Saturday, August 2, 2014

REPOST: Does Interstellar pack the payload to launch Chris Nolan into Oscars orbit?

Christopher Nolan's new sci-fi drama sees Matthew McConaughey's character leaving his family behind for a heroic space voyage to save the world. The article below gauges whether or not the film could launch Nolan's awards season success in 2015.

How am I going to fit into this?' ... Matthew McConaughey in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar  | Image Source:

Might Interstellar be the movie that finally sees Christopher Nolan traverse the vast reaches between popular acclaim and awards season success in 2015? The British film-maker has a hugely impressive track record as a genre film-maker, and before that a purveyor of intriguing indie brainteasers, but has a mere three Oscar nominations spread over two films, Inception and Memento , to his name.

Yet everything about his new space-exploration drama, the latest full-length trailer for which has just hit the web, seems to have tumbled into place just at the right moment. The Academy handed another space film, Gravity, seven prizes this year, and Interstellar's star is Matthew McConaughey who won best actor for Aids drama Dallas Buyers Club. The supporting cast is not too shabby either, with Oscar-winners Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Ellen Burstyn joining nominees Jessica Chastain and John Lithgow on the credits list.

Moreover, the Academy seems to have begun a process of transforming its rather crotchety membership into a voter pool that actually reflects the modern world of film. In theory, we should start to see a lot more Wolf of Wall Streets and Django Unchaineds and rather fewer August: Osage Countys among the nominees (certainly if new Academy voter The Stath has anything to do with it). Nolan himself may be partly responsible for the move: it's rumoured that the Academy's decision to leave 2008's The Dark Knight off the year's list for best film lay behind the body's decision to expand the number of nominees from five to 10 in 2010.

The initial teaser trailer for Interstellar hinted at a Spielbergian sense of wonder at the universe, but the new promo suggests that Nolan has his feet grounded firmly on Earth even as he stares into space. There may be shots of distant planets – one icy, one apparently boasting abundant water supplies – but we also see the pain McConaughey's widower engineer must go through before embarking on a mission to find a new home for humanity. His children are left behind, as their father heads through a wormhole in a desperate attempt to find hospitable planets.

The tone is downbeat, bereft of fantasy leanings, and suggests that Interstellar might cleave closer to moon-landing movies such as Apollo 13 than Nolan's usual, flashier, oeuvre, not-to-mention more hopeful all-American future visions such as ET or Close Encounters. "We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt," says McConaughey. But there's also a determination not to give up on mankind's last chance of a future, embodied in Caine's delivery of lines from Dylan Thomas's defiant and inspiring Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Going on a space mission … Interstellar director Christopher Nolan (left) and Matthew McConaughey at Comic-Con 2014.  | Image Source:

At Comic Con in San Diego last week, Nolan told the audience Interstellar was "about what it is to be human, and what our place is in the universe," adding: "The further that you travel out into the universe, the more you realise it's in [your heart]." Hathaway's astronaut seems to be saying something similar in the trailer: "Maybe we've spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory. Love is the one thing that transcends time and space."

If that all sounds a bit gooey, there are hard science facts (or at least theories) at the centre of the movie, which is based on ideas about wormholes posited by the American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Nolan told Comic Con the conversations between film-maker and scientist were "intense" and even admitted: "It actually made my head hurt a bit. I actually said to Kip, 'Well, I don't want to understand this stuff too much because I have to be able to explain it to the audience.'"

If the film-maker succeeds, he might just pull off the most vital and relevant science-fiction movie of all time. That alone should surely be worthy of some long-awaited Oscars recognition.

Samantha Pouls is an amateur filmmaker who dreams of being in a high-calibre field seating next to her idols Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg. Read more about her works on this Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REPOST: Celebrity Substance: Taylor Swift

Forbes examines the stardom of Taylor Swift and explains how the country singer achieved success at a young age, and continues to make high album sales despite the constant changes in the music industry.
Taylor Swift 
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Taylor Swift is a phenomenon. She’s sold over 22 million albums world wide and she’s one of the best-selling digital recording artist of all time. She has endorsement deals with Sony , Diet Coke and Covergirl. She’s number three on “The 10 Highest-Paid Women in Music 2013,” Forbes List. Mick Jagger thinks she’s a rock star. Though she has accomplished a lifetime full of achievements, she’s just 24. She is the girl you’d hate if you didn’t like her so much.

The last (but not least) remarkable thing about Swift is her ability to thrive and continue to maintain high album sales in an industry that’s technologically evolving, in an economy that hasn’t been kind to the entertainment industry. Major artists are seeing record and single sales suffer, but Swift isn’t feeling the effects.

Taylor Swift (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)
There are many, many reasons why Swift is as successful as she is, but here are just a few that can apply to anyone, and that Swift can teach us:


The crux of the country genre is storytelling. Most country songs are a narrative, and it is one of the major lyrical components to differentiate country music from other genres.

But storytelling isn’t just important because it’s a pillar of country music, it is important because the oldest and best way to engage people is by telling stories, and Swift is a master story teller.

Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment, it predates religion- and no one sings about being a young woman better than Swift. She writes about falling in love, and the messy, complicated feelings and situations it creates. She writes about her best friend, her family, growing up, figuring it all out and what she’s learned in the process.

On her latest album, “Red,” she writes about transitioning from adolescence into her early twenties (something many young entertainers fail to do well), writing, “We’re happy, free, confused, lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah,”  in “ 22.”

But Swift is most famous for writing about love, which is the main complaint of her critics, yet it is how she made her fortune. Whether people want to admit it or not, part of growing up and being young is having crushes, falling in love, figuring out how to play the dating game and dealing with the opposite sex. I think part of Swift’s genius is being able to write all of the confusion, hurt and ultimate clarity into a song. “I hope the sun shines and it’s a beautiful day/and something reminds you, you wished you stayed,” she writes in “Last Kiss,” on her “Speak Now,” album.

Though more often than not in her music the other party is at fault, Swift is not without remorse. In her song, “Back To December” (again) on her “Speak Now” album, she writes about not appreciating the person she was with the way she should have. “So this is me swallowing my pride/ Standing in front of you saying, ‘I’m sorry for that night,’/ I go back to December all the time/It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you/ Wishing I’d realized what I’d had when you were mine/ I’d go back to December, turn around and make it all right/ I go back to December all the time.”

There are many aspects to Swift’s success, but I think her genius as a songwriter and a storyteller is underrated, and it is only recently that other artists are starting to acknowledge her genius.

She Knows Her Audience

It does help to be a 24 year old girl when you’re writing for a 24 year old demographic (though Swift has transcended that). She is the best friend/sister figure who writes things more vividly than we feel them. Her songs have a television drama full of back-story, when paired with a catchy melody sells millions of records.

When Swift spoke to Jody Rosen in an interview for, she explained her relationship with her fans. “There’s more of a friendship ­element to it than anything else,” she said. “Maybe it’s a big-sister relationship. Or it’s a Hey, we’re the same age—and we were both 16 when my first album came out, and we’ve both grown up together.”

She Protects Her Image

A big reason why Swift’s audience is loyal is that she’s never done anything drastic enough to turn them off, and remains uncontroversial enough that moms are comfortable letting their newly tween-aged daughters listen to her music. She’s as demure today as she was when she started out.

Tabloids never have pictures of Taylor Swift stumbling out of a club, no nude photos of her ever surface, she’s never been to rehab and horror stories of working with her are non-existent. She prides herself on being a role model and a non-controversial celebrity.  Ironically, it’s what rubs some people the wrong way- how pristine her image is.

That pristine image has served as a brilliant marketing strategy; she retains her initial fans and gains new ones that come of age every year. It’s hard to argue her straight edge image isn’t interesting when her album and tour sales show differently.

She Does Adulthood Differently 

 So how did Swift bridge into young adulthood? Swift took the road less traveled by her peers Katy Perry, Beyoncé or Lady Gaga by not taking on a sexualized feminist persona.  Instead, she wrote songs about what it’s like to be in your twenties. She didn’t rewrite “Fifteen,” or any of her other hits, and doesn’t sing the same story over and over again. Swift and her music have grown up together with her fans; any artist will say that is one of the most difficult things to do well as a musician. She hasn’t innovated her sound just for the sake of innovating, and she hasn’t been a slave to six-month beat trends. Her songs have reached across genre isles but are still unmistakably Swiftian. That’s how she’s shown the world that she has grown up.

She distinguishes herself by not taking the road of many female entertainers when they’re trying to enter a mature market.  Instead of changing her image, Swift changes the content of her music to reflect her maturity and how she’s evolved; she’s done it extremely well, especially for someone her age. It has made a huge difference in her staying power and in her success.

She’s An Oddball

 She may be a fashion darling with a Victoria’s Secret model best friend, but you would never know it by listening to Swift’s music. Swift has made a career out of writing songs about what it feels like to be an outsider, like she sings in her hit “You Belong With Me,” “She wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts/she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.” She insists on playing the unpopular girl, and to be fair, many artists capitalize on being outsiders.

Swift has channeled those feelings into music since she was little, and is now one of the best songwriters working today. The lesson? What makes you weird is what makes you stand out.

Samantha Pouls is a Taylor Swift fan and an amateur filmmaker who dreams of attaining success early in life through passion and dedication for work just like her idol. For more Taylor Swift updates, subscribe to this blog.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

REPOST: Muppets Most Wanted review: Beware the evilen froggen

Kermit, Ms. Piggy, Tina Fey, and Ricky Gervais embark on a zany world adventure filled with music and laughs in “Muppets Most Wanted.” Is it as good as the last Muppet film? IGN’s Eric Goldman weighs in.

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2011’s The Muppets did exactly what it was intended to do, revitalizing the beloved characters and reintroducing them to new and old fans alike. So now that the Muppets are, once again, considered “a viable franchise”, as the opening song of Muppets Most Wanted humorously notes, where do they go? On tour, of course!

This installment finds the group getting a new manager, Ricky Gervais’ Dominic Badguy (the last name is French, he insists, and not pronounced like you’d think), who brings them on that tour as part of his big new plans… Plans that secretly include replacing Kermit the Frog (performed by Steve Whitmire) with the master criminal, Constantine, a look-alike amphibian -- minus a mole, that is -- who manages to switch places with poor Kermit. With the rest of the Muppets thinking Constantine is their fearless leader, they travel from city to city, not realizing the tour is a cover for Dominic and Constantine’s crimes and a master plan to ultimately steal the Crown Jewels.

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Since I saw Muppets Most Wanted a few days ago, I keep being asked the go-to question for the sequel to a well-recieved movie: “Is it as good as the last one?” So let’s get it out of the way - The answer is no, not quite. The Muppets wasn’t just a funny, likable movie, it was a deeply heartfelt one. Writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin took the nostalgia so many of us feel for the Muppets and made it a focus of the movie, with a genuinely touching film that was very specifically about the Muppets meaning a lot to people and why it was time for them to come back.

It would be a mistake for Muppets Most Wanted to try for the same thing and it doesn’t. Now that the gang is back together, it’s much more of a classic, wacky Muppet adventure film, with some unmistakable echoes of The Great Muppet Caper, using a similar crime-based story. And on that front, while perhaps not hitting all the beats the last movie did, Muppets Most Wanted is another big success. I’ve already referenced the opening song from the film, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” and it’s absolutely terrific - a meta, oh-so catchy ode to franchises. One of the lyrics notes, “Everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good,” which is indeed usually the case, yes. But that doesn’t mean we still can’t get satisfying, entertaining sequels, and Muppets Most Wanted is certainly one of those.

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The returning team of Stoller, Bobin and songwriter Bret McKenzie (Segel isn’t back this time, either onscreen or off) once more prove to be the perfect group to tell new Muppets stories, understanding the characters’ unique appeal, and how they combine an innate sweetness with truly funny, self-aware humor. There are a couple of very tongue-in-cheek references to the last film, and even certain fan criticisms of it, which are especially clever.

Ranking the Muppet Movies

The World Tour scenario works very well, bringing the Muppets to different countries where different stars cameo as guest hosts, with this film once more managing to include a taste of the classic Muppet Show scenario into its storyline. Constantine (Muppets performer Matt Vogel, who also does Floyd, Lew and several other characters) is a really funny inclusion, as the Russian-accented fiend attempts to emulate Kermit’s voice, instead sounding like a mixture between Steve Martin & Dan Akroyd’s Wild and Crazy Guys and the Man From Another Place from Twin Peaks. Dominic and Constantine are also a great comedic duo, as the frog loves to lord over his human lackey, as represented by their big song together, “I’m Number One.”

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Another terrific pairing is Ty Burrell as the Clouseau-like Jean Pierre Napoleon, who teams up with Sam the Eagle (Eric Jacobson, who also performs Miss Piggy, among others) to investigate the crimes Dominic and Constantine are actually behind. A purposely over the top portrayal of the uber-European and the uber-American, Jean Pierre and Sam constantly try to outdo the other, in a Muppet version of a mismatched buddy cop scenario.

The final Muppet/human team-up in the film is between Kermit and Tina Fey as Nadya, the warden at the Siberian prison Kermit is sent to, after Constantine switches their identities (via a fake mole). There’s a lot to like in this scenario and Fey is clearly having a ball doing a silly accent and showing Nadya’s increasing infatuation with Kermit. However, the prison sequences are one place Muppets Most Wanted falters a bit, with some of the scenes set there lacking energy and feeling a bit drawn out. Still, how can you not enjoy seeing Tina Fey do a song and dance number in a prison, with Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Jemaine Clement and the WWE’s Hornswoggle accompanying her and dancing behind her, as some very exuberant prisoners?

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Clement’s Flight of the Conchords’ partner, Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for The Muppets, has once again delivered an excellent batch of new songs, all in various styles. Besides “We’re Doing a Sequel,” my favorite of the new songs is “I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”, a disco-fueled number Constantine (pretending to be Kermit) sings to Piggy, which is quite the amusing showstopper. Also, while this film doesn’t have as many direct musical callbacks to the Muppets past as the previous installment did, one notable song from a previous Muppet movie does get a big, much-appreciated reprisal here at the end.


Muppets Most Wanted is a fun, joyful film that once more reminds us why the Muppets are so wonderful. The human stars are clearly having a blast (and how could they not?), and with great jokes and incredibly catchy songs, Kermit and the gang again show why they are such enduringly lovable characters.

Samantha Pouls is an amateur filmmaker who dreams of making it big as a director and writer in Hollywood. Read more about the cinema on this Facebook page.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

REPOST: 6 Filmmaking Tips From Sarah Polley

Canadian actress and film director Sarah Polley shares some insights on filmmaking which she hopes could help those who want to master the craft.
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Even if you don’t buy into the game and you prefer not to live in a world in which the term “Oscar snub” is used with a straight face, sometimes a lack of recognition for worthy nominees can still sting a little. Such was the case with the conspicuous absence of Sarah Polley’s name when the Best Documentary Feature nominees were announced two weeks ago. After two strong narrative explorations of romantic relationships in the bitter winter of old age and the summer splendor of late youth (Away From Her and Take This Waltz, respectively), Polley redirected her interest in the world of human coupling by turning the camera on herself – or, more accurately, her family, or, even more accurately, who she thinks may be her family, or… Well, just see it if you haven’t already, because Stories We Tell is one of the more passionate, involving, and incisively intelligent mainstream documentaries to be released in quite some time.

AMPAS has had a history of recognizing more conservative, journalistic notions of “documentary” and shown favor for the crowd-pleasers (like this year’s Sugar Man-esque hit 20 Feet From Stardom). But that only speaks more in Polley’s film’s favor, as it potentially joins the ranks of other productively unconventional yet contemporaneously unrecognized documentaries that we continue to regard as seminal well after their release, like Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line.
Regardless of the reputation and recognitions of Stories We Tell, now or in the future, Sarah Polley is certainly a filmmaker whose consistently interesting output via only three feature titles behind the camera makes her one to follow. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a director who convinced us to treat Seth Rogen seriously as an actor.

Be an Actor, Filmmaker. Not an Actor/Filmmaker

I like the feeling of keeping them separate. I find that really gratifying. I can’t imagine combining those. For me, I love the feeling of using different parts of my brain separately.”
Everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Zach Braff has shown a love for the whole off-screen/onscreen thing, but Polley (who has been acting professionally since age 8 and was touted throughout childhood as a national treasure by the Canadian press) has preferred to keep her acting and directing duties separate.
Polley’s extensive acting experience no doubt informs and enriches her directing skills – notably her masterful handling of gifted actresses like Julie Christie and Michelle Williams – but her self-designation as a director strictly sitting behind the camera (with the qualified exception of the intensely personal Stories We Tell, a film that is in multiple ways pointedly about her role behind the camera) contributes to her ability to construct a rich experience for her audience. She sees what we ultimately see. And there’s also something admirable and classically anti-fourth-wall-breaking about a filmmaker and consummate performer who makes such intimate work that she’s not on the screen for.

Limitations Are Opportunities


In this 2006 interview on the Canadian Broadcast Channel, Polley attests in detail to the ways in which the economic limitations of Canadian filmmaking have allowed her to realize the films she wants to make with notable creative freedom – “freedom” not referring to the endless resources available to studio films, but the ability to realize the film one seeks to craft to completion. In the years since this interview, Polley has been openly critical and skeptical of the Canadian film industry’s recent emphasis on more commercial fare, which pains the star who still calls Canada home and who mines her life in the great northern neighbor for the stories she tells.
But whatever changes may portend the Canadian film industry, at least Polley began her career knowing what can come of a strict standard for creative freedom, which will no doubt embolden her continued seeking of that standard in her future work.


Draw Your Boundaries and Stick to Them

In December 2009, I made a film to be aired during the Academy Awards that I believed was to promote the Heart and Stroke Foundation. When I agreed to make this film [The Heart], I was thrilled, as I was proud to be associated with the work of this incredible organization. However, I have since learned that my film is also being used to promote a product. Regretfully, I am forced to remove my name from the film and disassociate myself from it. I have never actively promoted any corporate brand, and cannot do so now.”
Polley has been well known in her home country for her political activism, and she used her childhood renown as a platform for expressing political consciousness and publicly addressing underacknowledged issues. While Polley’s activism has drawn less media attention during her adulthood, she maintains her political convictions in her work and in her life.
The above quote comes from Polley’s decision not to collaborate on a charitable film that turned out to carry pointed yet shrouded commercial motives. As North American filmmaking itself requires some significant capital in order to even complete a film, and as the public functions of the Canadian film industry seem to be showing a decreasing interest in serious work by Canadian filmmakers in favor of commercial competition with Hollywood, Polley must understand that her desire to continue producing adult dramas (a genre virtually unknown to today’s multiplexes) could easily be co-opted with private interests that do not align with her own. In media industries, it’s no doubt tempting to become a corporate tool in order to either pursue your dreams or even contribute to something charitable; so it’s better to know and be convicted in your boundaries well in advance.


Know What Your Lines Are and Don’t Cross Them 

This may sound on its face like a piece of advice identical to the one explained above, but this received wisdom (as the 2012 Studio Q interview above shows) is articulated in regards to Polley’s personal life. Polley was a movie and television star before she was a filmmaker, so even when she doesn’t appear on camera in her own films, she is often received as the “star” of these films. With Stories We Tell, she’s put something out in the world that was deeply personal, pointedly introspective, and nakedly transparent. For fans and journalists, the temptation is greater with Polley than perhaps other filmmakers to read Polley’s films through Polley’s own public identity. So she offers these words in order to allow her film to speak for itself rather than permit her public image outside of the film to overwhelm it.

Understand the Human Function of Storytelling

“I was more concerned the film should include everybody’s version and not be one-dimensional . . . Telling stories is our way of coping, a way of creating shape out of a mess. It binds everyone together.”
In a medium prone to narrative, whether you’re making fiction or non-fiction films, “truth” can be a sticky and ultimately irrelevant concept.


Know Relationships, in Work and in Life

“[Away From Her features] the opposite kind of love than we usually celebrate in films, which is new love without knowledge and without hardship. It’s the whole idea of love after life has had its way with you, and after you have kind of failed each other and things have gone off the rails. Yet love still somehow exists between them.”
Polley has been open about her own personal relationships – not as a subject of celebrity gossip, but as an account of personal experiences she’s had while making her films. From the get-go with Away From Her, the 35-year-old Polley has shown a remarkable insight into the complicated shifts that relationships endure. The “infidelities” portrayed in Away From Her and Take This Waltz don’t have a good guy or a bad guy, and are far more complicated than any narrative framing through rule-breaking and forgiveness would allow.
Stories We Tell shows how time allows us to rethink our relationships, explores the ways in which we do and don’t share subjectivities, and exhibits the means by which we map our present experiences onto the past. It’s difficult to imagine that someone would be so insightful on the subject of the emotional life of others if she didn’t have a thorough understanding of her own.


Final Thoughts


It’s difficult to say how applicable any of the above advice is to aspiring filmmakers, as not many people live lives that resemble Sarah Polley’s. This is only a practical guidebook if you’re a child star who grew up in a country with a state-run film industry. But what’s unique about Polley’s work (in method and outcome) is how unconcerned with the practical it is. She isn’t preoccupied with the utilitarian logics of most film industries – e.g., relaying her fame into creative or monetary capital, paying attention to what types of films draw audiences, branding herself as a filmmaker or performer.
Instead, Polley’s films investigate the emotional lives of humans, take seriously the underexplored possibilities of adult drama, and use memory as a palette with which to understand precisely how we understand our lives. Her films, to put it mildly, do not seek an audience, and in so doing prove that there’s always an audience hungry for surprising, insightful, and sincere filmmaking.

Samantha Pouls aims to become a successful filmmaker and writer in the future. For more articles about filmmaking, visit this Facebook page.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

REPOST: Oscar Nominations: Snubs And Surprises

Scott Mendelson of Forbes weighs in on the major surprises and shocking omissions from the roster of 2014 Academy Award nominees, including the elimination of viable African-American actors from major categories.

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For the complete list of nominations, go to
There were a few surprises this morning as the 86th Academy Award nominations were announced, mostly negative ones I’d argue. In the major categories, the Best Supporting Actress category saw two not-entirely expected contenders, with Julia Roberts snagging a nod for the Weinstein Company’s August: Osage County (for what is clearly the leading role) and Sally Hawkins taking a nod for Sony's  Blue Jasmine. Sadly the biggest surprise this morning was the more-or-less complete shut-out of viable African-American nominees in the major acting categories, as well as the complete omission for the Weinstein Company’s The Butler. What was hoped to be a strong year for black-centric cinema frankly didn’t turn out that way.
It wasn’t just Julia Roberts and/or Sally Hawkins sneaking in past Oprah Winfrey. Forest Whitaker and Michael B. Jordan were presumed to have solid shots at a Best Actor nomination for The Butler and Fruitvale Station respectfully, with Idris Elba for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom being a potential spoiler. But a late surge for Dallas Buyer’s Club as well as understandable affection for Bruce Dern’s turn in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (Paramount) arguably cost them nominations. Mandelabecame a serious contender, especially when the mixed reviews popped in, and it is represented only for its U2-penned song Ordinary Love”. So what looked like a possible Best Actor field, if not an overall Oscar playing field, filled with black-centric films is now just a matter of Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years A Slave (10 nominations) representing what was actually a strong year for mainstream black-centric cinema.
The other major “snub”, aside from Tom Hanks not getting a Best Actor nod despite Captain Phillips getting a Best Picture nomination, is arguably the omission of the popular and buzz-worthy Blackfish in the Best Documentary category. The “Sea World is evil” documentary has been a major force in the media since July, so its omission is surprising. Less surprising is the near-complete absence of the Coen Bros.’ Inside Lleywn Davis (CBS Films), which will make due with a Best Sound Editing nomination (which it will probably lose to Gravity) and a Best Cinematography nod. And in terms of nominations that arguably didn’t deserve it, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Sony’s American Hustle (10 nominations, including yet another David O’Russell film scoring a nomination in all seven major categories) or The Dallas Buyer’s Club (7 nominations, including Best Picture), so I’ll merely say that almost all parties involved have done better work elsewhere and leave it at that for now. Matthew McConaughy has done a hell of a job tricking the media into thinking he used to be a terrible actor.
But let’s not entirely focus on the negative. Warner Bros.’ Gravity racked up ten nominations, including Best Picture, a slew of technical nods, and a Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock. While it has no chance of winning, Disney’s The Lone Ranger got a much-deserved nod in the Special Effects category, which is a win for those who champion high-quality practical effects work along with now-conventional CGI visuals. Lone Survivor received nods only in the sound categories, as well it should. In a somewhat surprising turn, Saving Mr. Banks got shut out save for its score, so thanks for nothing Ms. Streep (who got a Best Actress nod for her supporting turn in August: Osage County). 12 Years A Slave was represented with 10 nominations, including Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress, even if she’ll probably lose to Jennifer Lawrence. And Spike Jonze’s Her got a Best Picture nod and a Screenplay nod, the latter of which it may win.
As with every year, it was a mixed bag of deserved nominations (Gravity12 Years A Slave for everything), unfair snubs (Stories We Tell for Best Documentary), and frankly undeserved nominations (Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club). But once again I must acknowledge the all nine of the Best Picture nominees were films that came out no earlier than October. The entire first nine months of cinema, much of it quite good, was completely ignored in favor of what amounts to predestined Oscar nominated films. The first nine months of the year are, outside of special effects and animated categories, basically represented by Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight in their respective writing nods and Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins’ nods for Blue Jasmine.
There was absolutely no shot for earlier films like Short Term 12, 42, or yes, The Butler that earned strong reviews and had truly passionate followings. Right or wrong, they were all overlooked in favor of films explicitly intended to earn year-end awards acclaim, and further bolstered by an Oscar punditry that treated them as anointed contenders before they were even released.  Ironically, said representation actually happened for two years, 2009 and 2010, the two years we had that straight ten nominees for Best Picture rule, but “outrage” over films like The Blind Side getting in (horrors… a well-reviewed and audience-pleasing smash hit character drama!) led to the current system. We still get more than five nominees, but it merely means a few more slots for predetermined Oscar contenders.
If we want an Oscar race that actually includes the entire year in cinema, that is something that’s going to have to change. Anyway, I’ll talk a little more about this between now and the ceremony, with a Box Office Catch-Up: Oscar Edition in the next few days. Who do you think got snubbed or unfairly nominated? Which justifiable nomination made you happiest?

Samantha Pouls is an amateur filmmaker who dreams of joining the ranks of Oscar winning directors such as Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. See this Facebook page for more interesting articles on movies and filmmaking.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

REPOST: ‘Frozen’: A virtually flawless film

Frozen was released just in time for Thanksgiving to remind us how family and love are the things we should be thankful for the most. gives us the details.

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All of the films in the princess subgenre of fairy tales have led to the masterpiece that is Disney’s Frozen.

Frozen is the tale of two sisters. Elsa (Idina Menzel) has the power of the titular character from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, the fairy tale the film is loosely based upon. Unlike the Snow Queen, Elsa has no control over her powers. While she does have the ability to do incredible things like create a snow storm upon command, she also can’t stop herself from sending ice flying in any direction. Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa’s younger sister, is completely normal in every way. The two sisters have a perfect sister relationship and they are each other’s best friend. One day, Elsa loses control and almost kills Anna. In an attempt to never hurt anyone again, Elsa locks herself in her room, away from everyone.

When Elsa finally does come out, it’s only for one day: her coronation as Queen. Anna is excited. Not only does she get to see her sister for the first time in forever, but the castle is opened to the public, and she gets to interact with strangers, something that is clearly necessary for her very extroverted personality. While running around amongst the people she runs into Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and their interaction is as awkward as it is perfect. As with any fairytale true love, they get engaged that very day. When asked for her blessing, Elsa denies them. This forces Anna to push her, to demand to know why Elsa won’t allow anyone around her. Elsa loses control when the pressure is applied, and when the people know of her uncontrollable power, she flees, leaving the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna decides to go after her sister and leaves Prince Hans as temporary ruler. On her journey to find her sister, Anna meets up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice salesman, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman brought to life by Elsa.

Frozen works on essentially every level, but perhaps the times it’s at its best is when playing off of the very familiar tropes of the princess subgenre of fairy tales. In traditional tales, everything is black and white, but in Frozen almost everything is grey. The town is cursed by a powerful female, but Elsa isn’t an evil queen who did it with malicious intent. No, she’s just a young woman who can’t control her powers, and that makes for a far more interesting character. There are several more examples of turning traditional meanings on their head throughout the film. Figuring them out is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film, so I won’t spoil you.

The quality of musicals always come down to the effectiveness of the soundtrack. Often, especially with stories as strong as this one that don’t require singing, they can be seen as a gamble. Luckily, Frozen not only succeeds with its soundtrack, but the songs are so grand that they give so much to the film. They are amazing, Broadway caliber songs. The film smartly cast actors with experience on Broadway in the lead roles. While Kristen Bell and Josh Gad aren’t known as well for their Broadway work as co-stars Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff, they quickly prove that they have the chops. Menzel’s “Let it Go” will likely make a play for best original song at the Oscars, and Gad’s “In Summer,” a song about a snowman who wants summer to come more than anything, is downright hilarious.

The songs never get tiring. The pace between song and script is spot on, as is the pace of the script in general. The film doesn’t drags anywhere, but that’s only one quality the script from co-director Jennifer Lee (the first female director of a Disney animated feature film) boasts. As noted previously, the script plays on tropes marvelously, but it’s also incredibly funny as well as emotional. It goes from punching you right in the gut one minute to making that same gut explode with laughter the next. It’s brilliant.

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The animation work is absolutely beautiful, and it’s interesting to see the lasting effect the purchase of Pixar is having on Disney. Pixar has generally been seen as the innovators, but in the past two years, it’d be tough to claim that a Pixar film is better than a Disney animation film. The work today is really impressive, and this is no exception. There’s enough going on in the background to warrant multiple viewings.

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Frozen is definitely a film made for kids, and with that comes very strong messages. These messages work far better than most kids movies. Sometimes the messages sent can be iffy at best (see: Brave), but they do exactly what they need to do. What and who is good and bad is somewhat murky throughout the film, but by the end it’s very clear. Young girls and boys will have characters to look up to as there are both strong female and male characters.

This is by all means a great Disney animated film. It’s one of their best in recent years, that’s for sure. It’s also probably one of their best ever, and it wouldn’t be crazy to say it’s up there with the big ones like The Lion King. It’s that good.

It’s becoming too common in today’s day and age to use adjectives like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “awesome,” but this really is all of those things. I don’t know what a perfect movie is, but Frozen is damn close.

Samantha Pouls is interested in filmmaking and writing. She loves blockbuster films such as the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, and the Twilight saga, and aims to achieve success at the level of these franchises when she produces her own projects in the future. For more articles about movies and film making, read this blog.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

REPOST: In ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ a young woman comes of age

Have you watched the movie 'Blue Is The Warmest Color' yet? This Palme d'Or recipient at this year's Cannes Film Festival isn't just about emerging homosexuality, which has become a commonly explored theme in independent films nowadays. The movie stands out because of its large use of closeup shots to capture emotions from the actors. Read Ty Burr's brilliant review of the movie below.

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“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is proof that the cinema’s greatest gift to us is the close-up. No other medium gets so physically near to human experience as it unfolds in time; no other technique teases us with revelations of intimacy and every so often delivers. In Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour epic about a young woman’s coming of age — the top prize-winner at last May’s Cannes Film Festival and a scandale ever since — the camera hardly ever seems to leave the face of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as it moves from pouty adolescent sensuality through physical ecstasy to a slowly hardening distress. If the filmmaker could somehow push past the barrier of his heroine’s skin to capture her madly firing neurons, you feel he would.

If he had, though, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” would be a different movie, and maybe not the one Kechiche intended. The public brouhaha surrounding this film has to do with three lengthy and explicit sex scenes that fill out the second hour, between Adèle and her older art-student girlfriend Emma (Léa Seydoux), but the movie is more properly about our larger appetites — for love, connection, life fully and vibrantly lived — and how, at the end of the day, we still end up hungry.

When the movie opens, Adèle is a bookish teenager, ravenous to take a bite out of experience. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” hangs around her classrooms and schoolyard, observing the catty byplay of her friends, a relationship with an earnest older boy (Jérémie Laheurte) that tips into sex and then falters. Adèle wants something more: She wants Emma, the blue-haired mystery girl she spotted in a public park — a rapturous movie moment of lust at first sight — and can’t get out of her head.

These early scenes are extraordinarily sympathetic to the confusions of youth, with cinematographer Sofian El Fani hovering daringly close to Exarchopoulos’s naive beauty. At times, the camera is content just to watch the girl sleep, either hoping for a glimpse of her dreams or simply marveling at this accidental odalisque. The original French title of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is “La Vie de Adèle” -- “The Life of Adèle” — and Exarchopoulos gives us Adèle’s life force, tentatively at first and then in big, greedy gulps. If the movie deserves to be remembered for anything, it’s for this performance, risky and raw in ways not easily quantified.

Adèle finally meets Emma when the younger girl unintentionally-on-purpose wanders into a gay bar; and their initial conversation, followed by the slow dance of courtship and first kisses, is remarkable for the way it conveys the hermetically sealed pleasures — the sounds, the sunlight — of new love. It’s with the sex scenes that “Blue Is the Warmest Color” develops static, not because they’re “shocking” (which they’re not, really) or overlong (which they are) but because they’re aestheticized. Kechiche films the scenes in long takes with medium closeups; the emphasis is on emotional and physical desire finding explosive release, rather than the mechanistic calisthenics of porn.

Still, this is a voyeur’s airbrushed view of two women making love, not quite far enough from the tastefully intertwined limbs and slow dissolves of an old David Hamilton movie on late-night Cinemax. It’s not messy enough, either with these characters’ specific personalities or the funk of real life.

Would this movie look, sound, be different if a woman had made it? If a gay woman had made it? The question is both irrelevant and not. (For what it’s worth, Julie Maroh, author of the original graphic novel, has diplomatically disparaged the film on similar grounds.) Kechiche wants to deliver a heightened experience, to flood our senses with Adèle’s, but his movie only goes so far, and whether that’s a failure of filmmaking, imagination, or gender is anyone’s guess.

The last hour of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” follows the heroine’s life during the years after she and Emma break up; Adèle becomes shellshocked and stalled, and so does the film. It’s as if the director had given up trying to get under her skin and contented himself with recording the character’s weepy, occasionally grotesque flailings. There’s not much tragedy to any of this (although Exarchopoulos is still very affecting) and not much point either.

The most unflattering read would be that Kechiche has already had his way with Adèle — narratively speaking, of course — and now wishes she’d just go home. A more sympathetic take would be that this talented filmmaker has retreated behind the screenplay’s maunderings about the eternal mystery of womanly desire, all of them voiced by men, none of them second-guessed by the female characters. If you don’t really understand women — or don’t even want to — it’s easier to just call them a mystery and let it go at that. For all the close-ups, that may be why “Blue Is the Warmest Color” never gets close enough.

Samantha Pouls is a junior high school student and an amateur filmmaker who explores different techniques in filmmaking to enhance her skills. For more discussions on movies and film productions, subscribe to this Facebook page.