Short Film Saturday: Anatomy of a Snow Day

I have previously featured films by Zachary Maxwell. First, was an exposé of public school lunches Yuck; next, a child’s last letter to Santa Claus; most recently, a film about ADD and ADHD. Now comes an investigation into the factors and machinations of decisions about snow days for New York Public Schools.

Not to give too much away but the touched upon rarity of the days does create a circle that closes and is underscored humorously. Once again the film is funny an informative.

I believe that at this point it’s impossible to jinx things this winter. We’re not out of the woods yet with a little more than three weeks to the vernal equinox, so it still is topical.

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Free Movie Friday: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

If you’re going to watch the new dark sitcom with this very name starting on Fox on the first perhaps first you’d like to go back and see how AIP and Vincent Price handled a story with the same name. It’s sure to be a different take than what Lord and Miller have in mind, but it is well worth your while. Enjoy!

Mini-Review: Brooklyn Castle

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Brooklyn Castle

A few things with regards to documentaries that most of the good ones prove true is that: the quality of the documentary is determined by the filmmaking and not by the subject being examined, and, second, when making a documentary you have to go where the story is taking you and not the other way around.

Clearly if you enjoy chess this will be a film you are drawn to. However, this film works well enough, and focuses enough on its the people involved and their journey, such that it should connect with anyone and everyone.

While the story of a junior high school (I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, NY) where the chess team not only excels in unparalleled ways, but also where the players not the outcasts but some of the most popular kids in school, is certainly enough of a hook; it carries even further significance following the recent economic crash. While we engage readily in the personal struggles, victories and defeats big and small alike, there is a greater game at play as budgeting becomes a large concern of the film and the importance of extracurricular activities in the lives of students, both academically and otherwise, is made abundantly clear.

It is the people whom we get to know that drive and tell this story. What the filmmakers do is craft the tale for maximum efficacy that allows you to connect with the tale. Perhaps having seen a successful program personified it may convince others of the vitality they possess and why they should be preserved. It really is a great film that will put a smile on your face, get your rooting for these kids and make you wish all students had a program like it available to them.

10/10

Review: Lilting

Lilting offers a sensitive look at two people coping with the loss of a loved one and trying to reach some common understanding and hold on to their dearest memories. There are quite a few barriers they must overcome to try and reach that, just one of which is language. The title may refer to the tonal quality of a song that is a cornerstone of one memory and a particular sentiment, but also can be indicative of the certain uplift that exists in this bittersweet tale.

The synopsis is as follows:

In contemporary London, a Cambodian Chinese mother mourns the untimely death of her son. Her world is further disrupted by the presence of a stranger. We observe their difficulties in trying to connect with one another without a common language, as through a translator they begin to piece together memories of a man they both loved.

This is a film that, as is intimated in the above synopsis, does feature quite a few flashback sequences. That’s not really divulging a secret as it starts in one and the break back into the present is quite elegant and effective. It’s a film that certainly adheres to the rule of thumb about breaking chronology if it makes the film better. Here where you are dealing with two people coping with a lost the past is a pivotal player and constantly intrudes on the present.

What’s interesting is here you have another multicultural film, a story in part of immigration abroad and of globalized cinema, wherein translation plays a role. Vann (Naomi Christie) is brought in to proceedings to translate conversations between Alan (Peter Bowles) and Junn (Cheng Pei-Pei, as she was credited in this film) who have caught each other’s fancy at the retirement home they’re in. Eventually Vann allows Richard (Ben Whishaw) and Junn to talk to one another and try to get a better feel for each other as well.

As this is a film that is clearly driven by its characters, their interactions and what they must overcome the cast becomes a key component of the success of the film. Ben Whishaw and Andrew Leung have real connection and chemistry and with less screentime and playing a ghost Leung has to supercede his allotted screentime and create a far bigger presence and does just that. Whishaw also has to play the torn character carrying the burden of a secret and a sort of noblesse oblige to Junn, who in turn is wonderfully rendered by Pei-pei Cheng who gives her character a sense of real dimension hitting all the notes asked of her. Naomi Christie and Peter Bowles as intermediary figures round out the ensemble and add different perspectives than those of the sometimes-combatant parties, and also add some humor and additional emotional investment.

This film is one that will be coming to home video in the US through Strand Releasing and is one with a bit of an Award pedigree with nominations at the BAFTAs, BIFAs and Sundance that is worth looking out for. While one aspect of the ending leaves you needing to engage some suspension of disbelief and let it go there is a bit of closure, although its not as powerful as some other moments in the story.

It is a tidily wrapped up simple, short story that moves quite well and is evocative without being cloying and is definitely recommended.

7/10

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Pictures and Directors- Actors Awarded as Directors

Introduction

As it turned out this post also was a bit more involved than I initially realized before I embarked on it for the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon.

The idea of the post was to briefly talk about the handful of men who have won Best Director despite the fact they were better known as actors for most of their career. However, the desire to be a completist, and investigating gray areas makes the list a bit longer than initially realized. All of these directors deserve some mention. So I will discuss them all and delineate the tiers they appear in.

Essentially, the fact-checking for this post was done by checking filmographies of Best Director winners. Directors who had only walk-on, cameo or “Find Hitch” type appearances do not qualify. To be mentioned by name the directors needed to: A) Have won Best Director B) Have not been awarded as an actor C) Have had acting credits prior to directing credits.

Now there are levels of notoriety and role which is why many of the directors deserve mention but aren’t necessarily in the same echelon as one another.

Peripherally Acting

Casablanca (1942, Warner Bros.)

Michael Curtiz (won for Casablanca) acted in the first short he directed in Hungary (credited as Kertész Mihály) and other silent shorts. He never truly established himself as an actor though.

On the Waterfront (1954, Columbia Picture)

Elia Kazan (won for Gentleman’s Agreement and On the Waterfront) again bears mentioning since he has a screen credit before a directing one, but does not rate as highly as the next level.

Started as Actors, but Are More Well-Known as Directors

7th Heaven (1927, 20th Century Fox)

Frank Borzage (won for 7th Heaven and Bad Girl) is borderline only because his first acting credit and directorial credit were the same film The Mystery of Yellow Aster Mine in 1913. Borzage’s 113 credits from 1913-1957 certainly include him in the company of thespians even if not a leading-man type.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, MGM)

Frank Lloyd (won for The Divine Lady, Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty) definitely has enough credits 63, but most of them were silent shorts. However, these is a bit of longevity (through 1955) that it does bear mentioning.

How Green Was My Valley (1941, 20th Century Fox)

John Ford (won for The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man) had 22 acting credits between 1913-1917 as Jack Ford. That was brief and before the Oscars, but he did clearly start as an actor first.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, Warner Bros.)

John Huston (won for Treasure of the Sierra Madre) -Many credits and many before directorial debut starting in a 1929 short, but his notoriety behind the camera was always higher despite some high-profile onscreen appearances like playing Noah in The Bible: In the Beginning…

Giant (1956, Warner Bros.)

George Stevens (won for Giant and A Place in the Sun) bears mentioning simply because he has two silent credits The Tigress (1915) and Whispers (1920), but he was clearly a director more so than an actor.

Midnight Cowboy (1969, UA)

John Schlesinger (Won for Midnight Cowboy) had credits as characters, mostly on TV before directing for the first time.

A Beautiful Mind (2001, Universal/DreamWorks)

Ron Howard (Won for A Beautiful Mind) this categorization is generationally sensitive. Yes, I’ve seen The Andy Griffith Show and Howard’s other work as a young actor. Aside from making the occasional appearance Ron Howard has not kept up consistent onscreen appearances enough for me to consider him someone who has always done both. He has been directing features since 1982 so I consider him officially transitioned, especially considering he has helmed one of my all-time favorites Parenthood.

Has Always Done Both

Annie Hall (1977, UA)

Woody Allen (won Best Director for Annie Hall) made his acting, writing and directorial debut in What’s New Pussycat. While he’s not quite Orson Welles in this regard (I’ve always felt that Woody Allen was a bit under-appreciated as an actor). Yes, he rarely works someone else’s material, and has a very specific type, and limited range, but so do other people.

Borderline

Ahh, here come those honorary awards again.

Henry V (1944, Eagle-Lion Distributors)

Laurence Olivier amazingly never won a competitive Oscar. In 1947 he won an honorary prize that cited all his work on Henry V:

For his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing ‘Henry V’ to the screen.

More Well-Known as Actors but Won as Directors

Ordinary People (1980, Paramount)

Robert Redford (Won for Ordinary People): his prowess as an actor is not debatable. However, Redford only ever has received one Best Actor nomination. His Oscar wins have been honorary and for directing.

Reds (1981, Paramount)

Warren Beatty (Won for Reds) has been nominated three times as an actor. He’s directed and written a number of films but is likely best known as an actor. Beatty’s only hardware from the Academy came behind the camera.

Gandhi (1982, Columbia)

Richard Attenborough (Won for Gandhi) had his first screen credit in 1943. His directorial debut came in 1969. There are other standouts in his resume as a director (A Bridge Too Far, A Chorus Line, Chaplin, Shadowlands) but I think most casual film fans likely know him best for his appearance in Jurassic Park, which is why I included him in this section.

Out of Africa (1985, Universal)

Sydney Pollack (Won for Out of Africa) his first credit was on TV in 1956 and his first directing credit came in 1961. I do recall seeing him in many things, which is why I include him here even though he was never an award threat like some legends on this list.

Dances with Wolves (1991, Orion)

Kevin Costner (Won for Dances with Wolves) Costner now on a comeback trail in recent years was always more synonymous with acting and movie-stardom. However, that’s not to say he’s never had award-caliber performances. JFK comes immediately to mind. However, it was for his fashioning of a film behind the scenes that he received an Oscar.

Unforgiven (1992, Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood (Won for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) at this point in his long an illustrious career it’s hard to say if Eastwood is more known as a director or actor. It may be, like many, a generationally-dependent answer. Eastwood in essence helped redefine the Western genre and give it new life and that’s outside of Dirty Harry films and some departures like Honkytonk Man so it is mildly surprising his first statuette came behind the camera.

Braveheart (1995, Paramoutn/20th Century Fox)

Mel Gibson (Won for Bravehart) Gibson came on to the scene in an Oscar-nominated film (A Year of Living Dangerously) and was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and into the 1990s. His directorial resume is more accomplished than Costner’s but like Costner he first won as a director. His acceptance speech where he joked “What I really want to do now is act,” is largely responsible for my writing this post.

Argo (2012, Warner Bros.)

Ben Affleck (Won for Argo) here’s an interesting one. Affleck came on the scene as one of the co-writers and co-stars of Good Will Hunting. His acting career has been a bit more up-and-down than Matt Damon’s in terms of successes and perception. However, he has been the one who had a career behind the camera (writing and directing) take off. Affleck is now rebounding as an actor as well and has had enough notable onscreen appearance that I think of him as an actor first even though he is highly accomplished and capable on the other side.

Conclusion

Oscar’s at times curious desire to award well-liked actors in other capacities will likely not end soon and it is interesting to consider where they have already done so.

Music Video Monday: U2 – Iris (Hold Me Close)

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

U2 –Iris (Hold Me Close)

Yes, U2 tried to make us listen to this album whether we wanted to or not, but that doesn’t mean the whole album is an entire loss. Furthermore, upon comparing my impression of this song after seeing a fan video and seeing this, it’s much higher now. There are times when the right images set to music do matter.

It’s a simple, well-told story. Potter fans will also recognize Ryan Turner from The Deathly Hallows – Part 2.

To see the video follow the link below:

U2 – Iris (Hold Me Close)

87th Annual Academy Awards

Introduction

It’s that time again. In this post I will be live-blogging my random thoughts on the ceremony. A good way to kick -off such a post is to include a hilarious parody I just saw today from Dan Schneider writer/producer of several Nickelodeon shows including Henry Danger, which provides the world and actors (Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman) for this parody. Enjoy!

Also, here are some of my pre-Red Carpet tweets in anticipation.

Red Carpet

Tuned in way late. I guess the annoying half-hour preshow that’s mandatory attendance has forced arrivals to start earlier.

I wish Josh had shaved, but oh well. Shall I do the whole couture angle?

Didn’t recognize either Faith Hill or Tim McGraw.

Benjamin Button isn’t the one that doesn’t age, that’s Dorian Gray.

I wonder if kids watching this now are having a “Who’s that?” moment seeing Melanie Griffith with Dakota Johnson, as many likely had when Tippi Hedren attended with Melanie?

“I’m Brigitta, she’s Louisa. She’s thirteen years old, and you’re smart! I’m ten, and I think your dress is the ugliest one I ever saw!” -Lady GaGa in The Sound of Music tribute.

I think I like that jacket Ansel. Always in favor of something a little different for men as we have less options.

Brilliantly articulated thoughts by Miles Teller. Great stuff. Fan now!

So is that William Moseley from Narnia in that new E! show that looks questionable?

Rosamund Pike is red that works, unlike some others on this broadcast.

Time for the time-wasting show.

Finally seeing more outfits now. Yellow and Gold making statements with Stone and Moretz.

Great to see Robin Roberts working the show.

Yay, the countdown is teasing us.

Ceremony

OK, have been absent due to guests and a problem-child dog.

Very cool that there was a Devo theme to some costumes in “Everything is Awesome” considering Mothersbaugh started there.

Niel Patrick Harris is having some great moments, not just the song but the obligatory “movies are great” speech also.

Unsurprising that Ida and J.K. Simmons won, but their speeches made up for the lack of surprise in who was awarded.

Lots of good selections to choose from in the Live Action shorts. I wish Boogaloo and Graham had gotten it though.

Awesome dedication to crisis center workers.

Didn’t get to see the Short Subject docs.

So all the Lifetime Awards were moved to the Governors Awards. Sad.

My post where many of those winners are listed.

So no Interstellar sound awards. So I got that portion right.

Patricia Arquette: great speech! We always need a statement.

So this is the year Disney gets Best Animated Short? Really?

YAY, for not How to Train Your Dragon 2. I do love Big Hero 6 though.

Good to see Octavia Spencer and Charlie Rowe at the Oscars. Cancellations happen to good actors too and I hope to see them in something again real soon.

“In A Million Ways to Die in the West I pooped in a hat.”

Birdman getting Cinematography is not surprise and well-earned. I just wish Black & White hasn’t had such a long drought.

Can the awkwardness Terence Howard had to offer be topped?

Predicting an Oscar moment is never a way to do things.

In case I’ve not stated it:

I LOVE THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

The Sound of Music (1965, 20th Century Fox)

Is wanting Desplat to have won for something else, too gripey? LOL.

Now it’s time to play “How late are they going to run, anyway?”

Birdman!

OK, I am extraordinarily pleased with this year’s screenwriting winners!

Graham Moore has the most emotional speech so far.

Was predicting a split between Boyhood and Birdman but maybe I had it the wrong way around?

Interesting that they bumped Best Director up in the order.

Amen, to Alejandro’s sentiments on art, competition and time.

Only recently discovered what two Academy Award nominated films (Mr. Turner and Still Alice) are about. Hope to see both soon.

Best Picture presenter is always a bit of a curveball.

Great closing quotes from Keaton and Iñárritu.

Goodnight  everybody!

Batman (1989, Warner Bros.)

Review – Life According to Nino

The synopsis provided for Life According to Nino is as follows:

Life is good for Nino van Doorn (8). He has a terrific brother Lucas (14), wise father Bruno and an angel of a mother, Marla. When Marla dies, Bruno can’t cope with her death. Also the values like order, responsibility, love and care they represented. The two brothers create their own world. But soon the anarchistic world is threatened by the outside world. The two brothers are prepared to fool the system but what happens is that they really become a family again.

Life According to Nino takes a potentially dour story and infuses it with some humor, vitality and quite a bit of heart to make it a fully satisfying and not at all run-of-the-mill family story.

Recently Paddington got some much deserved praise for many things but especially for underplaying the talking bear angle. In this film Nino, after a year has passed since his mother’s death, starts to hear what animals are sating, especially his rabbit Bobby. Hearing animals is not the largest focal point of this film, indicative of handling of family films overseas, especially in Benelux. What this allows is the film to keep its focus where it most needs to be (reunification of the family) and allows that aspect of the film play out naturally; for a child’s imagination is fertile and talking to friends real or imagined will happen.

This aspect of the film is buoyed by the fact that the dialogue and and voice talent assembled to voice the animals is great. It keeps that aspect of the film as light as it should be and allows it to balance the more serious moments the film has to offer.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that in social services getting involved at the insistence of some helicopter parent neighbors the trio start become very self-conscious as part of their examination involves the installation of surveillance cameras in their house. They act the part of a proper family and feel extraordinarily awkward. Hilarity ensues but then they eventually do figure out how to function again and it is useful in two ways.

Koen De Graeve is an actor who I’ve recently become quite familiar with after not having consciously seen him prior. With a breakout Best Actor nomination for Time of My Life in 2013, then that was followed up with a film in a similar vain in In the Heart. Here he completes a kind of “Death Trilogy” with his oddest character yet. It’s a very funny portrayal yet accurately depressed an disengaged yet also believable when he switches back on.

Most of the film does rest with a young actor virtually debuting, Rohan Timmermans. The only credit to his name prior to this is as a stand-in, but you’d never know it. He very naturally carries himself, and takes on scenes where he’s talking to animals and not getting anything back, and also readily delivers realistic dialogue.

Arend Bouwmeester not only conveys well a lost youth prone to bouts of hooliganism but also manages to flip the switch and be a caring, sensitive brother. He also partakes in an interesting rather visual subplot that does factor in well.

Life According to Nino is a brisk, enjoyable funny film that manages to smoothly balance elements and tones that would seem too disparate when enumerated in a list, but blend well together. It’s enjoyable and funny and refuses to be overly conformist. Two production companies that have made very enjoyable family fare (Family Affair and Waterland) produced the film and Attraction Distribution handles it in North America, if you get a chance to see it you definitely should.

7/10