Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 BAFTA Award Nominations

The BAFTA nominations have been announced with a sixth nominee added to the Best Picture category. You can find the full list at

I have not seen each film nominated but of all the films I've seen this year, 'Gravity' really resonated. It's a beautiful film visually with a beautiful, strong main character played wonderfully by Sandra Bullock, who I think should take home the trophy. If nothing else, 'Gravity' should take home the technical awards for Sound, Visual Effects, Cinematography and Production Design. Alfonso Cuaron once again impressed with his direction, making this the third film of his to be added to my own personal film registry (Y Tu Mama También and Harry Potter 3 being the other two). I also think the screenplay vies against American Hustle for Best Original Screenplay. 'Nebraska' was a fantastic film with a truly great screenplay. It broke my heart, and I loved its poignant subtlety. I cannot confidently call it Best Original Screenplay though when it competes against Gravity and American Hustle, but it's certainly a worthy contender.

In terms of acting, Chiwetel Ejiofor should have this one in the bag. Bruce Dern gives a heartbreaking performance in 'Nebraska' and Christian Bale is transformed into his character in American Hustle to the point that I forgot he was the actor playing the part. But no performance can compare to Ejiofor this year.

Cate Blanchett is this generation's Meryl Streep; she will always give an impressive performance and will always be an awards contender. Ironically, because of that, she will likely rarely ever win. Amy Adam was impressive in American Hustle, but in some ways, her switch between British and American was almost too subtle to the point that I wondered if there were times when she forgot to do an accent or not. That may very well be a testament to just how fantastic her performance was, but I put my money on Sandra Bullock for Best Actress. She played a great, strong female lead in her best performance to date. 

As for supporting performances, I haven't seen each film nominated, but I'd say it's between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o for Best Supporting Actress. Lawrence played a role that I'm sure most would assume would go toward an older, if not middle-aged actress, but instead, Lawrence not only pulled it off, but downright upstaged everyone else. That being said, Lupita Nyong'o gave a wrenching performance. Considering the popularity factor, Lawrence will get the victory, but politically, Nyong'o stands a firm chance. 

My two choices for Best Supporting Actor are Michael Fassbender in '12 Years a Slave' and Matt Damon in 'Behind the Candelabra'. I was surprised to see 'Candelabra' in the running at all even though it was a well-made television movie, albeit incredibly disturbing and hard to watch (don't get me started on '12 Years a Slave'). Both Fassbender and Damon give good performances. Bradley Cooper was great in American Hustle, and I haven't seen the other two nominated films. Daniel Bruhl has a haunting quality in each of his performances, but unfortunately, he won't get it. 

'12 Years a Slave' will win Best Picture. I can see it getting Best Editing, with strong competition from 'Gravity'. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

CinemaKC and the Potential Growth of the Kansas City Filmmaking Community

    As the 30th Anniversary of The Sundance Film Festival approaches and retrospectives abound of all the successful films to have come out of the festival, I can't help but think about how it started as a small festival in the mountains as a reaction to the mainstream Hollywood production studios and as an effort to showcase little-known indie filmmakers. The films were fantastic and engaging, and audiences and the film industry both saw how lucrative of a business it is to encourage smaller filmmakers in order to find a wider range of stories and innovative filmmaking. It was a small venture that has grown into one of the biggest film festivals in the world, and it serves as one of the main venues for films to receive distribution and mainstream box office success.

I volunteered at Sundance last year during my transition from Los Angeles - working in film and theatre - to my hometown, Kansas City. I saw the bustle of the crowds at the festival, the networking, and the business deals. It was an intense atmosphere. It was also exciting to see the films receive such a great response and know that the films I saw and heard about in passing were being praised and picked up from major studios within hours of their initial screenings. I would love to see that happen in Kansas City.

I have been lucky to meet and work with passionate and dedicated local filmmakers and at the Kansas City Film Festival. I've been surprised at how large the KC filmmaking scene really is, especially at how much it has grown in the almost ten years since I moved away to study theatre and film at The University of Southern California. Filmmakers based here have won Emmys for their work, and have screened their films at Sundance and other festivals. Gary Huggins is a KC-based filmmaker who has screened multiples shorts at Sundance, SXSW and other festivals. Kevin Wilmott is a KU film professor and screened his film, "C.S.A: The Confederate State of America" at the 2004 Sundance Film festival. Last year's festival saw two documentaries about subjects in Kansas. "After Tiller" is a documentary about the murder of Wichita-abortion doctor Dr. George Tiller and the nation's view on such a controversial topic. "God Loves Uganda" was about the KC-based International House of Prayer's evangelical mission trips to Uganda. These are just a few examples of filmmakers working here and films based out of our local community that have gone on to receive national attention.

Kansas City's filmmaking industry is booming. It is the perfect time for filmmakers to collaborate on more projects, work with businesses around town, and give the KC filmmaking industry traction. There is too much potential to ignore, and it would be short-sided and a wasted opportunity not to utilize the talent and provide filmmakers with more opportunities and local venues to show their work. The technological and artistic Renaissance that is happening right now is seeing hundreds of start-up businesses trying to gain their own traction, so the possibilities for filmmakers, artists and techies to collaborate on projects are endless, not to mention the ability to combine resources for extremely innovative and creative industrials and ad campaigns.

The challenge is that this is not common knowledge, especially for businessmen. Kansas City has a tradition of being an agricultural and industrial town. It is known primarily as this kind of town, and not much has happened in the past century to change that opinion - at least not for those who haven't been paying attention. Yes, Kansas City has a large agricultural and industrial scene. It is also the birthplace and training ground of filmmakers, actors and movie houses that have changed entertainment: Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Altman, Oscar winner Chris Cooper, Ginger Rogers, Golden Globe winner Eric Stonestreet, AMC Theatres . . . and who can forget the KCAI student whose animations of a mouse changed filmmaking and family entertainment as we know it - Walt Disney. These are just a few of local Kansas City natives who have gone on to become innovative filmmakers who revolutionized the scope of film.

Now it's time to not only keep our talent at home but give their projects support and exposure. Entertainment is increasingly digital and online, so the incentive to move to one of the coasts to "break into show business" is less necessary. The technology and the resources for KC-based filmmakers are all right here. Production studios abound in Kansas City. You can see a list of some of them hereVespera Films is producing great work, and its founder, Cara Myers, is an Emmy-winning KCAI alum who still lives and works here.  KC WIFT provides ample opportunities for women filmmakers. Flipt Pictures and Bazillion Pictures are fantastic animation and production studios; Hint produces outstanding work and just created one of the most innovative websites I've seen. These are just a slim few of the production companies in town. Filmmakers in Kansas City have the ambition and passion to experiment and are not jaded by the corporate aspect of the industry or by practically unlivable conditions that so many prospective filmmakers face in LA and NYC. We are still able to be experimental without worrying about studio demands and can use our creativity to produce engaging stories not often told. The scene may be smaller than LA and NYC, but the community is smart, hard-working, talented and driven. We just need to keep experimenting, collaborating, and exposing the work to a larger audience.

Cinema KC wants to increase the exposure of local filmmakers and, like Sundance, give them an opportunity to showcase their work that they wouldn't ordinarily have. It holds community events and screenings twice a month, with screenings at The Screenland Cinemas at Crown Center, and it has a weekly television series showcasing local films on KCPT that airs Thursday at 10:30pm and Sunday at 5pm. The company wants to make the Kansas City filmmaking industry thrive and gain national/international attention by increasing screenings and collaborations with other artists and businesses in town. It is a mission that is possible to achieve.

It can be achieved because it's good business. Filmmaking is lucrative. Last year, the industry provided $120 million of revenue in Kansas City and $300-$350 million in the state of Missouri. Each film that is made requires a crew of employees - the next time you're at the movies, watch the end credits to see how many people are involved in making a film - so each one of those crew members getting paid gives money back to the state in income taxes. Crews need to eat, so local eateries make money from catering. Films need a soundtrack, so local musicians can partner with filmmakers, and costumers and make-up artists and production designers all contribute and add to economic benefits of filmmaking. Once the film is shot, post-production houses package it into a final product, so post production companies pay editors, After Effects specialists, et al., not to mention the rent for the building where they work. Filmmaking makes money. 

Filmmaking is a good investment. There is no cap in subject material in films, so the number of diverse audiences that can and will see these films is endless. Better stories and better films mean happier and bigger audiences to attend the theaters, which means more business and more revenue. Better business -> More investors -> More money -> More exposure -> More interest -> etc. It's basic economics. Filmmaking is not merely a creative hobby and it is not just an artistic outlet; it is good business. Imagine how much better it can be in KC if more investors got involved. The filmmaking business in Kansas City needs traction by involving more investors who see the opportunity for economic growth and can foster the talent. Part of this includes funding for better advertising for film showcases and event sponsorship. 

In addition to finding investors, it is important for legislators to see the economic potential of filmmaking. The Missouri Senate Bill 387 recently cut the film production tax credit from $4.5 million to $3.5 million which goes into effect in 2014. In order to attract filmmakers to stay in Kansas City, legislators need to realize that doing this only hurts them in the long run. A lack of tax incentives means that filmmakers will seek venues in other cities in order to make their films, and they will leave Kansas City. It is imperative to encourage our local talent to stay in Kansas City to work. 

An article came out recently in which the veteran actor, Richard Tyson, talks about his involvement with a Lees Summit film, and he supports the idea that filmmakers no longer need to move out of their hometown in order to work. He says, "Well, nowadays, with the technology, you can shoot anywhere. You get some local investors and the legislators to back you (with tax credits and incentives) and you can do some surprising things. You don’t have to go live in Hollywood, which sounds great, but it’s different once you show up on the bus.” He adds that with the advent of technology and the dedication of local talent, Hollywood-style productions are not only possible in cities like Lee’s Summit and Kansas City, but are the wave of the future. 

So it's time to get to work. Cinema KC is not the only venture in town that is trying to boost the film scene here, but so far its traction has come a long way. As a non-profit, however, it relies on grants to fund its efforts. Many of the foundations in Kansas City still focus on theatre and fine arts, and the way they are set up, they don't often allow for filmmakers to apply for them, at least not the ones with which I am familiar. Increasing the amount of collaboration between filmmakers and other artists would help improve this dilemma. Funding is the main obstacle to overcome in the effort to boost filmmaking and film distribution in town. With constant efforts to attract businessmen and investors by showing them the financial opportunities that stem from films, the goal to turn KC into a filmmaking power player is completely viable.

Check out CinemaKC's panel at 1MillionCups: kauffmanfoundation/1MC112713/videos/35909088

*Opinions stated in this blog are my own and are not affiliated with any of the mentioned associations.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inchanting Intouchables

I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the French film The Intouchables the other night. I had never heard of the film prior to the screening save for a brief plot summary on a couple of hours beforehand, but I was intrigued.

I absolutely adored this movie. It is heartwarming without being cheesy, and similar to Love Actually, makes me cry, laugh, beam with happiness, and leaves me with an overall positive outlook on life.

Francois Cluzet plays Phillipe, a widowed aristocrat paralyzed from the neck down who is searching for a new caretaker. Omar Sy plays Driss, a guy from the projects who meets Phillippe when he goes to interview for the caretaker position in order to get a signature for his unemployment benefits. Phillippe likes Driss's frankness and carefree demeanor since it's a refreshing change from the stiff, uptight nurses he'd interviewed before. Driss becomes his live-in caretaker and they form a close friendship that expands both of their horizons and opens them to new experiences that they wouldn't have had the courage to experience otherwise.

It is a classic scenario of the straight man paired with the joker. Driss is the joker and Phillipe is the straight man off whom to bounce gags. The combination of Omar Sy and Francoise Cluzet is an example of perfect casting. They play off each other really well. Cluzet's smirks and restrained laughter to Sy's antics keep the relationship grounded and realistic.

What I find the most charming about this film is how heartwarming it is without crossing the line into contrived sentimentality. For example, there is a scene in which Driss sits through a classical music concert with Phillipe and identifies the pieces through commercials or cartoons and then plays Earth, Wind and Fire to liven the party. Had it been a scene in an American film, it would have played as schmaltzy and groan-worthy: Driss is dancing around and getting everyone in the room to dance with him and he has a huge smile on his face as he tries to get Philippe to enjoy the music. Somehow, it was not cheesy in this film. The French are able to pull off heartwarming, silly moments without inducing gagging because they don't oversell the moment. They trust the material, play it for what it is and let the content speak for itself. As a result, the scene was celebratory and a nice moment in the movie.

The main fault I found with the film was the use of exposition at the end to sum up the lives of the characters. It immediately took me out of the film. I was simply enjoying the film in a narrative context so once they put up captions and pictures of the real people, I was zapped back to reality. I hate to say it, but it ruined the movie a little bit. They should have ended the movie after the last scene and omited the captions and pictures. Films can tell a true story without referencing the real people. In an age where audiences don't simply watch a film but also research the backstory on websites and blogs, information and pictures about the real people could have been set aside for those venues instead of capping the film.

Be that as it may, the performances are wonderful and the movie is inspiring and worth a viewing. It is a great example of not allowing any kind of emotional or physical handicaps prevent you from taking a chance at living life to its fullest. Go see it if you get the chance.

The Intouchables is written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and stars Francois Cluzet and César-winning Omar Sy. It is currently playing in Los Angeles at The Landmark Theater and Arclight Hollywood.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lack of an Eye for Details in 'The Raven'

      There is a trend not only in literature but also in Hollywood to take classic works of fiction and put a modern spin on them. Audiences have enjoyed reading “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” and Abe Lincoln: Vampire Killer will be released in theaters this year. The Raven follows this trend by incorporating some of Poe’s classic work into an entertaining thriller with the man himself as the protagonist.

      The premise of the film involves a series of murders in Victorian-era Baltimore played out like the scenes from published Edgar Allen Poe stories. Poe is called upon to help investigate these murders and when his lady love is kidnapped by the killer, Poe must write a series of murder stories to try to get her back.

      The film opens strong with death shoved in our faces. Edgar Allen Poe sits dying on a park bench while a cannibalistic image of ravens feasting on one of their own cuts to police investigating a gruesome double homicide. We are immediately plunged into a haunting world in which no one is safe from his own kind.

       Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston have written a unique script with an inspired storyline. They have clearly done their research of Edgar Allen Poe’s literary portfolio as they weave various elements and symbolism from his stories throughout the plot, providing clues to the murderer as well as winks to Poe literates. The script structure is parallel to how the villain enacts his devious plan – echoing the stories and providing clues to further the action. There is a nice moment in which a scene involving an editor lecturing Poe to write more gore instead of reviews that to a gory scene involving the death of a critic. The screenwriters almost dare the audience to critique the film by having characters make quips about literary criticism.

       Unfortunately, the execution of the film is flawed. The tone is disjointed and the anachronistic dialogue distracts from the historical look of the period film. While the screenplay does a worthy job of alluding to famous Poe imagery, the film is not resolved as to whether it wants to be a macabre suspense thriller or a dark comedy that happens to have thrills and gore. Once the movie ends, the end credits begin with blaring modern music and angular graphics that are more reminiscent of "True Blood" than a Victorian-era thriller.

        John Cusack is entertaining as Edgar Allen Poe but his wacky characterization veers more toward raving buffoon than brooding intellectual. The beautiful Alice Eve neither excites nor inspires empathy as the love interest, Emily, and their chemistry fizzles. Brendan Gleeson is solid as Emily’s father and Luke Evans gives a noteworthy performance as Detective Fields.

        One blaring flaw in the film is a fault in editing - we never actually see Emily kidnapped. When the villain arrives at the party and wreaks havoc, we jump from her and Poe holding hands in the crowd to a scene where the characters discuss her disappearance. How is the audience supposed to feel a rush of panic with Poe if we never actually see the moment that drives the rest of the film's action?

        Regardless of any inconsistencies, the movie is entertaining and suspenseful. The relationship between Poe and the villain could have been compelling due to the parallel between the man/bird relationship in Poe's famous poem: Poe is tormented with self-torture as he searches for his beloved while an unreasonable creature torments him with constant refrains of murder and hopelessness. If you’re a fan of Poe, gore or if you’re a fan of historical dramas, you will be sure to find elements in this film to satisfy your tastes.

       The Raven is directed by James McTeigue and stars John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson and Luke Evans. Run time is a reasonable 1 hour 50 minutes.

*Unpublished movie review from a few months ago

Sunday, June 3, 2012

No Love for "The Loved Ones"

I had the opportunity through my internship at Clevver Media to attend a free screening of the Australian horror film The Loved Ones a few days ago with the idea of writing a review for the Clevver Movies blog.

Unfortunately, my opportunity turned to misfortune as the movie progressed, so much so that I left the free screening and in so doing, nulled the possibility of writing a credible blog for my job. I will write my opinion of this movie for my own personal blog, so here it goes.

I have only left in the middle of a screening once before. It was also during a horror film - The Hills Have Eyes remake to be exact. Before my stomach shocking material is questioned, let me just add that A Clockwork Orange is one of my favorite films.

The problem with this movie is that the shocking material that was in the film served no purpose in questioning any social mores or making any kind of valid point. It was simply a feature length of gratuitous "torture porn" and disturbing material that was neither justified nor supported by the writing, acting or directing. It was shock value for the sake of shock value and because of that, a complete waste of time.

The movie is about a troubled teenage boy kidnapped on the night of his high school dance by an even more troubled classmate and her father after he turns down her request to go to the dance together.

It begins with the boy and his father having a bonding moment in the car that is quickly shattered when an injured naked man appears in the middle of the road, causing the boy to swerve into a tree and kill his father. We flash forward to him in high school a few months later, clearly troubled and on drugs. His unsightly but loving girlfriend and he share an intimate moment in the car that is uncomfortable to watch due to his razor blade necklace hanging dangerously close to her vagina. I had my eyes covered during this part expecting the worst, not realizing the worst would come much later in the movie.

We find out the boy has become a cutter in order to cope with his depression, and after a fight with his mother, we see him stomp down the street gripping the razor blade in his hand with blood running down his wrist. He walks to a cliff area and climbs the rocks to his secret spot. Oddly, after seeing him cut the hell out of his hand, he has no wounds during the scene which is a testament to the lack of continuity in the film. Before he has a moment to catch his breath from his climb, we see a man sneak up behind him and cover his mouth to pull him into a car trunk. The boy's dog is beaten, wounded and sent off to die.

We cut to a side story about the boy's best friend who asks the local Goth girl to the dance, and we see their relationship progress. Her father is the local sheriff who is soon called in to go searching for the protagonist. This side story will have no real tie-in to the main story in terms of action driving the plot forward. It simply serves as a reprieve from the main story.

We cut back to the house in the boonies and the creepy girl from earlier is in her bedroom gluing pictures of the protagonist into a scrapbook. Her room is filled with dolls and pink decor and she's listening to an angsty girl song about unrequited love called "Not Pretty Enough". Her father comes in, gives her a pink party dress and watches her undress with lustful eyes while she tries it on. They go to their kitchen which is decorated for a party and the protagonist is tied to a chair. To sum up the rest of what I saw, they threaten to hammer his dick to the chair unless he pees in front of them, he escapes his ties with the use of his razor blade and climbs a tree but they throw rocks at him and knock him out and drag him back into the kitchen. Disturbing dialogue, a zombie woman with a hole in her head, and violence ensued. I left after they got him out of the tree. The scene playing as I left the theater involved the father and daughter driving knives into his feet.

The problem about a film like this involves the lack of any kind of purpose for the action. The acting is wretched, so I felt no empathy for any character. The writing is bad with dialogue like, "[Your penis] is crying. I better kiss it make it better." The continuity and progression of events is inconsistent. And above all, with such disturbing content, it absolutely has to have a some kind of message that it's trying to convey. Instead, it is simply there just for the sake of existing. Therefore, it is uninteresting and not worth my time. Luckily, I did not pay anything to see it.

I don't require horror films to portray some kind of message about society. But I do prefer to watch movies, whether horror or another genre, to have some thought behind its execution.  Since this film lacked that, I had to pass.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Movie Review - The Dictator

Welcome to my blog dedicated to film and entertainment. This is my first venture into the blogging world, so I'm starting slow and easing my way into it.

I am currently working in production at Clevver Media, one of the largest owned and operated content networks on YouTube. I recently wrote a review for "The Dictator" starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Anna Faris that was published on the Clevver Movies blog. You can click the link below to read it. Keep reading for future posts!

"The Dictator". A Clevver Movies Review