My daughter sent me the video embedded below. It's not really a movie; it's actually an ad (for batteries, actually). But as she says, it's one of the best ads ever. And considering a certain football game that will be played on Sunday — you know which one I mean — I thought it was appropriate to post here. See if you agree.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, some kids I knew were always getting punished by teachers for what was then termed “fidgeting.” I had my own occasional problems with the condition, which occurred usually because I was bored. Since the 1970s, though, we've come to realize that some among us have real problems with concentration. It's an actual psychiatric disorder.
What, though, do we call it when something similar hits society as a whole? When our day-to-day activities, from simply walking down the street to engaging in the mechanics of our respective jobs, become secondary to our obsession with … say, our smartphones?
If you've seen the Spike Jonze movie “Her” (or “her,” which is how the movie actually spells it), you know that Jonze's screenplay takes us into a near-future, not-that-different world in which everyone seems to be more involved with his/her phone/laptop/etc. and its OS than with the people who are all around them. The richness of Jonze's movie is that nothing in it seems all that farfetched.
The essentials of “Her” can be found, perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), in today's Slice column by Paul Turner. My former colleague writes about recommending a 2006 movie to his sister-in-law but lamenting that she'll likely miss several key scenes “because she will be looking at the screen on one of her hand-held gadgets.”
I feel Paul's pain. An article I just read on my iPhone emphasizes how concerned we all should be.
So the Oscar nominations won't be out until Thursday. But the Golden Globes awards, which were handed out Sunday night, give some indication as to what we can expect when, on March 2, the Motion Picture Academy finally awards those little gold statuettes. And most indications point … well, all over the place.
Acting: Cate Blanchett (GG Drama for “Blue Jasmine”) seems to be a solid choice for Best Actress, though Amy Adams (GG Musical or Comedy for “American Hustle”) is a contender, and Jennifer Lawrence (GG Supporting Actress for “American Hustle”) seems like an equal bet for the supporting category.
Matthew McConaughey (GG Drama for “Dallas Buyers' Club”) improved his chances, though he was going up against some pretty formidable competition in Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejoifor, Tom Hanks and Robert Redford. And that's not even taking into consideration Leonardo DiCaprio (GG Musical or Comedy for “The Wolf of Wall Straat”). Jared Leto (GG Supporting Actor for “Dallas Buyers' Club”) seems also to be a front-runner in support, though Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle”) and Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) are strong possibilities.
Direction: Alfonso Cuarón (GG “Gravity”) is a popular, and deserving, choice. Though some Academy support is bound to flow toward David O. Russell (“American Hustle”), Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and even Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips”).
Best Film: The GG for Drama went to “!2 Years a Slave,” Steve McQueen's version of a true tale. The GG for Musical or Comedy, meanwhile, went to … “American Hustle,” which just goes to show you how strange the GG nomination process is. The Oscar race should be between those two and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Her.” Adding confusion is the fact that Spike Jonze's imaginative “Her” won the GG for Best Screenplay.
So, the Oscar nominations might not offer too many surprises — unless Hollywood wants to overlook McConaughey again (as it did last year with “Magic Mike”). But who will finally take home gold? We'll have to wait for some other awards ceremonies (Director's Guild, Screen Actor's Guild, etc.) to get a better idea.
See you March 2.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said the 2014 Oscar nominations would be out Wednesday.
Above photo: Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers' Club.”
So why did I post the above photo? Because it is so galactically cool. And because I could.
Even as two of the best-reviewed films of 2014 play in Spokane theaters — I'm speaking, of course, about Spike Jonze's “Her” and the Coen Brothers' “Inside Llewyn Davis” — knowledgeable movie fans are girding up for the 2014 version of the Spokane International Film Festival. The 16th edition of the festival opens on Thursday, Jan. 23.
As always, SpIFF offers a variety of full-length movies (20 of them), features and documentaries, and shorts (34). The overall schedule represents work from 25 different countries, but the Pacific Northwest is well represented in all categories — especially considering the Best of Northwest Shorts program.
The opening-night movie, Australia's “The Rocket,” will be play at AMC's River Park Square Theatres. It will be followed by an opening party, which will be held at the mall's Kress Gallery. The closing-night party will follow the Feb. 1 screening of “Matterhorn,” which will screen at the Bing Crosby Theater. In between, two filmmaker forums will be held at the Magic Lantern Theater.
And don't forget the Jan. 25 premiere of the new addition to the “Transolar Galactica” series, which will include an audience Q&A with the cast and crew.
For information on how to buy tickets, click here.
Even though I still haven’t seen “Her,” the Spike Jonze movie that is making so many 2013 best-of lists, I had to narrow down a list of my favorites films in time to record the show that we do for Spokane Public Radio – “Movies 101.” So here it is.
Let me just emphasize that 2013 was one of the best years, overall, in recent memory. In past years, many good films, everything from “Frances Ha” to “The Dallas Buyer’s Club,” might have made the list. Indeed, we did just live through a good year. Let’s hope 2014 offers half as much quality.
12 Years a Slave
No film in 2013 had more of an effect on me than this examination of slavery, directed by the British visual artist Steve McQueen. Based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northrup, McQueen’s movies tells the story of a free black man living in New York who was lured to Washington, D.C., then kidnapped and sent south where he spent a dozen years living in a series of plantations. This is no fantasyland life-on-the-plantation tale such as “Gone With the Wind,” nor is it a revenge fantasy such as “Django.” It is an ongoing nightmare of cultural sociopathy, in which religion is used as the excuse to treat fellow humans as little more than beasts of burden. Given McQueen’s background as a visual artist, it’s no surprise that the film is shot well. It’s also acted well, not just by McQueen regular Michael Fassbender as an insane master but also by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup, Lupita Nyong’o and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Woody Allen is 78 yet, based on his last few films, he is showing more energy than ever. And fueled by one of the great-ever screen performances, by Cate Blanchett, it is an artistic exercise: How do you rouse sympathy for a woman who is so vulnerably, painfully and hatefully un-self-aware? Allen answers that by documenting her slow meltdown, beginning with a typical Allen moment – seeing the woman chattering on an airplane, which we discover is her badgering of her fellow passenger. Aided by an able cast, including Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin and even Andrew Dice Clay, “Blue Jasmine” is a dark-spirited Allen film that both savages its protagonists and yet invites you, maybe even convinces you, to feel sorry for her.
Directed by Richard Linklater, this is the third entry in a series that began in 1995 with “Before Sunrise” and continued in 2004 with “Before Sunset.” The story of the couple Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, seems to have come full circle as, now parents trying to balance dueling careers and raising two cuter-than-bug children with all the pressures that comes with any marriage, not to mention one that bridges cultures, they seem to be falling apart. It’s touching, heartbreaking and reaffirming all at once. The series, which was basically Linklater’s idea at first, has become a true corroboration as Hawke and Delpy have partnered with him to help write their characters’ stories.
Based his film on a true story that happened on New Year’s Day 2009, writer-director Ryan Coogler captures everything that led up to, and includes, that day’s fateful and fatal event: the shooting of Oscar Grant III in an Oakland BART terminal by a police officer. Yet most of the day involves Oscar going through his everyday life, trying to get back the job he lost, showing all the youthful impetuousness that both makes him charming and demonstrates the frustrations that can erupt in anger at any moment. This is fiction done as if a documentary, and it is propelled by a stirring performance by Michael B. Jordan as Oscar, Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend and baby-mama. Powerful and moving.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Famous for its sex scenes, which are graphic and memorable even if they make up only a fraction of the near-three-hour running time, this film by Tunisian-French writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche is actually a coming-of-age tale, centering on a young woman’s slow realization of love, lust and what it means in particular for someone whose sexual orientation is toward her own sex. It features a star-making performance by newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos and a fine supporting role for established star Lea Seydoux. All three shared the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, for the first time the award has been presented to a movie’s cast members as well as its director.
Short Term 12
Speaking of emerging stars, Brie Larson is another hot commodity, appearing in three 2013 films: “The Spectacular Now,” “Don Jon” and “Short Term 12” – and she is so different in each that she’s virtually unrecognizable. Here, she plays Grace, the aptly/ironically named head of a facility that houses troubled teens. Written and directed by Dustin Cretton, the film follows Grace as she struggles to help her charges, have a relationship with her work partner Mason (John Gallagher Jr. of HBO’s “The Newsroom”) and resolve her own troubled past. Powerful yet restrained, never striving to be anything more than a mere revealing of this various cast of characters, “Short Term 12” is memorable for the effect it leaves: realistic but hopeful.
The Spectacular Now
Coming-of-age teen films are so common that it feels as if every possible story line has been done. And that feeling applies to “The Spectacular Now,” a film directed by James Ponsoldt that follows our protagonist Sutter (Miles Teller) as he begins his senior year seemingly on top of the world. But Sutter has love affair with alcohol, and when he loses his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), then picks up with “the girl in high school no one ever seems to notice” Aimee (the ever-excellent Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants”), he slowly comes to realize that he is headed nowhere, with a bottle of booze shakily in hand. Painful and revealing, “The Spectacular Now” gives us something refreshing: a familiar tale told with a new feel and told spectacularly well.
Alexander Payne (“Citizen Ruth,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants”) gives us another familiar storyline: a guy in his late 30s, still struggling to find a life, suddenly cast into the role of parental caretaker. In this case, former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Will Forte is the guy, David, and 77-year-old Bruce Dern is his father, Woody. Seems Woody is intent on traveling from his home in Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to pick up his sweepstakes million-dollar “winnings.” David, being the decent, ineffectual guy he is, agrees to drive his dad there – and, along the way, he comes to a grudging kind of resolution about his father and, one hopes, his own place in life. Dern’s performance was enough to win him a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Inside Llewyn Davis
One of the most opaque movies the Coen brothers have given us, this period piece is set in 1961 during the folk-music revival. It centers on a talented, if troubled, singer played by Oscar Isaac (Prince John in the Russell Crowe “Robin Hood,” the troubled husband in Ryan Gosling’s “Drive”). Llewyn is struggling to make it in the folk biz after his former partner has, unaccountably, committed suicide. Beautifully shot by Bruno Delbonnel (“Amelie”), “Inside Llewyn Davis” won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. A kind of looping road movie, it’s a fable for the vagaries of fame and fortune in show biz, contrasting Llewyn’s real talent for singing plaintive songs “(Hang Me”) with a talent manager’s dismissive attitude (“I don’t hear see a lot of money here,” F. Murray Abraham says). It closes with the sounds of a Bob Dylan type warbling in the background, prescient as to what would happen next.
Alfonso Cuarón is one of the most dependable directors working today, having made everything from sci-fi (“Chldren of Men”) to fantasy (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) to coming-of-age studies (“Y Tu Mamá También”). This study of what happens following an accident involving the International Space Station is a cinematic theme-park ride that is the best example of 3-D big-screen thrills since “Avatar.” It’s not a deep meditation of being and nothingness, but it is a perfect example of how good adventure cinema can be with just a bit of imagination and directorial know how. It also helps that the actress Cuarón cast, Sandra Bullock, both looks good in closeup and is capable of pulling off the emotional moments needed for our suspension of disbelief to be complete.
My second 10: “Captain Phillips,” “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear,” “Mother of George,” “La Grande Belleza,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “American Hustle,” “Stories We Tell,” “The Act of Killing,” “Philomena,” “Much Ado About Nothing”
It's one thing to compile a list of your favorite films of the year. It's quite another to compile your favorite movie quotes of the year. That, though, is exactly what writer Beth Hanna did on the website Thompson on Hollywood.
For example, one of my favorites is this line from Sofia Coppola's film “The Bling Ring” (uttered by Emma Watson, above, playing Nicki): “I’m a firm believer in Karma, and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me. I want to lead a country one day, for all I know.”
To see Hanna's top 10 movie quotes for 2013, click here.
The Director's Guild of America has announced its nominations for 2013 movies. The nominees (for those too lazy to click on the link):
Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” (pictured above).
Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips.”
Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave.”
David O. Russell for “American Hustle.”
Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Notable trivia: Scorsese's is his 11th nomination (he won for his 2006 film “The Departed”). Cuaron, Greengrass and McQueen all are enjoying their first nominations, Russell his second (“The Fighter,” 2010). Note: An earlier version of this post had mistakenly identified Russell's first DGA-nominated film as “The Wrestler,' which was — as Pete Porter points out — was directed by Darren Aronofsky.
The winner will be announced during ceremonies on Jan. 25.
Little bit of something for everyone in the movie theaters this Friday.
For the mainstream action lovers: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Chris Pine is the latest to play Tom Clancy's hero.
(Update: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” has been moved to Friday, Jan. 17.)
For the military-minded: “Lone Survivor.” Mark Wahlberg plays a real-life SEAL survivor.
For the family-phobic: “August: Osage County.” Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep get in each other's hair.
For the locally minded: “Different Drummers.” Don Caron and Lyle Hatcher adapt a real-life tale of inspiration.
For lovers of schlock: “Legend of Hercules.” The strongman comes of age, which marks a comeback for director Renny Harlin.
For Coen-philes: “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The Coen brothers tell a story about the vagaries of talent and fame.
For Jonze-philes: “Her.” Spike Jonze tells a tale of a man who falls in love with his phone.
I finally got around to reviewing “47 Ronin,” which is exactly the kind of movie that I like to see when I expect nothing from the experience. Even so, I should have been prepared for just how quickly the film would fade from my consciousness. Following is the review that I wore for Spokane Public Radio:
I’m not sure what’s more interesting: the historical incident behind the movie “47 Ronin” or the real-life struggle involved in the movie’s production. One thing, though, is clear: Both are more intriguing than the actual movie itself.
The tale of “The 47 Ronin” so embodies certain aspects of Japanese culture that it’s hard to separate truth from myth. The film is based on an incident that, records say, occurred in the early sixteenth century. Feeling insulted, a Japanese lord named Asano attacked another samurai, Lord Kira, in the presence of the Shogun. This, being prohibited, led to an order of ritual suicide for Asano and confiscation of his lands, which left his followers as masterless samurai – or ronin. One of these now-ronin, Oishi, schemed to avenge his dead master. And, after fooling everyone by pretending to be drunk and dissolute, Oishi led his 46 followers in a successful secret attack that the Japanese still celebrate as an example of supreme loyalty.
Universal Studios began production on a movie version of the tale some five years ago. The studio hired a virtual unknown, Carl Rinsch – whose main talent, to this point, had been in making video ads – to direct. Moreover, the project would include the mixed-race American actor Keanu Reeves. Cast as Kai, Reeves plays the quote-unquote “half-breed” who, as a young boy, is adopted as a kind of pet by Lord Asano. Following Asano’s death, Oishi – who until then had resented Kai – enlists the half-breed’s help. Reports were of a troubled shoot involving a number of delays but an even more-troubled post-production. Some stories say Universal even removed director Rinsch from the editing room – leaving executives to make the final cut.
Either way, what results is less a mess than a mere curiosity. For one thing, the script – which was co-written by Chris Morgan, one of the “Fast and Furious” series authors – adds in an ample doses of magic and witchcraft, which serves not only to excuse Asano’s initial, seemingly cowardly attack, but also to explain why the lesser-caste Kai exhibits such great sword skills. For another, Morgan’s script shoehorns in a romance between Kai and Lord Asano’s daughter, Mika (played by Ko Shibasaki) – which, though understandable from a plot point, is so far from something historically possible as to be emanating from “Harry Potter” land.
Of course, the real reason why anyone would go to see a film such as “47 Ronin” has nothing to do with historical or cultural importance, much less romance. It would be to see the fight scenes, especially rendered in 3-D. But as in so many other contemporary action flicks, Rinsch’s “47 Ronin” emphasizes quantity over quality. So much goes in each frame that individual moments, not to mention actors, get lost in the seemingly endless blur. As a contrast, watch any of Akira Kurosawa’s non-CGI films – “Sanjuro,” “Yojimbo” or, especially, “Seven Samurai” – each of which serves as a master class in how to direct movie action.
As for Reeves, who has been largely absent since the 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” … well, I admit it: The man can sure swing a sword. At the same time he proves, yet again, that mere presence does not a movie actor make.
It's already two days into the new year, yet — typical of Spokane — local theaters have yet to play a number of the films that are making the best-of-2013 lists. Two at the very top are “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and “Her,” written and directed by Spike Jonze.
The fact that neither film has played locally didn't stop Nathan Weinbender, staff writer for The Spokesman-Review, from including both on the list that he compiled. In fact, he made them his top two choices (you can access that list here).
I'm still working on mine, as is Mary Pat Treuthart — who along with Nathan, is my Movies 101 cohost — but we'll both be ready to release them next week. Just in time for one, and maybe both, of Nathan's favorites to open somewhere we can all see them.
My Facebook friend, John Waite — who likes to refer to himself as “Head Monkey at Merlyn's Spokane” — posts some interesting links on a regular basis. In direct contrast to my immediate previous post, John linked to a Popular Mechanics story that polled scientists about their favorite science-fiction films. The list, which can be accessed here, includes some of my favorite all-time movies.
Most of us, save for my one millionaire pal, are looking for bargains. And even more of us, including my rich pal, actively seek out convenience. This is why services such as MoviePass are in business. They offer, for a fee, what appears to be an easy way to score movie tickets and, possibly, get special deals in the process.
I was looking through the e-mails that were littering up my inbox this morning, and I saw a come-on from MoviePass. It was curious in that it offered up what it titled “The Top 10 Movies of 2013.” Hmmmm, I thought, what kinds of interesting movies made that list? And I scanned down before even skimming the subhed, which qualified the first pronouncement: “What did MoviePass subscribers see this year?”
Here is the list:
OK, I admit to having seen all those movies. I even liked some of them (well, at least “World War Z” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”). But none of them, nary a one, is going to rank on my Top 10 list. Or even my top 20. Most are the same kind of unimaginative pap the Hollywood keeps putting out, often rendered with bigger imagery and sound — causing budgets to soar into the stratosphere — in an effort to distract us from the often-lame story lines.
And I being elitist here? Separating myself from the mass of moviegoers who go to the theater merely to be entertained? Maybe. But maybe I just define entertainment differently. As I say, I saw all the movies listed above. And I approached each one with the same attitude: I'm in the movies, this is magic time, I want to be thrilled. And often I was, but typically only for moments. None of these movies ended up transporting me anywhere outside myself for long.
So, I am going to pass up the “opportunity” to join MoviePass. I just don't want to be part of a group with which I have so little in common, no matter what the savings might be.
By the way, as an example of my own filmgoing tastes, four of films on my own Top 10 List for 2013 are “Fruitvale Station,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Before Midnight” and “12 Years a Slave.” I'll fill out the remaining six in time for our Jan. 10 “Movies 101” show.
In the push for holiday entertainment, moviegoers may be ignoring one of the better films playing in theaters right now. Not that I can criticize anyone who would rather not be reminded of such things as racism, institutional injustice and violence during a time we like to reserve for gift-giving and family togetherness. That said, the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is worth a view.
The main reason is obvious: Nelson Mandela, more so than most other political leaders I can name, ended up turning away from violence and opting for a policy of forgiveness aimed at the very people who had virtually enslaved his people and made him a criminal. Yet to portray Mandela as a perfect human being would be no only dishonest but wrong, and the film avoids that trap: Just 18 minutes in, “Long Walk to Freedom” shows the man breaking some fairly basic vows. The movie had me from that point on because I was fairly certain it was going to temper reverence with at least a version of the truth.
Overall, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” works best because of the performance by Idris Elba. Famous for playing both Stringer Bell in the HBO miniseries “The Wire” and DCI John Luther in the BBC miniseries “Luther,” Elba — though not a physical match for the man he portrays — manages to capture the speech patterns and the contrasting emotions facing a man who ends up losing 27 years of his life in prison yet ends up freeing his people.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a holiday film in the best meaning of that term.
It's been a long time since I've seen a Keanu Reeves movie. Of course, “47 Ronin” is hardly your standard Reeves movie. Contrary to the trailers, Reeves' character — a “half-breed” Japanese citizen named Kai — is only one of the leads. And, arguably, not even the most important. That hardly matters, though. Even given the fact that my brother and I chose to see the film in 3D (unnecessarily, as it turns out), “47 Ronin” proved to be a diverting view.
Set in the 18th century, “47 Ronin” is a fictionalized retelling of a real-life Japanese historical incident involving a group of samurai who disobeyed their Shogun so as to avenge the killing of their master (whose death had made them masterless, or “ronin”). It is, the movie states, a story that is still celebrated in modern Japan, revering as it does the ideals of loyalty, integrity and valuing honor over life itself. Director Carl Rinsch, working from a group-think screenplay, tells the story with an augmented sense of magic and sword-play voodoo that, apparently, was meant to make the film more “Harry Potter” than “Ran.”
Bad idea, it turns out. Yet though the film is being called a financial disaster — one story claims the $175 million production, which has earned barely $14 million since opening on Christmas day, will be the year's biggest flop — that shouldn't affect those desiring to see a holiday action flick. Especially those who want to avoid the Oscar-grabbing big titles or any heavily publicized based-on-real-event films honoring the U.S. military (we get enough of that during virtually every television sporting event).
Still, I'd suggest avoiding the extra expense of 3D. Save your money to see “Gravity” in 3D. Again.