Monday, February 29, 2016

The 88th Academy Awards Winners

Just a few hours ago, the 88th Academy Awards ceremony was held in downtown Los Angeles' Dolby Theater, and it went pretty smoothly, given the controversy surrounding #OscarsSoWhite (which you can read about here, here, and here).

The ceremony itself was far from memorable in my opinion. I usually love watching the Oscars, whether there are upset winners or not, but this year it turned out to be a bit flat and boring. I think it was due to the political bent it had to have to acknowledge and address the fact that racism is a malaise in Hollywood just like anywhere else, even though perhaps better hidden.

Chris Rock, a host I don't particularly like, did a pretty good job of setting the tone and discuss the topic. He forwent the usual opening monologue centered around the Best Picture nominees, or other interesting nominees in the audience, and didn't even really talk about the movies at all. Rather, he almost went into stand-up mode and started jabbing and poking at the industry about its restrictive practices.

He was funny and to the point, and didn't shy away from delivering a caustic commentary on the industry as a whole, even though he was able to keep the tone light enough to avoid dropping a wet blanket on the proceedings.

He kept throwing hand grenades around throughout the night, and although a couple of times they fell a bit flat, hopefully they were the wake-up call the Hollywood needed to speed up the changes already put in motion by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The only thing I really regret about Rock's handling of the ceremony is that he used the few montages usually dedicated to celebrating the craft of moviemaking (that I love so much) to further talk about racism, but trying to put a comedic spin on it. They worked well, especially the one with black actors playing roles that went to white actors in this year's crop of contenders, but I missed the montages because they always feel very nostalgic, and in a good way.

Anyway, the ceremony was pretty fluid, and it marched decidedly on towards an almost on time finish, but without feeling rushed.

And here's my list of random comments on the night:

  • I did like that they changed the order in which the awards are handed out. The Best Supporting Actress category is usually always the first, but this time the two writing categories started the show, and those are considered to be among the top prizes of the night.

    However, the presenters said the awards would be presented in the order in which a movie is made, so they started with the idea, which becomes the story, which becomes the screenplay, and it sounded cool, but they didn't really continue the theme, since they kept the lead acting awards for the end of the ceremony as usual. Oh well, nice try.
  • Ostensibly in order to save time, all the nominees were asked to compile a list of the people they would have thanked in the even they won an award. The list of random names would then have been scrolling at the bottom of the screen during the recipient's walk up to the stage, so they could have done away with mentioning those names and only talked about more "important" things.

    While I appreciate the sentiment, the crawler à la CNN was a bit odd for a ceremony of the caliber of the Oscars. It was also a bit distracting, not to mention useless for anyone who didn't personally know the nominee and those who did would have had to scramble to find their name in the sea of fast moving ones.

    So, while it might have worked in shortening the boring list of names the winners often get into, not all were eliminated, and not all the winners were subjected to the crawler, thereby establishing another tiered system of importance.
  • The handsome Ryan Gosling played a skit with Russell Crowe that closely resembled the one he did at the Golden Globes. It wasn't new, but it worked because the two actors played it really well.
  • Sarah Silverman's presentation was very funny. She made fun of James Bond's sexual prowess with her trademark comedic style, which is quite sexual and raw, but I thought it worked great. It gave a jolt to the seriousness of the night and I'm sure gave cold sweats to the guy in charge of the censor button behind the scenes.

    I also love how she worked the "he's too ghetto" comment in there, in reference to Idris Elba not being good enough to play 007, which is utterly ridiculous. I actually think he would be the ideal actor to replace Daniel Craig when he gets sick of being Bond.
  • Sam Smith's performance of Writing's on the Wall, nominated for the latest Bond movie, Spectre, was very good. He has a beautiful voice and good stage presence, even though I could hear his lisp more than I had ever heard it before.

    Ultimately, he and his (super hot!) writing partner Jimmy Napes pulled one of the few upsets of the night by winning Best Song over Lady Gaga and Diane Warren's song, which was considered the favorite to win.

    With this win, Spectre becomes the 2nd straight James Bond film to win an Original Song Oscar (after Adele's Skyfall), and that's why I thought Smith was the favorite, until I listened to Gaga's song and found it superior because of its anti-rape message.

    Also, both winners for the Bond song are British nationals.

    As for Smith, I liked that he dedicated the award to all LGBT people in the world, even though he erroneously stated that he was probably the first openly gay man to win an Oscar and social media mercilessly attacked him for it. C'mon, he didn't say anything offensive. Sure, others preceded him, but it's not like he was cocky or hurtful. Let the guy have his moment!
  • Henry Cavill and Chris Evans were the most handsome gentlemen of the night. Period. Michael B. Jordan was a close third.
  • When Jenny Beavan won her Oscar for Costume Design I couldn't help but wonder, How come a costume designer talented enough to win an Oscar for her work can't find something "decent" to wear at the ceremony?

    This is the same woman who recently won Costume Design at the BAFTAs and wore a similarly ragged outfit, for which Stephen Fry joked she looked like a bag lady (and got a lot of heat for it, even though the two are friends and she didn't mind the jab at all). Well, turns out, he hit the nail right on the head. She did look like a bag lady. No jokes.

    Also, she started droning on with her acceptance speech and finally the get-the-hell-out-of-here background music started playing, and that's when she started saying something important she wanted to say. A bit of advice, dear, if you have something important to say on such a big stage, forgo the silly jokes and get to the point, because you know you only have like 30 seconds to talk. You ain't that important. They won't give you more air time.
  • Tina Fey and Steve Carell were very funny, he's got the best deadpan face and she is one of the funniest actresses ever.
  • The handsome Jared Leto is pretty much the only straight guy in the world who could get away with wearing a tux that sported red trims and a large, red flower as a necktie. Enough said.
  • With his win for Best Cinematography for The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki becomes the first cinematographer to win 3 straight Oscars in a row (after Gravity and Birdman).

    He's only 52.
  • On that topic, with his win for Best Foreign Language Film for Son of Saul, László Nemes took the Oscar for his first feature and he's only 29!
  • I loved the introductory clips for Best Sound Editing and Mixing. It's really impressive how much detail goes into the making of a film, and how sounds are crafted and carefully added to the images is simply incredible.
  • The Best Visual Effects going to Ex Machina was another upset, especially considering the sweep that Mad Max: Fury Road was making of the technical awards and, even more so, the nomination of the newest, and first in many years, Star Wars movie.
  • Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens was actually one of the biggest losers of the night, given that it won none of the five awards it was nominated for.
  • The biggest winner of the night was Mad Max: Fury Road, which nabbed awards in 6 of the 10 categories it was nominated for. Granted, they were all technical awards, except for Best Editing, which is one of the major ones, but it was a pretty impressive sweep nonetheless. And more than well deserved.
  • The Revenant, on the other hand, was leading the field with 12 nomination but took home just 3. Two were among the top categories, but it still fared less well than it was expected. It especially lost the top prize, Best Picture, in spite of being the heavy favorite in the lead up to the ceremony.

    Goes to show that one can never really know...
  • By winning Best Director for The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu became the first director in 66 years to win back-to-back directing Oscars!!

    I really liked his speech and he shouldn't have had that awful music shooing him away in the background. That was bad manners. I know that one shouldn't make exceptions, but it's the Best Director winner and he's actually saying something very important and current, so just give him a few more seconds already! I don't think anyone would have minded really.
  • The clips and skit with the Minions, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and the Star Wars droids were all very cute.
  • On the other hand, Chris Rock's Girl Scout cookies skit was a total debacle. Unlike Ellen selling pizza slices, this one dropped like a steaming turd.

    And did you notice at what point he decided to pull the audience's attention away from the stage for that stupid crap? Yes, when the "lesser" categories for shorts and documentaries were up. Of course! Way to add salt to the wound Chris!

    In fact, precisely because they're regarded so lowly by those in attendance as well as the audiences at home, I really appreciated Louis C.K.'s short but effective commentary on the importance the Oscars have for the people who make documentaries and shorts. He's totally right.

    And how awesome when winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said that because of her movie Pakistan's Prime Minister has decided to change the laws of the country? That's the power a movie can have. 
  • When Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart won Best Animated Short for Bear Story, possibly the weirdest thing I've ever seen at the Oscars happened: they walked onstage wives in tow. What the frack! Sure they might have been supportive of your work, but unless they actively participated in the making of the film, that's not their place. No one brings his family up onstage when they win an Oscar!! They totally looked out of place, worse than the pizza delivery guy Ellen ordered her pizzas from.
  • Kevin Hart also addressed the racism controversy, and he actually gave a very nice, to the point speech.

    Damn, that guy is really short!
  • The Weeknd's performance of his beautiful Earned It, from Fifty Shades of Grey, was classy and very well done. He's got a really nice voice.

    And there was no way he would win this award given that Fifty Shades of Grey was pummeled by critics. It even won Worst Picture of the Year at the Razzies the night before (tied with Fantastic 4)
  • Mark Rylance's win for Supporting Actor was another big upset of the night. Sylvester Stallone was a shoo-in here, and had won pretty much every other award, even though Rylance was always hot on his heels. I guess in the end enough voters were sick of seeing old Sly taking home all that metal and voted for the other guy. I wonder how close the vote count was...
  • I liked Cheryl Boone Isaacs' speech. It was simple, to the point, and addressed the controversy about racism that has rocked her organization.
  • The In Memoriam segment was touching as always, and Dave Grohl beautifully sang the perfect song.
  • Vice President Joe Biden's speech introducing Lady Gaga's performance of Til It Happens To You was poignant, and you could tell he is really invested in the issue.

    And when Lady Gaga took the stage to sing her incredibly moving song, time stood still. It actually made me cry because of its meaning. Hats off to all those courageous young women and men who joined her onstage at the end. She did a wonderful job.
  • So happy that Ennio Morricone was awarded a long deserved Oscar before he passes away. His speech was sweet and he looked frail and vulnerable, but also very proud and moved.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen in his Da Ali G character was simply priceless. It was pertinent, funny, slightly outrageous, and over the top like only he can be. The gorgeous Olivia Wilde could barely keep a straight face, as was required of her.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio finally got the recognition from Hollywood he so long deserved. He has done solid work for decades now, and this was his sixth nomination. I'm glad he won, and it seemed like everyone thought he deserved that Oscar outright and also that it was his time.

    His speech was beautiful too, and he was even able to spin it in such a way as to be able to get out a message about the seriousness of climate change and the need to protect our planet that has been so dear to his heart for many years.
  • As Michael Keaton was heading to the stage as part of the ensemble for Spotlight's Best Picture coronation, I realized he was in the Best Picture winner for two years in a row now. Pretty cool.

Ok, phew, that's it. I'm sure there was more, but that's all I got.

Here's the full list of winners:

Best Picture

SpotlightMichael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust, Producers

  • The Big Short, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
  • Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
  • Brooklyn, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Doug Mitchell and George Miller, Producers
  • The Martian, Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam, Producers
  • The Revenant, Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon, Producers
  • Room, Ed Guiney, Producer

Directing

The RevenantAlejandro G. Iñárritu

  • The Big ShortAdam McKay
  • Mad Max: Fury RoadGeorge Miller
  • RoomLenny Abrahamson
  • SpotlightTom McCarthy

Actress in a Leading Role

Brie Larson, Room

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Actor in a Leading Role

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Actress in a Supporting Role

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Actor in a Supporting Role

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed
  • Christian Bale, The Big Short

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

The Big ShortScreenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay

  • CarolScreenplay by Phyllis Nagy
  • The MartianScreenplay by Drew Goddard
  • RoomScreenplay by Emma Donoghue
  • BrooklynScreenplay by Nick Hornby

Writing (Original Screenplay)

SpotlightWritten by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy

  • Bridge of SpiesWritten by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
  • Ex MachinaWritten by Alex Garland
  • Inside OutScreenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
  • Straight Outta ComptonScreenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

Animated Feature Film

Inside Out, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera

  • Shaun the Sheep Movie, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
  • When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
  • Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
  • Boy and the World, Alê Abreu

Foreign Language Film

Son of SaulHungary

  • MustangFrance
  • TheebJordan
  • A WarDenmark
  • Embrace of the SerpentColombia

Film Editing

Mad Max: Fury RoadMargaret Sixel

  • The Big ShortHank Corwin
  • The RevenantStephen Mirrione
  • SpotlightTom McArdle
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensMaryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

Cinematography

The RevenantEmmanuel Lubezki

  • Carol, Ed Lachman
  • The Hateful EightRobert Richardson
  • Mad Max: Fury RoadJohn Seale
  • SicarioRoger Deakins

Production Design

Mad Max: Fury RoadProduction Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson

  • Bridge of SpiesProduction Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
  • The Danish GirlProduction Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
  • The MartianProduction Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
  • The RevenantProduction Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury RoadMark Mangini and David White

  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensMatthew Wood and David Acord
  • The MartianOliver Tarney
  • The RevenantMartin Hernandez and Lon Bender
  • SicarioAlan Robert Murray

Sound Mixing

Mad Max: Fury RoadChris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo

  • Bridge of SpiesAndy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
  • The MartianPaul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
  • The RevenantJon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensAndy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Costume Design

Mad Max: Fury RoadJenny Beavan

  • CarolSandy Powell
  • CinderellaSandy Powell
  • The Danish GirlPaco Delgado
  • The RevenantJacqueline West

Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury RoadLesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin

  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and DisappearedLove Larson and Eva von Bahr
  • The RevenantSiân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

Visual Effects

Ex MachinaAndrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett

  • Mad Max: Fury RoadAndrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
  • The MartianRichard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
  • The RevenantRich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensRoger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

Music (Original Score)

The Hateful EightEnnio Morricone

  • Bridge of SpiesThomas Newman
  • CarolCarter Burwell
  • SicarioJóhann Jóhannsson
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensJohn Williams

Music (Original Song)

Spectre“Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre; Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

  • Fifty Shades of Grey“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey; Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
  • Racing Extinction“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction; Music by J. Ralph, Lyric by Antony Hegarty
  • Youth“Simple Song #3” from Youth; Music and Lyric by David Lang
  • The Hunting Ground“Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga

Documentary (Feature)

AmyAsif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees

  • Cartel LandMatthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
  • The Look of SilenceJoshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for FreedomEvgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

Documentary (Short Subject)

A Girl in the River: The Price of ForgivenessSharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

  • Body Team 12David Darg and Bryn Mooser
  • Chau, beyond the LinesCourtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the ShoahAdam Benzine
  • Last Day of FreedomDee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Short Film (Animated)

Bear StoryGabriel Osorio and Pato Escala

  • PrologueRichard Williams and Imogen Sutton
  • Sanjay’s Super TeamSanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
  • We Can’t Live without CosmosKonstantin Bronzit
  • World of TomorrowDon Hertzfeldt

Short Film (Live Action)

StuttererBenjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

  • Ave MariaBasil Khalil and Eric Dupont
  • Day OneHenry Hughes
  • Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)Patrick Vollrath
  • ShokJamie Donoughue

Sunday, February 28, 2016

In Memoriam

Mina (12/2000 - 7/14/2014)


Writing about the passing of my dogs is always so painful, a lot of time has to go by before I can finally put them to rest by posting about it.

Just over a year after the passing of our adored Diablo, we lost our little Mina.

She was so incredibly sweet and cuddly, but also quite energetic and always ready to play. She's the one we credit with keeping Diablo young in her old age, and for that we'll always be grateful.


Mina, unfortunately, suffered from separation anxiety, a condition that worsened with the passage of time, particularly whenever big changes (like our kids' adoption) occurred.

In spite of that, however, she was a pleasure to have around, and losing her was hard. Not only that, but she actually died when I was in Italy with the kids, waiting for Ray to join us. All of a sudden, she got visibly sick on a Friday and a visit to the vet revealed that she had cancer pretty much everywhere.

Ray did what he could over the weekend, but by Monday it was clear that her time had come. He was all alone when she died in his arms, which made it extra hard for him, and I'll always regret not being with her at the very end.

Nevertheless, I know I gave her mountains of love, which was always multiplied and returned by her.

She will be missed forever. But she will be fondly remembered forever as well.

Goodbye sweet love of mine.


Thor: The Dark World

The Gist: Before there was light in the universe, the Dark Elves reigned supreme. Then, thousands of years ago, Malekith, the most powerful Dark Elf, had tried to return the universe to its dark state, but was thwarted by Asgardian warriors. His weapon, the indestructible Aether, was taken from him, and hidden away. Now, thanks to the imminent realigning of the nine planets, the Aether reawakens and Malekith sees a new opportunity to turn all the lights off in the universe. Asgard is once again at the forefront of the effort to contain the forces of evil, and Thor will play a key role, together with his half-brother Loki.

Thor: The Dark World is the second movie in the series, and there is a notable improvement. The cast seems more acclimated to their characters, and the story is well written and well developed.

Of course there are fantastic visual effects, but the level of acting is impressive. Chris Hemsworth (swoon!), Tom Hiddleston (this man is so incredibly handsome), Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Idris Elba (oh boy!) all do very good work.

The Bottom LineThor: The Dark World is a very enjoyable comic book movie that subtly sets the stage for more chapters in both the Thor series and the Marvel universe at large.

Grade: 8

Iron Man 3

The Gist: After a brush with death against alien invaders (as depicted in The Avengers movie), Tony Stark has trouble sleeping and focusing, and spends his time developing new Iron Man suits. Meanwhile, a middle-eastern terrorist named the Mandarin has been carrying out terrorist attacks against the US with increasing frequency and with untraceable weaponry. When Tony has had enough of the government's incompetence, he challenges the Mandarin directly, putting himself and his beloved Pepper Potts in grave danger.

Iron Man 3 sees the very talented Robert Downey Jr. don the superhero metallic suit once again, and by now he has so thoroughly imprinted Tony Stark with his charisma and personality, it's hard to imagine who will agree to replace him in the inevitable reboot.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle resume their roles (as does Jon Favreau, although his character is less and less sympathetic and useful) and are joined by Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and the dashing James Badge Dale, all doing an excellent job.

The Bottom LineIron Man 3 is a nice entry in the series, has eye popping visual effects and jaw dropping action scenes, but some events were a bit debatable (like the final fireworks -- I won't say more to avoid spoilers, but I don't see how they made any sense or benefited the character). Overall, an enjoyable comic book hero movie.

Grade: 7

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our Galaxy

This new video of the Milky Way is one of the most beautiful, striking, and relaxing videos I've ever watched:


Some details:

This video takes a close look at a new image of the Milky Way released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). The APEX telescope in Chile has mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere for the first time at submillimetre wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves — and in finer detail than recent space-based surveys.

The APEX data, at a wavelength of 0.87 millimetres, shows up in red and the background blue image was imaged at shorter infrared wavelengths by the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope as part of the GLIMPSE survey. The fainter extended red structures come from complementary observations made by ESA's Planck satellite.

More information and download options: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/eso1...

The Oscars Producers Are Tone-Deaf

I've written before about this year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which you can read here, and now comes the news that only 3 of the 5 Best Song nominees were invited to perform at the ceremony, ostensibly as a way to shorten the telecast, which is always accused of being overlong and running overtime.

Now, that right there is a stupid decision. If you don't invite all the nominees to perform, then you're making a decision about who is more important and who is less. Notably, the showrunners would have to assume (know?) that those left out have zero chances of winning the Oscar, because if they had any chances, how embarrassing would it be to not have them perform onstage??!

And here I was, naively trusting that the votes were known only to the accounting firm in charge of tabulating the results...

Anyway, given all the controversy surrounding the lack of African American acting nominees for the second year in a row, you would think the Academy would bend over backwards to avoid any more strife by leaving out the first and only transgender recipient of an Academy Award nomination in the history of the Oscars!!

And you'd be wrong.

From Towleroad:
Because the Academy picked only viably commercial acts to perform this year and excluded the other two best song nominees from taking the stage, ANOHNI (fka Antony Hegarty), the only transgender performer to ever have been nominated for an Oscar, will not be attending the ceremony.
[...]
This sends an incredibly bad faith message to nominees — if you’re not famous pop stars, your nominations are “lesser than”. And in a year where the Academy has been the subject of immense criticism for their lack of diversity they’ve essentially excluded the sole trans nominee (Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons fame who co-wrote and sings “Manta Ray”) from valuable air time.

ANOHNI also addressed the controversy, and her comments are incredibly heartbreaking, truthful, and powerful:
I am the only transgendered performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award, and for that I thank the artists who nominated me. (There was a trans songwriter nominee named Angela Morley in the early ’70s who did some great work behind the scenes.) I was in Asia when I found out the news. I rushed home to prepare something, in case the music nominees would be asked to perform. Everyone was calling with excited congratulations. A week later, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, and the Weeknd were rolled out as the evening’s entertainment with more performers “soon to be announced.” Confused, I sat and waited. Would someone be in touch? But as time bore on I heard nothing…
[...]
I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.

Her full post can be read here, and this is the wonderful song that we won't get to hear at the Oscars tomorrow night:


Brandon Stansell, Dear John

Brandon Stansell is a total newcomer to me, but this song/video brought tears to my eyes, so he's probably one to watch.

It doesn't hurt that he's so easy on the eyes...:


Kelly Clarkson, Piece By Piece

I'm not the biggest fan of Kelly Clarkson, but I definitely appreciate her voice and talent, and some of her songs.

This is one of them, and her performance was very touching:


Adele at the BRIT Awards

Here's my adored Adele performing When We Were Young at the BRIT Awards, the British equivalent of the Grammys:



As an aside, while I absolutely adore Adele, sometimes I wonder about her sartorial choices... I mean, what exactly was the meaning behind the dress she was wearing??!

She looked like a female Captain America, which made no sense and looked a bit ridiculous, but maybe she was trying to make a point???

I don't know. That was a head-scratcher for sure.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What To Do To Win an Oscar If You're Black

Just in time for Sunday's ceremony, and just to put the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy in perspective, here's a nice reminder of what black people mean to many white Americans:

America. The Land of the Whites.

Here's another example of how white privilege works in America.

Apparently, some guy broke the law by carrying a gun without permit in 1999, assaulted an officer when caught, refused to go to court, holed up in his house, and nothing ever happened.

And he is white.

That last detail is the key here, because I can assure you that if he had been any other skin color or of a religion other than Christian, he'd absolutely be dead or at a minimum behind bars.

Here's more details:
A stand-off between police and a Texas man, who holed up on his 47-acre ranch for fifteen years after he assaulted a police officer, ended peacefully this week when the man –and the sheriff’s department — were informed that charges against him were dropped back in 2014. 
According to WFAA, John Joe Gray was arrested in 1999 for assaulting a state trooper during a traffic stop when he was found carrying a pistol without a permit. Telling the officer it was his God-given right to carry the gun,  Gray attacked the officer and bit him. 
Although charged with assaulting a public servant, Gray refused to go to court and face charges. Instead he armed himself in his home, warning law enforcement officials if they came looking for him that they better “bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die.” 
Since that time, Gray has kept to his property —  festooned with anti-government signs, with one reading, “Vaccinations equal annihilation.” 
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt said he never sent officers in to extract Gray, saying he feared for their lives if they entered the property. 
“It wasn’t worth it,” the sheriff said. “Joe Gray has been in prison out there himself, in my opinion, for 14 years.”  
During that time, Gray, his children and his grandchildren, have patrolled the property with pistols and rifles, refusing to let strangers in.
Now, I can see the Sheriff's point that he needs to weigh the need to apprehend and punish this douchebag against  the risk to the lives of his officers and the danger to the community, given that the guy is living like a recluse. And I can almost agree that yes, it's as if he's been in jail for 14 years because he never could leave his property.

However, he was still enjoying the comforts of his home. He could get whatever he needed or wanted from friends and neighbors. He certainly had a lot more freedom than he'd have had in a jail cell for 14 years!!

And let's not forget that if he had been black, Hispanic, Asian, or Muslim, or probably even a Jew his self-imposed isolation would not have been tolerated.

Equality

I saw this video and had to repost it. It's raw and very emotional, but it succinctly corrals all of the ridiculous, irrational, risible, and plain offensive reasons that all of the bigots out there give for hating us so much.

It packs a wallop, but it's a must-see:

The Sound of Gaga

After Lady Gaga's tribute to The Sound of Music at the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony, the UK cast of The Sound of Music production returned the favor, and it's fantastic:

Silver Linings Playbook

The Gist: Pat has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and institutionalized after beating up his wife's lover when he caught them cheating on him. Now back home with his parents, he would like to get his old life back, but his ex-wife, whom he still loves, got a restraining order against him. One day, he meets Tiffany, recently widowed, who turns out to know Pat's ex-wife. In return for delivering a letter from Pat to his ex-wife, Tiffany asks him to train with her for an upcoming dance competition she's determined to win. During the training sessions, Pat and Tiffany get to know one another and start getting closer.

Directed by David O. RussellSilver Linings Playbook won Hollywood darling Jennifer Lawrence her first Best Actress Oscar and established her as Russell's muse.

Lawrence is paired with super-handsome Bradley Cooper and they display a lot of chemistry onscreen. In fact, they have again worked together afterwards with very good results.

The Bottom LineSilver Linings Playbook is a good comedy with a very well written screenplay (by Russell himself) and flawless performances, among which there's also a small part for Robert De Niro.

Grade: 8

Life of Pi

The Gist: Pi Patel is recounting his life story for a curious writer. The most fascinating tale of all concerns the time when his family's zoo was forced to close and Pi's father decided to move family and zoo animals to Canada. They boarded a ship for the long trip, but a storm sank it and Pi ended up on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Stranded at sea for weeks, fighting for survival, he had plenty of time to think back on his life, his beliefs, his hopes, and his dreams.

Life of Pi was hailed as one of the best movies of the year primarily because of the eye popping, incredibly realistic visual effects it showcases, among which the tiger's is the crown achievement.

The visual effects are so amazing, they won the Oscar, along with cinematography, score, and director Ang Lee, who took home his second Best Director Oscar after his win for Brokeback Mountain.

The Bottom LineLife of Pi is a well made, entertaining movie that is worth watching, even though it didn't particularly impress me much, other than for its production values. The story per se was a bit too tinged with religious overtones, although it's understandable that one would look to God for help if stranded at sea with little hope of salvation.

Grade: 7

The Bourne Legacy

The Gist: Aaron Cross is part of a highly classified CIA operation called Outcome. When similarly classified Project Treadstone and Operation Blackbriar are damagingly exposed in the press (as depicted in the Jason Bourne trilogy), the CIA decides to terminate Operation Outcome and all its agents before it too ends up exposed. Cross survives an assassination attempt, but has to track down a doctor in order to get more of the medication he's supposed to take as part of his training regimen. The doctor is also in the CIA's cross hairs though, so they both flee to the Philippines, where the pills are produced, but the CIA is hot on their heels.

The Bourne Legacy is, unarguably, an attempt on the part of the studio behind the Bourne trilogy to keep the cash coming in, but it's most assuredly a successful one.

The film is well written and full of the kind of action the fans have become accustomed to, has a good score and very good acting.

Jeremy Renner seems to be a worthy substitute now that Matt Damon has abandoned the franchise, so I'm sure we'll see more chapters in the future.

The Bottom LineThe Bourne Legacy is a well rounded action/thriller that smartly picks up where its predecessor left off and hits the ground running. Definitely recommended.

Grade: 8

Star Trek Into Darkness

The Gist: After breaking the prime directive (never interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations), Captain Kirk is relieved of command of the Enterprise and demoted to first officer by Admiral Pike, who resumes control of the vessel. Pike, however, is killed in Starfleet officer gone rogue John Harrison's sudden attack of Starfleet headquarters. Kirk is then put back in charge of the Enterprise on an unofficial and dangerous vengeance mission against Harrison, deep in Klingon territory. Harrison is later revealed to be Khan and his beef with Starfleet based on retaliation against the man who sent Kirk on his current chase.

Star Trek Into Darkness is J.J. Abrams' return to the Trek universe after he so successfully rebooted it with Star Trek, and he solidifies his credentials as a brilliant filmmaker when it comes to sci-fi/thrillers.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin all return to their roles, and this time they look even more comfortable than the first time around. Pine and Quinto have really established a yin yang relationship that brilliantly mirrors that of the original Kirk/Spock.

Benedict Cumberbatch, a favorite actor of mine, plays the bad guy with incredible flair and charisma, and given that Khan doesn't die like the antihero usually does, his return in future installments is a welcome possibility.

The Bottom LineStar Trek Into Darkness is a fantastic follow up and a great addition to the Trek canon. It's engaging, full of great action sequences, features excellent visual effects, showcases great talent in front of and behind the camera, and even a great score. A must see for any fan of the genre.

Grade: 9

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Butterfly Effect

The Gist: Evan has suffered from blackouts since he was a little kid. As a teenager, he realizes that whenever he's reading from his old journals, he is able to travel back in time. When he does so, he can change events, which both alter the future and cause his blackouts. He tinkers with the past to try and undo the unpleasant experiences he endured as a child, but unforeseen events along the altered timeline keep messing things up in his life. Meanwhile, the ever more frequent time-traveling is causing him brain injuries. Finally, he decides to put an end to the randomness by taking a drastic measure.

The Butterfly Effect is a movie I picked because of its intriguing premise without expecting too much, and I was pleasantly surprised. The fairly standard topic of time travel informs an original mind-bender that keeps you guessing on what can go wrong next.

I actually have to hand it to cute-dude Ashton Kutcher, who doesn't really strike me as a talented actor, given that he does a pretty good job.

The Bottom LineThe Butterfly Effect turned out to be a far better film than I expected, so I would heartily recommend it. I noticed that they made two sequels, but they apparently suck, so I don't think I'll check them out, even though the leads seem astonishingly hot!

Grade: 8

Elysium

The Gist: In the future, humanity is strictly divided into two classes: the super-rich live luxuriously in a space station hovering the planet called Elysium, while the rest scramble to survive on the surface of an over-populated Earth whose resources have been all but exhausted. After a grave accident at work leaves him radiation poisoned, Max realizes his only chance of surviving is in one of Elysium's medical bays, which are not accessible to his kind. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense is plotting a coup against the President, but Max's quest for salvation will interfere with her plans.

When Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with Oscar nominated District 9, he earned a reputation as a visionary director of sci-fi movies with a bleak bent and a powerful social commentary.

He tries to repeat that formula with Elysium, but perhaps a bit too closely. They're two different tales, but many visual elements and script-hooks are similar.

Matt Damon and Jodie Foster do a pretty good job, along with Sharlto Copley and William Fichtner. Visual effects, costumes, and production design are all top notch.

The Bottom Line: Elysium, in spite of its shortcomings, is a well told, entertaining story that talks about a rich/poor divide that's very much current, with a lot of action and some thrilling chases. I would recommend it after all.

Grade: 7

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oblivion

The Gist: War against an alien race has left Earth devastated, forcing humans to flee the planet. A few repairmen have stayed behind to ensure the continued operation of mining equipment that's harvesting resources to support what's left of humanity, now relocated on Titan. Jack Harper is stationed with Vic and they look forward to the upcoming end of their assignment. One day though, a spacecraft crash-lands on Earth and the lone survivor will throw into question everything Jack takes for granted.

Oblivion was a total revelation for me. As a sci-fi fan, this movie thrilled and engrossed me from beginning to end. Awesome visual effects, a good score, and a well developed, original screenplay ensure an excellent end result.

Tom Cruise does a good job, but I have to admit that I watched this movie in spite of his presence, certainly not because of it. With his high-visibility, active participation in the cult of Scientology, his once gleaming star has much diminished.

The Bottom Line: Oblivion is a really good movie that's not just for sci-fi fans, because it's a great story with lots of twists and plenty of suspense. Watch it.

Grade: 8

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The Gist: Sherlock Holmes is investigating a series of terrorist attacks in London on his own because his longtime trusted associate, Doctor Watson, has terminated their partnership in order to please his soon to be bride. Professor Moriarty, Holmes' archenemy, seems to be behind the attacks, and reveals that Watson and his wife are a target of his revenge plans against Holmes. This forces Holmes to enlist Watson's help one last time, which will take them on a roller coaster race throughout Europe, whose political destabilization is Moriarty's ultimate goal.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the follow up to 2009's highly successful Sherlock Holmes. Both helmed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, I'm hard pressed to find any flaws in either film.

One thing that's been made very clear in the last few years is that rebooting, remaking, revisiting, or restarting a beloved franchise/movie/character, really hinges on the vision of the director (see Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or Abrams' Star Trek relaunch).

Apparently Ritchie and Downey Jr., and Law secondarily, are a match made in heaven for a Sherlock Holmes who easily appeals to our modern sensibilities.

The Bottom LineSherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a really fun movie to watch, full of dramatic action but peppered with jest by a Downey Jr. who was born to play this role.

Grade: 8

Casino

The Gist: Sam "Ace" Rothstein is a bookie and expert handicapper trusted by the mob for his intuitions and tasked to (informally) run their Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. The casino is a way for the mob to launder their cash and to also make a profit by skimming off the top. Ace is joined by a childhood friend, Nicky Santoro, who becomes the enforcer for Ace and the casino. Things start to sour when Nicky greedily decides he wants to run his own gang in the city and when Ace falls for and marries a hustler named Ginger, not minding her obviously being in it for the money and power.

Casino was one of Martin Scorsese's movies I was still missing and was looking forward to watch, but it ultimately left me wanting. I know this will likely get me booed out of town, but I thought it was way too long and achingly slow.

Now, I love Scorsese's work. I think he's one of the best and most creative minds in Hollywood, and he's a fantastic director. I watch pretty much anything he directs and oftentimes even the stuff he produces, because I really like his style and his stories.

His movies are often way longer than average precisely because he takes his time in setting up the story, fleshing out the characters, and building the stage for the big payoff ahead, all noble reasons worthy of respect. This time, however, I just felt an undeniable current of boredom simmering just below the surface that in the end couldn't be ignored any longer.

That forced me to lower my grade, because as far as the story is concerned, it's interesting, full of intrigue and twists, well directed, and perfectly acted by Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci.

The Bottom Line: Would I recommend Casino in spite of its shortcomings? Absolutely, because it's pure Scorsese and it's a very good story, just be aware that it might not feel as great as some of his other movies.

Grade: 6

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Happening

The Gist: When people start acting oddly and then committing suicide in highly populated areas, everyone starts leaving for the countryside. The phenomenon is inexplicable and at first attributed to a terrorist attack via a toxin, but when the spread reaches less populated areas as well, people have no where left to go. Elliot and Alma come to the conclusion that it's the trees that are releasing the toxin, apparently in a worldwide conspiracy to winnow down the human race, now considered a pest to be removed.

Well, here we go, yet another movie by M. Night Shyamalan, yet another disappointment. I'm starting to wonder how this guy even gets all these projects greenlit!!

I think he's pretty good at directing, it's the screenwriting part that hurts him. He really needs to get a professional to hand him scripts instead of trying to keep complete control over the process, when he clearly seems to have great and original ideas but average writing skills at best.

The Happening is filled with Shyamalan's usual tropes: regular people seemingly stumped by unusual, inexplicable events, a fair amount of death and gore, and a sometimes successful attempt at creating suspense. The audience, meanwhile, experiences high hopes going in that this movie will finally mark his comeback, the subsequent feeling of dread, halfway through, that this might just be another dud, followed by the ultimate realization that maybe you've been giving this guy way too many opportunities at redemption and it's now time to cut the umbilical cord.

Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel seem to be doing their darndest to salvage this runaway train, but they can only do so much, and honestly look at times like they are way out of their depths.

The Bottom Line: The Happening feels more like a kids' story or what should have been a television show episode more than a full length feature, but since it is, forget it. It's weak, somewhat boring, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Grade: 5

Doomsday

The Gist: The Reaper virus suddenly spreads throughout Scotland, killing hundreds of thousands. To stop the spread, the UK government evacuates as many uninfected people as possible and walls off the rest, assuming that time would naturally take care of culling the infected. Many years later, the virus resurfaces in London, and a tactical team is dispatched beyond the wall to verify whether a cure was ever found before everyone died off. The incursion will encounter many obstacles, though, as they come to discover that Scotland is all but deserted.

Doomsday is a post-apocalyptic movie that holds great promise but ultimately fails to deliver. There is a lot of action, good visual effects, the direction isn't bad, the acting is good, and the script has certainly a lot going for it.

In the end, I guess what's really to blame is the fact that the movie doesn't take itself seriously enough. I mean, the topic, a deadly virus with no cure, is pretty gloomy, and the movie isn't presented as a campy affair, and yet there's an undeniable cartoonish flair that dooms the whole thing.

The Bottom Line: Doomsday isn't awful nor boring, but it's also not consistently good entertainment, so I wouldn't heartily recommend it.

Grade: 6