purposes.

People look at every movie as having to entertain you when it doesn’t need too.  People make the same criticism of Fantasia.  That it is boring and has no story.  Ridiculous.  Fantasia is trying to inspire you with art and music.  It’s not trying to tell you a story but give you something beautiful to contemplate. Boyhood is trying to get you to think about your life and that has value.

I just think people need to go into different movies with different glasses.  I don’t watch Schindler’s List and Star Wars with the same mindset, looking for the same things.  I don’t watch Tree of Life and Monty Python with the same perspective.

If you only like movies for entertainment sake than you miss out on so much.  It makes me sad.

I found myself thinking yesterday of the amazing documentary Hoop Dreams.  This follows 2 inner city boys for 5 years as they dream of basketball stardom.  It is a movie about LIFE and how our dreams can both haunt and inspire us.  Movies like Hoop Dreams and Boyhood have high value but they require some effort on our part.

Most of the sublime movie going experiences of my life require effort.  Last night the academy had a chance to recognize a film that took on life but required some effort on the part of the moviegoer and went instead for the story of how hard it is to be a star…It makes no sense to me.

I guess it’s appropriate because in 1994 Hoop Dreams wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary.  It’s so silly.

I think Roger Ebert’s thoughts on Hoop Dreams apply to Boyhood:

“A film like “Hoop Dreams” is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself…

Many filmgoers are reluctant to see documentaries, for reasons I’ve never understood; the good ones are frequently more absorbing and entertaining than fiction. “Hoop Dreams,” however, is not only a documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime

I’d say the same thing about Boyhood and just like Hoop Dreams holds up 31 years later because it is about life and human experience so will Boyhood because even if the trappings change, growing up is never really that different.

I wish I could talk to Richard Linklater and tell him how much his movies have ment to me. If you are out there Richard thank you!  My life is better from watching your movies. How many people can say that about watching Birdman?…

I guess at the very least the Oscars got me to see a lot of movies I probably would not have otherwise seen, so there’s that. Thanks for the great year of films 2014 (Btw I am going to post an updated best and worst list now that I have seen more of the 2014 movies) .

What did you guys think of the Oscars?

Ranking the Nominees

I have now seen all of the Best Picture nominees and while I gave my predictions a few days ago I thought I would do a quick post ranking the nominees. I would also add I think Song of the Sea, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Locke, Big Hero 6, Tale of Princess Kaguya, Lego Movie and Interstellar are better than all of the films but Boyhood nominated but they are all good movies.

We can all be glad the Grand Budapest Hotel is there because without it we’d have a lot of solemn nominees.  I mean has the academy forgotten how to laugh?  Gone are the days when movies like It’s a Mad Mad Mad World could get nominated for Best Picture.  Kind of sad really.

Anyway, here’s how I would personally rank the nominees.

1. Boyhood- It’s a  movie that really moved me and made me think about my life in a new way.  It’s not a movie to entertain you but to remind you about the small moments with people that make up your life. I loved it.  To me it is significantly better than any of the other nominees.

selma

2. Selma– A movie that helped me get to know all sides of a great American.  It wasn’t all the grand moments but soft, even shameful moments where you saw that anybody can make a difference.  It was a part of the Civil Rights movement I wasn’t as familiar with and I was really moved by it. Amazing performance by David Oyelowo.

whiplash poster 2014

3. Whiplash- Mesmerizing film that builds tension so well with an insane performance by JK Simmons.  It asks the question ‘what is the price to be paid for greatness?’ I wish it had shown more of the motivations behind the characters but still very gripping movie.

american sniper

4.  American Sniper- Gripping account of the most successful sniper in US Navy Seals history, Chris Kyle.  The movie gets you down with the soldiers a lot for a sniper movie and it feels gritty and very intense.  The narrative at home and on his tour of duties flow well together and are brought together in the story of a very complex man.  It is a movie that tells his story and leaves the judging for God and others. I was really moved by. grand-budapest-hotel5. Grand Budapest Hotel- The one comedy nominated! I think I give this a little bit of a pass because it is Wes Anderson’s best and most mainstream film.  I’d have to watch it again to decide if I really like it better than the other nominees but I did like it.  It’s not over-quirky like a lot of Anderson’s films.  It is witty and the world creation is strong with more likable characters than many of his other films.  Very good engaging cast as always.

imitation game7

 6. Imitation Game- A solid biopic about Alan Turing, the man behind the computer which decoded the enigma machine.  I liked the stuff about the decoding better than the more predictable personal portions but it was all strong and very well acted. The big mean boss who is constantly after Turing felt like such a cliche and the cop narration felt a little phony but I liked it.

sq_birdman

7. Birdman- I know I’m not as high on this as everyone else but I’ve got to tell you what I really think not what is popular.  I really hated the way this movie treated its female characters.  I’m shocked that nobody else in criticism seems to be saying this? It will probably win tomorrow when Boyhood a movie featuring complex woman will not (although hopefully she will win).  I have thought about it and I know it is an allegory for popularity and fame but why does the movie assume women are so much more fragile and judgmental than men?  Is there not a Chris Farley, River Phoenix for every Lindsay Lohan and Judy Garland? The critic and the near rape especially bother me.   But that said, it isn’t at the bottom because I do think they tried to do something different, the cinematography is very good and I thought Michael Keaton was great.  I just don’t think it was anywhere near the best picture of the year. Oh well.

theory of everything2

8.  Theory of Everything–  This is a good movie.  I enjoyed watching it much more than Birdman. And Eddie Redmayne was unforgettable as Stephen Hawking.  You forget it is an actor after a while.  That’s pretty amazing especially since he doesn’t have a voice for a good chunk of the movie. However, it is pretty predictable biopic and large sections drag a bit.  I didn’t think Felicity Jones was very good and the dewy sepia toned cinematography and constant twirling (even in the coffee) got on my nerves.  Still a very good movie just bottom of the 8 for me.

My Oscar Predictions

Boyhood-poster-quadI thought I might help you out and share with you my Oscar ballot.   We will see how I do come Oscar night but if Boyhood doesn’t walk away with a lot I will be very disappointed (well as disappointed as you can be with a stupid awards show…).

Here goes!

best picture

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

I still think Boyhood will win.  Birdman is too independent in feel for older academy voters and Boyhood has universal themes and was so groundbreaking I think it will win. I think it will be like when the academy went with King Speech over Social Network (a decision I actually agree with as I think SN is majorly overrated).   I could see The Theory of Everything coming in as dark horse as the academy loves those ‘real life’ portrayals.  I have seen all but 2 but hopefully will get to the rest in the next few days.

Will Win: Boyhood
My Vote:Boyhood

My review of Boyhood

Best Director

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I know Inarritu has won some leading up to awards but Linklater is due a statue and what he did in Boyhood is astonishing.  It’s certainly one of the most profound movie going experiences I’ve ever had. For him to direct a film over 12 years how can you not give him the directing award and to make something so beautiful to boot.  Come on!

Will Win: Richard Linklater
My Vote: Richard Linklater

Best Lead Actor

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

I have actually only seen 2 of these movies! I am going to try to get to American Sniper and Imitation Game this week but we will see.  It looks like Eddie Redmayne is going to win and I think it is deserved.  Cumberbatch love could come into play and the academy always does have soft spot for veterans like Keaton.  I actually think he deserves to win even though I have issues with Birdman.  His performance was very good. Redmayne is great as well.  You forget he isn’t Stephen Hawking in the performance.

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
My Vote: Michael Keaton (If I could give it to anyone it would be to Tom Hardy in Locke which was unforgettable)

Best lead actress

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

I have actually only seen 2 of these movies and to be honest wasn’t that crazy with either Rosamund Pike or Felicity Jones performances.  Julianne Moore will win.  It’s her 5th nomination I believe and she is evidently great in Still Alice.

Will Win: Julianne Moore
My Vote: Weak year for female performances.  I guess my favorite was Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. I can’t pick either of the 2 I’ve seen because I didn’t think they were good.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Whiplash was a very engrossing movie . I had some problems with the character motivations but it was great. JK Simmon is unforgettable and should and will win. I wish Andy Serkis had been nominated for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  His ACTING blew me away.

Will Win: J.K. Simmons
My Vote: J.K. Simmons

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

This award should and will go to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood.  She did something that no other female actress has done in showing how a woman ages.  We don’t talk about that.  We hide it away but there she was at 28 and there she was at 40.  She is the reason I loved the movie so much because she never really gets a chance to commit to her life and family.  She just lives and makes some bad choices along the way.  When Mason is leaving for college and she realizes her life in a sense is over it is completely devastating.  I will never forget it.  I would also have nominated Jessica Chastain for Interstellar.

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
My Vote: Patricia Arquette

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman (Alejandro G Iñarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Foxcatcher (E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

I think will be where they award Grand Budapest Hotel.  It really is Wes Anderson’s most approachable movie I’ve ever seen.  It’s funny and mellows down the ‘quirky factor’ which many of us find annoying in his movies.

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
My Vote: The Grand Budapest Hotel

best adapted screenplay

American Sniper (Jason Hall)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

This is a race between Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, which is silly because the script in Theory was really quite weak.  The only other one I’ve seen is Whiplash which would probably be my pick.  If I could pick any script I would go with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes because it was the script that moved me the most.  It made me think and I loved it.

Will Win: The Imitation Game
My Vote: Whiplash (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes if I could pick)

best cinematography 

Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
Ida (Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal)
Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
Unbroken (Roger Deakins)

I would be stunned if Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t win for Birdman and he deserves to win; although I want to give it to Dick Pope just because of how cool he was when his name was slaughtered during his big moment.  (Seriously you think they’d go over that with that lady?)

Will Win: Birdman
My Vote: Birdman

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen)
The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic)
Interstellar (Nathan Crowley)
Into the Woods 
(Dennis Gassner)
Mr. Turner (Suzie Davis)

The Grand Budapest Hotel will win and it deserves to win.  I wish Paddington had been nominated as I loved the sets of that movie but oh well!

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
My Vote: The Grand Budapest Hotel 

best costume design

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)
Inherent Vice (Mark Bridges)
Into the Woods (Colleen Atwood)
Maleficent (Anna B. Sheppard)
Mr. Turner (Jacqueline Durran)

I am going to go out on a limb on this one and say that Colleen Atwood will win for Into the Woods.  It was the best costumes I saw all year.  She’s has name recognition (nominated 11 times and won 3) and I think if in doubt people will vote for her and the great costumes in a fairytale movie.  But I admit it is my out on a limb so you may want to put Grand Budapest Hotel on there because Milena Canoero has also won 3 times (quite the club of costume designers!).  The costumes were great in GBH.  I just think a little better in Into the Woods.

Will Win: Into the Woods
Should Win: Into the Woods

BEST FILM EDITING

American Sniper (Joel Cox)
Boyhood (Sandra Adair)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Barney Pilling)
The Imitation Game (William Goldenberg)
Whiplash (Tom Cross)

Boyhood will win with American Sniper being the next most likely.  Whiplash is probably the best editing I saw all year with those drum sequences put together so seamlessly.

Will Win: Boyhood
My Vote: Whiplash

Best Makeup and Hair

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy 

Another going out on a limb and going to pick Guardians of the Galaxy because that makeup made those characters not CG.  Foxcatcher could also come in because of the prosthetics (haven’t seen it).  Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the odds on favorite but you have to take a few chances in your ballot because there are always a few surprises.

Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
My Vote: Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)
The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)
Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)
Mr. Turner(Gary Yershon)
The Theory of Everything 
(Johann Johannsson)

It does seem time for Alexandre Desplat to win but Johann Johannsson has won early awards and they are all pleasant scores.  I actually didn’t care for the loud overbearing score in Interstellar so I hope that doesn’t win.  I wish Joe Hisaishi had been nominated for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.  It was one of the best scores I’ve ever heard.

Will Win: Theory of Everything
My Vote: Out of those I’d pick Grand Budapest Hotel but I would have given it to Joe Hisaishi Tale of Princess Kaguya

best original song

“Everything is Awesome” (The LEGO Movie)
“Glory” (Selma)
“Grateful” (Beyond the Lights)
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me)
“Lost Stars” (Begin Again)

It will either be Everything is Awesome or Glory and I think Glory is a solid hip hop anthem.  Both movies should be honored.  Lost Stars is probably the best written song of the group but Everything is Awesome is my favorite.

Will Win: “Glory”
My Vote: “Everything is Awesome”

best sound mixing

American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash 

I think this will and should go to Whiplash.  My understanding of sound mixing is rather limited but what I do know it is putting together different sounds to make a scene work and nowhere was better than that than Whiplash.

Will Win: Whiplash 
My Vote: Whiplash 

best sound editing

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

American Sniper will win this award.  It’s a lock.  Only seen one on this list.  (All the movies come out at the same time so it takes me most of the next year to see them all!).

Will Win: American Sniper
My Vote: Only seen Birdman and I wouldn’t give it to that.  I would give it to Whiplash

best visual effects

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

My review of Apes

All of these movies have amazing  visual effects.  I would be happy if any of them win.  I wish that every last one of them was nominated for best picture.  It was such a strong year for comic book movies and I’m normally not a huge fan.  These movies were immersive experiences with well written characters and story arcs you don’t normally see in big budget movies.  It was awesome. I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will win for best visual effects and I think it should win.

Will Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
My Vote: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

I like all of these movies and I’ve seen all of them.  I actually gave A’s to all of them.  I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 will win and it is a great movie.  It is a rare sequel that is better than the original.  It had an epic feel to it and I loved the heart of the mother character and the flying sequences were amazing.  However, I think both Dragon and The Boxtrolls are weaker than Lego Movie even though I loved them.  My favorite would be Song of the Sea but I loved Big Hero 6 and Kaguya. I would be happy with any of them winning.  The one thing that makes me pull for Dragon is DreamWorks really needs a win right now.  They’ve had huge layoffs, closed their major studio and there upcoming releases do not look promising.  The strangest thing is that all 3 of their films last year made a healthy profit so I don’t know what is going on?

For me 2014 had only 2 theatrically released animated stinkers.  It was such a great year.  The diversity of the characters, scope of animation and heart-felt topics covered I will never forget. 2015 looks pretty sad in comparison.

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2 
My Vote: Song of the Sea

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

I haven’t seen any of them but Ida is nominated for best cinematography so I would go with that. Why is it that animated films never get nominated for best foreign film? Tale of Princess Kaguya or the Latvian Rocks in My Pockets would have been worthy entries.

Will Win: Ida
My Vote: Haven’t seen any but I’d give it to Rocks in My Pockets

Best Documentary

Citizenfour
Finding Vivian Mayer
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga 

Pour sad Life Itself is not nominated.  Baffling. I haven’t seen any of these but I will be disgusted if Citzenfour wins and we reward anything to do with the scumbag Edward Snowden but I wouldn’t put it past leftist Hollywood.

Will Win: Citizenfour
My Vote: Life Itself

Short Categories

The animated shorts are actually really strong.  The other one’s I haven’t seen but I am going with the major predictions

Animated Short: Feast
Documentary Short: Joanna
Live Action Short: The Phone Call 

There’s my ballot.  Hope that helps you out when getting ready for your office polls and the like.  Occasionally they do give the right movie the award (Slumdog Millionaire for example) so let’s all hope for Boyhood!  But if it goes to Birdman than cheers for Hollywood’s misogyny in full force!

And here are my best and worst of the year videos.  I have seen some I would have included but it’s still movies I love.

Paddington: A Review

paddingtonLast year I went into Mr Peabody and Sherman with a certain amount of dread.  Hollywood’s track record at adapting beloved franchises from the past has not been very good.  Inspector Gadget, Yogi Bear, Smurfs, Lorax, TMNT, Transformers Cat in the Hat, Garfield are some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But to my great surprise Mr Peabody and Sherman was clever, funny, competently animated and an enjoyable time at the movies.

I had a similar experience with Paddington which is based on the popular children’s books by Michael Bond.  The trailer was very slapsticky and a dreaded January release made me nervous.  I was expecting the worst. But then I saw some youtube reviews from England praising the film and Rottentomatoes currently has it at 98%.  So, I went to see it today with my friend and her kids and was delightfully surprised!  Paddington is a completely charming family film.

paddington-tree_3059288cIf you didn’t know Paddington is about a bear family in Peru that are discovered by an explorer and taught English and how to serve tea and the joys of orange marmalade (the perfect food for a bear!). The explorer tells the bears that if they ever come to London they will have a home and about the child refuge program of WWII where orphans were given tags and left for strangers to welcome home.

An earthquake occurs causing the youngest Paddington to stow away and travel to London with a tag hoping to be welcomed. At first the English aren’t as friendly as he had hoped but he meets the Brown family led by the always luminous Sally Hawkins as the mother and the overly-cautious Hugh Bonneville as the father.

paddington4Paddington is clumsy and there are some Dennis the Menace moments with Mr Brown losing his cool at Paddington’s shenanigans but it was never over-kill and I enjoyed the scenes.  The kids are initially resistant to Paddington which I thought was an interesting choice but it made their eventual kinship all the more endearing.

paddington kidsIn many ways I think Paddington is very similar to a Muppets movie.  In fact, 20 years ago he would have looked more like Fozzie the Bear instead of being CG.  The key in a Muppets movie working is the human actors must play it straight while acting with a pig, frog, alien etc.  That is what happens in Paddington.  Nobody is surprised to be talking to or walking with a bear just like Kermit is treated like any other character in Muppets movies.

Paddington-film-010

This helped us stay away from the ‘OMG he’s actually a talking bear’ scenes, which have been done to death and the bear getting civilized because he is already drinking tea and making marmalade to start.

He’s a klutz but pretty quickly the movie moves to the main plot trying to find the explorer and we get introduced to a taxidermist played with great gusto by Nicole Kidman (who’s face actually looked semi-normal in this).

2014, PADDINGTON BEARShe has some hilarious interactions with the Brown’s neighbor Mr Curry played by Peter Capaldi who falls for her charms.

Peter_Capaldi__Hugh_Bonneville_and_Nicole_Kidman_in_brand_new_posters_for_PaddingtonJulie Walters is also great as the Brown’s aunt who lives with them.  She looks so different from Harry Potter movies I hardly recognized her but is very funny.  She senses the weather with her knees.

paddington mrs birdThe script is so well done by Paul King and Hamish McColl and I laughed a lot. The kids around me were laughing a lot and of the 3 kids that came with me 2 really liked it and 1 said she didn’t. Not sure why but 2/3 aint bad!

paddington-36858_2

The production design is so lovely. Whimsical without being over-the-top (like Tim Burton or Wes Anderson sometimes do).  There is a tree in the Brown’s house that changes from summer, winter, spring depending on moods.  The antique shop run by Jim Broadbent is perfect and the children’s bedrooms were magical without being cheesy.

paddington antiquesPaddington reminded me of Babe.  How many terrible animal kids movies have there been?  Well, Disney has a pretty bad one with Home on the Range. But then Babe comes out which is funny, sweet, and lovely movie that for my money is one of the best family films ever made (with a very underrated sequel that is brilliant).  I wouldn’t put Paddington at that level but I though it was really strong with a nice message about family, great design, very funny script and engaging performances. It’s just a winner.

PaddingtonStill2

It is also a pretty wholesome film- no innuendo or winking to the camera although some of the jokes may be funnier to adults it is never in an uncomfortable or unseemly way.  One scene a character dresses in drag but it is played for laughs and isn’t offensive in any way.

There is also a scene where Paddington is in serious peril and a moment where the crowd watching gasped but overall it is a gentle movie the whole family will enjoy.

Any of you seen it?  Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Content Grade- A+, Overall Grade- A+ (yep, I really liked it!)

This makes me hopeful for Peanuts.  Maybe Hollywood can get 3 good adaptations of things I loved as a kid? Too much to hope for? We will see.

Locke and Grand Budapest Hotel

I saw 2 movies this weekend and they are very different but both very good.

lockeLocke is a film that defies description. I was telling my sister about it and she laughed and said it sounded ‘like the worst thing ever’.   Why?

Well, it’s a man in a car talking on the phone for an entire movie.  I’m serious.  There are no other actors, just voices you hear and I’m telling you it is completely riveting.

locke1It’s so hard to talk about this movie without giving spoilers away but basically Tom Hardy is on a drive to do something he know he needs to do but wishes he didn’t have to.  Then as the car ride goes it becomes the worst day of his life.  Home, family, work, are complete chaos but he is a man who has a plan and knows he can make it all right, but as the story goes you and him start to become less secure that even he can salvage any of it.

It’s so tense and the music and lighting build until you worry he is going to drive off the freeway or have some kind of panic attack.  Then just when it seems he is losing control a conversation will happen that gives him a breath of hope and we start the cycle of anxiety all over again.  It was a thriller but about a person’s life falling apart and isn’t that kind of the scariest thing of all?

There are also moments where a character brings up a soccer game and after all he has been through it feels so stupid.  It kind of puts a lot of things we think are important in perspective.  It’s just pretty brilliant.

locke2

I’m telling you give it a shot.  The photography by director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos alone has to be appreciated.  The lights and reflections off the windows add to the tension.

In a way it feels like someone in a hostage negotiation but the hostage is his life and happiness.

Steven Knight also wrote Locke and they made it for 2 million dollars.  It just goes to show with good writing and storytelling anything can be good, even a man driving for 84 minutes.

I was blown away.

It does have a lot f bombs so definitely adults only.

Content Grade- F, Overall Grade- A

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

grand_budapest_hotelIt is no secret I am not the biggest Wes Anderson fan. Like Tim Burton, he can be more style over substance, but I don’t think any of his movies are terrible. Just not a fangirl. (I am Mormon which means I am so not a hipster…)

Anyway, the Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Anderson’s most approachable film even though I still didn’t love it but I enjoyed it.  The reason I liked this better than previous works (I haven’t seen all of them) is it is a story being told as opposed to something grounded in ‘real life’ like his other films.  It makes more sense to have his quirky style in a work in a fictional world to me.

It’s a little confusing because there are layers of storytellers.  Tom Wilkinson is an author telling the story to a little girl that he heard told to him by the GBH owner played by F Murray Abraham. So you have details from the girl, Wilkinson, Abraham and the actors.  This makes it seem like even more of a fairytale.  It is also set in a fictional town of Zubrowka (again more fairytale like).

It’s kind of a convoluted plot but basically it is about a concierge of the hotel named Gustave played by Ralph Fiennes and his devoted lobby boy played by Tony Revolori.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-5Gustave is dedicated to the hotel and to giving great service with rewards from the elderly female patrons on the side.  One of the patrons played by Tilda Swinton gives him a valuable painting on her death. Her family is furious and so feeling it is his right he steals the painting and flees.

What follows is a cat and mouse chase with a lot of humor and whimsey.  We get a ton of actors involved in the chase including Adrien Brody, William Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson.

the-grand-budapest-hotel-movie-5

It does get a little tiresome after a while but it isn’t that long of a movie so I was ok with the story and the Anderson cuteness. Like I said, it fit this particular tale better than some of his others and was generally nicer too. Some of his more popular movies I have a hard time bonding with because the characters come across as kind of mean and unlikable. (see I am so not a hipster).

But this I liked.  It isn’t my favorite movie by a long shot but I enjoyed the style, story was fun and performances all very good.

It does have nudity that is quick and easy to miss but strong and a fair amount of profanity so I would say adults or mature teens only.

gbhotelI would love to see Wes Anderson try his eclectic style in a different genre.  Like what could he do with a comic book movie or a musical?  I guess he kind of did that with Fantastic Mr Fox, which is my favorite Anderson film, despite it being more for adults than kids in pacing and tone.

Content Grade- D, Overall Grade- B

Any of you seen either of these?  What did you think? What a great year 2014 was for movies! I can’t think of another better in nearly every genre (don’t start a debate on that topic bc it really doesn’t matter what year is best.  I just really liked this one!).

Please put in your comments what you thought of either film? I’d love to hear.  Both are seemingly different but have a certain challenge to conventional storytelling which I really dug. Fun times at the movies!