Category Archives: Movies

‘Being Elmo’: Evolution of a Pop Culture Icon

This is a little indie documentary with a whole lot of heart.

Directed by Constance Marks, Being Elmo documents the life of the life force behind Elmo – Kevin Clash. It’s hard to fathom that Elmo ever existed void of Clash but there once was a time when Elmo was just another ordinary puppet and Clash was just another puppeteer working on Sesame Street.

Being Elmo charts Clash’s journey from a boy with big dreams to becoming the life force behind a pop culture phenomenon. Back in 1985, Elmo was simply a little red monster puppet. A few puppeteers had picked him up here and there include Caroll Spinney (aka Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) but no one had any success in bringing the little red monster to life.

That is, until Klash and Elmo met each other. The rest is as the say history.

Being Elmo will make you laugh. Elmo is one funny little guy. But don’t expect the film not to tug a few heart strings at the same time.

Seeing the love and support that his parents intill in him is uplifting and is a great testament to their parenting.

Also touching are the mentors Clash finds in his puppeteering journey and the patience and passion they bring to passing down their art form to eager proteges like Clash.

And if neither of those points have you tearing up, maybe this one will – it’s Elmo. Sure, he’s cute and funny and is a staple of many of our childhoods. But he is also a friend and contemporary for so many kids out there and seeing their reaction to Elmo is priceless. And seeing Clash fulfilling his role as the conduit between children everywhere and Elmo, well, that’s where he really comes to life.

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A Very Brief History of the Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was the brainchild of then Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) head, Louie B. Mayer who along with other industry heavyweights of the time founded the Academy in 1927. At the time Mayer hoped to elevate the public’s perception of film and cinema. Two years after the Academy’s founding, the first annual Academy Awards took place at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. Only fifteen awards were given out during the brunch ceremony that day, with a lot less fanfare than the Oscars as we know them today. The winners weren’t even shocked by the ceremony’s award presentations – the Academy had already announced the winners three months earlier.

AMPAS itself is made up of more than 5,000 film industry professionals. In order to shortlist nominations, Academy members place votes in each of their respective categories (for example, actors would only place votes in acting categories). Nominations are then announced, usually in late January. Most award categories have five nominees or less, except for Best Picture which can now include up to ten films.

Only films theatrically released in Los Angeles within the previous calendar year are eligible for Academy’s consideration.

Once the nominations are confirmed, all AMPAS members are then eligible to vote in each of the award categories. These votes are then counted and the results of the winners are placed within sealed envelopes – only to be opened during the live ceremony.

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2012 Awards Season Wrapup

Every year the Academy Awards bring an end to one of the busiest times in the media industries calendar, known as ‘awards season.’ During the period of just a few months from December to February every year, the top performers in music, television, and film are celebrated and honored at a variety of ceremonies and events including the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, the BAFTA Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, and the Oscars.

The People’s Choice Awards

The People’s Choice Awards kicked off this year’s awards season. One of the most relaxed and laidback ceremonies of the season, the People’s Choice Awards celebrates performers in music, film, and television. Winners are chosen by the general public using Internet voting.

The final chapter of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was this year’s big movie winner at the People’s Choice Awards, taking home the awards for Favorite Movie, Favorite Action Movie, and Favorite Ensemble Movie Cast. Johnny Depp and Emma Stone were crowned as Favorite Actor and Favorite Actress while fan-favorite Hugh Jackman took home the award for Favorite Action Movie Star. The box office sensation Bridesmaids won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Movie.

The Golden Globes

On Sunday, January 15, the biggest ceremony, second-only to the Oscars, the 69th Golden Globe Awards took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Hosted for the third consecutive time by controversial comedian Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globes are given out by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for achievements in film and television. The Golden Globes are usually seen as a strong indicator of which films are likely to succeed at the Oscars.

The Golden Globe Awards separates their Best Motion Picture between two categories. This year The Descendants won in the Drama category while The Artist won in the Musical or Comedy category. George Clooney (The Descendants) and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) took home the awards for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama. Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) were both awarded Golden Globes for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

The Steven Speilberg /Peter Jackson blockbuster The Adventures of Tintin won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film.

Guild Awards

Also taking place in January and usually also seen as a strong indicator of Oscar success are the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAGs), the Producers Guild Awards (PGA), and the Directors Guild Awards (DAG). Each guild is made up of thousands of professionals working in their specific fields, in this case acting, directing, and producing. These awards are voted on by industry peers.

The Screen Actors Guild Awards has the highest profile of the three. This year’s ceremony took place at the Shrine Exposition Centre in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, January 29. The Help was the star of this year’s SAG Awards with three wins including Best Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Cast. The Artist’s Jean Dujardin was crowned with Best Actor.

BAFTAs

Across the Atlantic in London, England, the 65th British Academy Film Awards, also known as the BAFTAs, took place Sunday, February 12, the week before the Academy Awards. The BAFTAs are organized by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, hence the name, and celebrate the best of British and mainstream international cinema.

The Artist won the BAFTA for Best Film while espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy walked away with the award for Outstanding British Film. Meryl Streep continued her winning streak once again receiving the award for Leading Actress, this time, however not without a little onstage drama. As she approached the podium, Streep lost one of her shoes towards the top of the stairs. Presenter Colin Firth ran back, picked up her shoe, and placed it back on Streep’s foot, creating one of the night’s most memorable moments.

Film Independent Spirit Awards

Rounding out the awards ceremonies on the road to the Oscars was the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Held this year on the day before the Academy Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards honor the best of independent cinema. Independent films are defined as being produced independently of the major film studios like Warner Brothers, Sony, and Disney. To be eligible for Film Independent Spirit Awards, films also have to have a budget of less than $20 million.

Once again, The Artist won Best Feature, Best Male Actor and Best Director. Michelle Williams took away the award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. The Descendants also picked up two gongs – Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley).

84th Annual Academy Awards Wrapup

This article was originally written for a film magazine, which before publication of this article, decided to cease operations. Hence, the lateness. Enjoy.

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Hollywood’s film royalty made their way to the Hollywood and Highland Center (previously known as the Kodak Theatre) Sunday, February 26, for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Affectionately know as the ‘Oscars,’ the Academy Awards are hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and are the highest accolade within the film industry.

Hosted for the ninth time by Billy Crystal, after initial host Eddie Murphy stepped down last November, this year’s Oscars drew in more than 39 million viewers within the United States alone and was broadcast to more than 100 countries around the world including Cambodia.

The year’s big winner was the silent film, The Artist. It took home the awards for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and of course, the Oscar’s most prestigious award, Best Picture. In a surprise twist, The Artist is the first silent film since the 1st Academy Awards back in 1929 to win Best Picture.

The Oscar win has propelled The Artist into the Top 10 charts for the first time. In the US Box office sales were up 34% the weekend after the Oscars, bringing the international gross to $47 million – not bad for a film that cost less than half of that to produce.

Martin Scorsese’s big budget family film, Hugo, was the other big winner of the night, at least in terms of number of wins, walking away with five awards including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her portrayal of former British prime minister and political figure, Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She is now one of only four other actors to have won three Oscar’s for acting achievement. She is also the most nominated actor in the history of the Academy Awards. Over her illustrious career, she has raked in seventeen acting nominations.

The most commercially successful Best Picture nominee, The Help, may not have won the coveted Best Picture award but Octavia Spencer who played Minny Jackson in the film was honored with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She gave one of the most heartfelt and emotional speeches of the night, looking visibly taken aback as she made her way to the stage.

Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor to receive an Oscar when he picked up Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris won Best Writing – Original Screenplay while Oscar favorite starring George Clooney The Descendants won Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay.

Rango beat out Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots for Best Animated Feature. Iranian film A Separation took home Best Foreign Language Film. Flight of the Concords frontman Bret McKenzie won Best Original Song for ‘Man or Muppet’ from The Muppets.

Moreso than ever this year, the media have been critical of the Academy for being out of touch with the general public. Billy Crystal has been labeled by some columnists and bloggers as being a reflection of that predictable, old-school, pretentious Hollywood attitude that the Academy Awards have come to be synonymous with. However, it seems that some critics will always have something to complain about. Last year, the Academy took a gamble with first time presenters James Franco and Anne Hathaway in an effort to rake in a younger demographic. A move that ultimately failed when the two actors were blasted for being stiff and unfunny.

This year’s opening montage once again attempted to break through to a younger audience with a special cameo appearance by Justin Bieber. However, in general, it still wasn’t enough to bring in big ratings. This year’s telecast brought in 39 million viewers in the United States as compared to the Superbowl which drew in 113 million viewers just a few weeks earlier.

Originally booked to host this year’s Oscars, Tower Heist and A Thousand Words star Eddie Murphy stepped down late last year after the resignation of Oscars telecast producer, Brett Ratner. Ratner was forced to step down after using a gay slur, which made media headlines. Murphy, who had originally been approached by Ratner to host, also stood down, feeling uncomfortable keeping the role without Ratner producing.

Oscars Host Shuffle-Up

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to have Eddie Murphy host the Academy Awards. He’s a fantastic actor and a comedy genius…or at least he was. That aside, he was a poor choice of host and I’m glad that he has departed the gig (due to producer Brent Ratner’s stepping down over some controversial comments).

In Murphy’s place…Billy Crystal. And to this I say, great choice. Billy has done it before and he’s done it well. There seems to be some concern that Crystal’s hiring is safe and middle of the road. Good. The Oscars appears to have some chip on its shoulder that it needs to provide a spectacle on par with MTV’s Music Video Awards. Unfortunately, it’s the dorky uncle in this case who will never be as cool and exciting. Nor does it have to be.

The Oscars needs to keep the speeches short. Keep it entertaining. And maybe take itself a little less serious. But with Billy now on board the latter shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Nominations for the 84th Academy Awards will be announced January 24, 2012.

Cowboys & Schmaliens

All I can say is so much potential and yet such a disappointment.

Could have been so cool.

Epic failure.

Jon Favreau [director] and Damon Lindelof (of LOST) [co screen-writer], why did you get involved in this?

Grade: C (and that’s being generous)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 

Kenneth Turan of the LA Times refers to Caesar, the lead chimp in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as ‘one sophisticated chimpanzee.’ Yep, agreed.

Turan refers to the film itself as ‘one sophisticated summer blockbuster.’ Umm, maybe that’s a bit much Turan.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very aptly named for that’s exactly what the movie is all about. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in an attempt to save his own father (John Lithgow) from the debilitating disease. When Will’s employer Gen-Sys begins testing the drug on apes, Will notices an unexpected side-effect, the drug makes the apes smarter.

When the main test subject, Bright Eyes, goes on a wild rampage in Gen-Sys HQ, the project is closed down and all the apes are put down – except one, Caesar. And now to make a long story short. Will takes Caesar home. Caesar grows up. Caesar attacks a man in defense of Will’s senile dad. Caesar is taken to a primate facility. Caesar is mistreated. Caesar retaliates. And therein begins the upRISing.

There’s more to the story but I don’t want to give too much away. Because, the one thing I especially enjoyed about Rise of the Planet of the Apes was that it kept you thinking even as the credits began rolling (unless of course, you’re one of those smarty pants who figures everything out 5 minutes into the movie).

There’s even small details thrown in, just for something a little extra. For example, during one scene Caesar is seen playing with a 3D jigsaw of The Statue of Liberty. Accident? I don’t think so. (If you’ve seen the 1968 Planet of the Apes you’ll see the connection.)

That’s another thing that surprised me. Rise of the Planet of the Apes seemed to be more in line with the 1968 Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston, which seems strange to me as the whole idea of Rise of Planet of the Apes was to continue building the franchise from Tim Burton’s 2002 Planet of the Apes.

Either way, I do admit that I did enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It works great as a prequel and really answers most of the questions that Planet of the Apes brings up. Mainly, how did the apes come to rule the planet? That being said, there were also some pretty huge logical compromises we as the audience had to make in order to accept the plot. Things like the animals’ behaviour in the primate facility. Pretty sure apes aren’t quite so civilized and pretty sure they don’t communicate through human sign language. Which makes me a little disappointed because I think the screenwriters could have addressed those issues better with a little extra creativity.

Oh, and pretty sure it’s illegal to keep a pet ape in the US and pretty sure that somewhere in the eight years that Will had Caesar that someone would have ratted him out to the cops. But otherwise, it’s a good genesis movie and alright entertainment if you’ve got 100 minutes to spare.

Grade: B+

Thor

 

I saw Thor last week. As I’ve never read the comic books, I didn’t have a lot of background knowledge apart from what I’d seen on the trailer. I walked in with no pre-conceived notions and no expectations. And yet, somehow I left, well, a little underwhelmed. I think that when it comes to blockbusters we expect big action, big names, and big effects, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to also expect a storyline with umm, a little more depth, as just a little extra somethin somethin.

What is impressive is that fellow Australian Chris Hemsworth (Thor) used to be a scrawny guy like me. Goes to show how far enough weight training and protein shakes takes you.

But at the end of the day, the final battle reminded me of when I was a 6 year old watching Power Rangers. And Power Rangers was great and all – when I was 6.

On the plus side, I think this was the first movie were Natalie Portman (Jane) was happy-go-lucky, nice, and friendly. I’ve never seen a Natalie Portman movie where she smiles so much. It was a nice change.

It wasn’t the worst movie in the world and it’s definitely not the best either. It’s one of those, ‘something to do for fun’ movies.

Grade: B

3 Doco’s U Need 2 C

I’m a huge documentary nerd. I love them and to be honest I don’t know why. I think it boils down to the fact that more often than not truth really is stranger than fiction. Below is my list of recent doco’s that I would definitely recommend:

Freakonomics

Inspired by the book of the same name (also worth checking out), Freakonomics is all about the hidden side of everything. From sumo wrestling and US standardized test cheating to abortion and crime rate drops to how the name you give your baby may just ruin his/her life. Freakonomics educates and entertains effortlessly.

Grade: A+

I.O.U.S.A.

Considering the recent US debt crisis earlier this month, this 2008 film is maybe more relevant than ever. It tracks the history of debt in America and looks at how the US debt got to where it is today (pre-GFC) and what can be done to fix it.

Grade: A+

The producers are so passionate about the subject that they even made a 30-minute online version so that anyone can watch it anytime:

Burma VJ

This was one of those movies where it looked like it could be good and it got nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary Feature 2009 nominee) but it just looked a little…boring. So, when I finally ran out of other things to watch and actually found myself putting the DVD in the player, I was pleasantly surprised. Burma VJ is not boring!

Because most of the film was shot during the 2007 demonstrations and because the cameramen and women are risking their lives and freedom, there’s something unnerving and exhilarating about Burma VJ. With much of the world closed off to Burma, a group of brave video-journalists make it their job to document for the rest of the world what Burma’s junta doesn’t want us to see.

For their bravery alone, much less their commitment to freedom of speech and democracy, the Burma VJ’s are much deserving of their A+.

Grade: A+

‘The Adventures of Tintin’ Trailer

I have to admit, ever since I was young, I have been a huge Tintin fan. For those out of the loop, Tintin is a comic book series about a young reporter who has a knack for solving mysteries and getting himself in trouble – constantly.

As it turns out Steven Speilberg is a fan as well. But when it was announced a few years back that Speilberg had bought the rights and that Tintin was going to be made into a feature length movie, I was a little apprehensive. And then when I also heard that it would be filmed using CG (computer generated) motion capture, I was even more uneasy. (Can anyone say The Polar Express and last year’s A Christmas Carol?)


But earlier this year, when the trailer was finally released, I realized that I never should have doubted the coupling of Steven Speilberg and Peter Jackson. On their own, well, as talented as they are, they have made their mistakes. Jackson with The Lovely Bones (he totally ruined a perfectly good book) and Speilberg with 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (aliens? really Steven?) but together I’m trusting that Tintin is in safe hands. Finger’s crossed.

Release date: December 23, 2011

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