Welcome, 2013: Free Screenplays, Interview with a Quvenzhané, and an Angry Tolkien

The Oscar nominations are in, and I find it interesting that 2012 film does not a pose a strong #1 film that will take down Oscar this year. Perhaps that will happen regardless, as it does most years, but with so many great movies that came out, I really do wonder who will take Best Picture.

Within this past week alone, I have seen Django UnchainedSilver Linings Playbook, and The Impossible. I’m gearing up for Zero Dark Thirty‘s release tomorrow. Oh, and I’ve made a list of movies to see yet before Oscar date February 24:

When all the top 10 lists start popping up, I can’t help but mentally compose my own for the movie year of 2012. So many of the heavy-hitters didn’t get released in Chicago theaters until early 2013, so I’m battling to see many of the films in their short theater runs before they slip away, their DVD releases not arriving until after the Academy Awards air.

I am only dying to post my Top 10 Favorites of 2012, but before I do that, I need to cross a few of those off my list. It’s difficult to catch all the great movies before the Oscars, but my goal is to post a top 10 list by the end of January. In the meantime, I’d like to offer up some film goodies:

  • Oscar Screenplays Available for Download — Now I cannot take credit for this because my boyfriend, Matt, knows how much I love film, and he found this online. Perhaps you’ve already seen these, or you’re not one for screenplays. Even so, this is quite the motherload of screenplays for several critically-acclaimed films of 2012. I know they’ll be available only for a limited time, so I’d recommend downloading your favorites while they’re available.
  • Roger Ebert’s Interview with Quvenzhané Wallis — Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest person to ever get nominated in Oscar history. It’s a pretty extraordinary achievement! Now while I haven’t seen Beasts of the Southern Wild yet, from the trailer, the interview, the article, the reviews of this film and her performance, I can only imagine how powerful her performance must have been.
  • Christopher Tolkien Disenchanted with The Hobbit film — This is quite the read for anyone interested in the Lord of the Rings world J.R.R. Tolkien created, be it the books, maps, languages, or most well-known, the Peter Jackson film adaptations. After reading this, I can’t help but see both sides of issue. Credit goes to my friend Deb for the find.

As of now, one of the movies I saw this week holds my #1 slot for favorites films of 2012, with a couple films following that I haven’t see on anyone else’s top 10 list.

What’s your #1 film of 2012? What are your first thoughts on the Oscar nominations?

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Roger Ebert, Film Criticism, and Writing

I had no plans to blog about film criticism or review, about Roger Ebert, or about blogging. But then again, I read that today is Roger Ebert’s 70th birthday, and thought I ought to pay the man homage in the only way I know how: talk about film criticism.

Gary Susman wrote a fascinating article about Ebert on MovieFone, titled “Roger Ebert at 70: Did He Save or Destroy Film Criticism?” (I highly recommend you movie buffs read it.) And instead of regurgitating the article to you here, there are a couple interesting points that Susman brings up that I’d like to discuss. He inserts Ebert only part of the time, primarily talking about how film criticism and review differ, whether film criticism is dead, and essentially, the roots of film criticism, with Ebert’s almighty thumb heading it–and now all his fingers typing away to keep the film criticism wheel turning.

Susman does all of us a favor and differentiates between film review and criticism. Take a look:

“There’s a lot of confusion over the difference between reviewing and criticism, and what each ought to be, or that there even is a difference. It’s a distinction that confuses even many critics and reviewers. One way to look at it is this: reviewing is a consumer service, directed toward people who haven’t seen the film yet, telling them whether or not it’s worth their money. Criticism is an analysis of a movie for people who’ve already seen it, part of the never-ending conversation that exists about each film. Reviewing is based on the (perceived) taste of your audience or readership; criticism is based on your own taste. “

I agree with the unfortunate thought that Susman makes on criticism in general today: it’s based on one’s own taste. It’s a popular thing to have an opinion and to be independently-minded today. Being learned and educated on a topic isn’t nearly as popular. Many readers and consumers today don’t seek enough counsel, review the options, or consider the possibility that words or products are(n’t) accurate today, depending on the source of the words or product.

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say this, but perhaps the choir could use a little preaching once in a while. My opinion and your opinion don’t lack importance, but rather, are often based too much on the importance in which we place upon our own opinions. Each of us is a little voice in this loud and crazy world called the “Internet,” and I daresay that your voice and my voice do matter and have value. My point, however, is that is all that our voices have become today: opinions. An opinion about this movie, an opinion about the music, the acting, the visuals in this or that film.

And I would believe that to be a neutral thing. It’s neither bad nor good that an opinion is just that: an opinion. But when does a person’s opinion become just another voiceless blog in the Internet crowd, and does it matter whether it attains to be more than that?

An old friend and I used to joke about how many views we would get on our sites. He has an entirely different site than I have–a photography one, and he doesn’t score nearly as many views on average as I do. But how many of my views are from search engines, and how many are from actual people? I brag on my film blog community–it’s the first time I think I’ve ever had a voice on the Internet. He expresses himself via photos, while I use words on a specific topic: film. What I’ve learned is that in the beginning, being heard is far more important than influence. Because in order to influence at all, you first have to be heard.

Roger Ebert would never be such a huge voice of influence, previously on TV and now on the Internet, until he got his start at age 16 as a copywriter, living in an entirely different time and world than what today’s world has become. And not only us lowly film bloggers aspire to write about film the way he does. So do the other critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Ya know, the ones we’ve never heard of, but tend to grab attention when they disagree with the mass and purposefully write some cynical review in order to gain an audience? Susman lays it out.

“Unfortunately, what the inevitable copycats took away were the elements that made for good spectacle on TV: the pithy verdict and the heated rhetoric. Pretty soon, movie reviewing on television — and in print — was something anyone with an opposable thumb could do. Audiences became lazy, demanding no more of their reviewers than thumbs-up or thumbs-down. So newspaper editors and TV news producers filled reviewer jobs with people who lacked Siskel and Ebert’s qualifications or love of movies. (You can’t imagine news bosses hiring political pundits or sports commentators just on the basis of gushing fandom or snark, but that’s often how they hire movie reviewers.) Even in magazines that prided themselves on the literary quality of their prose, reviewing and criticism became acts of performance, meant to show off the writer’s erudition and wit rather than to engage the movie on its own terms.”

Speaking for myself and the friends I have made on the blogosphere, I believe I speak in truth when I say that we write because we love the movies. We love the analytical process of peeling apart each element of a film and putting it back together again, the creative process of understanding how each part of a film makes it a whole, and the enjoyably lazy process of escaping into a film and not thinking a single intelligent thought for a full two hours.

We notice the little details and appreciate the inspiration books have had on film. We make fun of the Kristen Stewarts and Katherine Heigls and we never forget the scenes in the movies that make us hold back a few tears so our friends don’t think we’re weird for crying. We love movies because they’re complicated and full of complexity, and at their foundation, are just simple entertainment that are fun to watch.

I’ve watched Ebert on his TV show since I can remember, and when he lost his ability to talk, I arduously followed his regular column on the Chicago Sun-Times. I still do, probably like many of you. Ebert believes that we live in “the golden age of movie critics.” Everything has moved on to blogging. When I first read that, I thought, Oh no, that must be a bad thing. Ebert doesn’t think so. Perhaps because he’s found some film blogs out there worth his time. In his article about this golden age, he praises many of the young critics he has found. In fact, he even offers great advice, first given by a friend of his named David Thompson, about whether or not a person with a love and interest in film, ought to pursue a career in it. Both Thompson and Ebert reached the same conclusion, summed up in one line:

“Don’t train for a career–train for a life.”

I’ve also often read and heard the popular cliche that you must write what you know. WordPress offers lots of cute little ditties after you publish a post, often some general and witty quotes about writing. I don’t remember the exact quote, but I do remember the gist of one of the sayings went along the lines of, “the greatest ideas for writing come to you not when you’re sitting down at your desk, but when you’re out living.”

I couldn’t agree more. I started blogging way back when because I loved writing. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about then, so my posts were much more limited. Even on days when I’m facing a little bit of writer’s block, I’m assured that tomorrow or next week, I’ll have something to write about, because the film world keeps turning. It doesn’t stop. And I love that aspect about writing and blogging as well. There will always be something to write about. There will always be something to blog about. And when I need inspiration, I turn to my friends’ blogs, and I read Roger Ebert’s blog, and wonder if someday I’ll be able to write to the level he does. I guess it’s not so important to be able to write like one of the world’s top film critics. As a writer, as long as you write about what you love, what else matters?

AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

The phrase, “The Truman Show Meets Gladiator,” was dubbed by Chicago film critic, Richard Roeper, in his review of the vastly marketed picture The Hunger Games, which opened this past weekend.

I make a regular habit of reading/watching film reviews by my two favorite Chicago film critics, the internationally acclaimed critic, Roger Ebert, and one of the guys Ebert used to rate films with–the above mentioned Richard Roeper. Although I have to hand it to Ebert for staying on top of more film and pop culture than any other critic I’m aware of, I’ve got to hand the torch for The Hunger Games to Roeper in this case, because unlike Ebert, Roeper read The Hunger Games series and was able to better review the film as a viewer, critic, and fan of the books. Do check out Roeper’s review below.

There’s a lot I can say about the film, so let me break it up into parts. Keep in mind that there will be SPOILERS. First, let’s get out of the way what I didn’t like.

What Didn’t Work

  • Poor Visual Quality for The Capitol – Unfortunately, the special effects did nothing for me in the middle section of the film. Gary Ross’s vision of The Capitol hardly lived up to Collins’s description. From the fake screens passing through the windows of the train, to the far-off screen shot of the tributes riding in on chariots to the ceremony, to Katniss’s Capitol quarters, the film lacked visual prowess, color, and quality overall. I was hoping Ross would have pulled out all the stops for the film, but the setting of The Capitol fell short.
  • Madge and Plutarch MIA – Madge– This complaint comes from someone who read the book. The introduction of the Mockingjay pin is given by District 12’s mayor’s daughter, Madge, who befriends Katniss in the series. In the first book, she gives this to Katniss. Instead the film attempts to make up for this poor revision by having Greasy Sae hand Katniss the pin in the Hob. Plutarch– My sister brought up this point to me. Although I wouldn’t regard this as a dealbreaker or major fault on Ross’s end, I have to wonder why Mr. Plutarch wasn’t present within the film given that his role becomes more pertinent to the plot in the following sequels. My conclusion is that they’ll bring him along in the later films, and they didn’t regard him as necessary in the first.
  • Low Katniss/Peeta Screen Time – While many fans are overjoyed to not have another one of their beloved series taken over by a tween love triangle, the two leads of The Hunger Games shared fewer scenes together than what I had hoped for. Although film is a rather limited channel for time in telling a story (well, Peter Jackson defied that problem with LOTR. I digress.), Katniss and Peeta’s relationship–or should I say the relationship put on for show–wasn’t built well enough to convince us that the love displayed between Katniss and Peeta wasn’t entirely false. Katniss is confused, and we grasp that a little at the end; but watching the film, we don’t see enough of a relationship or friendship built between Katniss and Peeta to know that Katniss isn’t entirely genuine. Her actions are questionable, and rightfully so, but they’re questionable for the wrong reason. Instead of wondering whether she really has genuine feelings for Peeta or not, we’re questioning how she could be having feelings for him having not shared many scenes with him on screen.
  • 50% Finale – Did anyone else take notice that the third part of Suzanne Collins’s novel ate up over half of the film’s running time? Put in perspective – Each of The Hunger Games novels are built like a play, each having three acts. “The Games” acts as the third and final act of the first book. The games took up half the film. Many little moments were lost within the first half of the film, most likely the plan being – let’s really make the “the games” the movie. I hope they don’t botch up the second film like this.

What Did Work

I was more than content with everything else in the film. Clocking in at a little over 140 minutes, The Hunger Games still felt short to me in comparison to reading the book. The adaptation of the story from book to film, however, along with its flaws, was still crafted with sharp attention to detail and articulated in a way not to bring justice to the book, but more so to the story and its characters. Going into The Hunger Games, I expected to experience more low points than high. Happily proven wrong, here are the points I consider high in the film.

  • The Entire Supporting Cast – Perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts to graze the screen of a teen series turned major film–Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland–these were the people who really made The Hunger Games a hit aside from the incredible Jennifer Lawrence heading them.
  • Every Scene with Caesar Flickerman – Every scene with the blue-haired Stanley Tucci on screen was met with laughter. Since The Hunger Games is told entirely from Katniss’s perspective, we miss out on everyone else’s personal thoughts. Not so in the film. Flickerman serves not only as host and questioner of the tributes, but also as something of a news anchor who worked as narrator, offering updates every now and then. This was well-placed in the script, aiding to the pacing of the film and answering questions of those who haven’t read the book.

  • Casting – I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. The casting worked really well in The Hunger Games, despite the highly questioned Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Winter’s Bone is enough to support the widely-ranged actress, and her performance in The Hunger Games speaks only more of her talent to capture the necessary emotions as well as play out the action scenes. Josh Hutcherson has an innocent presence on screen. Perhaps because he’s a little shorter and has the cutest face ever, but he looks the part of Peeta enough. His acting backed the casting choice.
  • The Games – The Games section of the film was the focus of the film, and easily the best part. Full of intensity and grit, viewers sense the dire situation Katniss and Peeta are in. It’s life and death, and it’s kids we’re dealing with here. Ross really placed the heart of the film into this section, unmasking the rage of the characters, dotting the film with more attention and detail here than anywhere else.
  • Movie Additions – Watching Seneca Crane administrate actions behind the scenes or seeing Haymitch snatch a deal from sponsors on behalf of Katniss and Peeta were treats for those who read the books. We were able to appreciate the element of surprise, too, in the crafty, creative way President Snow killed off Seneca Crane in the end. It’s rare to admit that a movie scene added to the story rather than take away from it.
  • Rue’s Death Scene – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, the raw emotion Katniss emitted, the flowers decorating Rue’s body, the signal Katniss gave toward the camera, the uproar in District 11 following the death–a powerful scene in a seemingly depressing story–followed the book pat, refusing to give a PG version of what happened.
  • Attention to Detail  While some parts could have been stronger, I must admit there were little details only readers would especially appreciate. Notice how Katniss always tied herself in a tree to sleep so she wouldn’t fall out? Appreciate that Katniss decorated Rue’s body with flowers? See that white rose on President Snow? Katniss’s orange backpack? Cinna’s gold eyelids?

Favorite Moments

  • The powerful scene featuring the uproar in District 11
  • A rock that turned out to be . . . Peeta?!?! (The name Peter is translated in the Greek, meaning “rock.” Ironic much?)
  • The theater erupting in laughter when the camera panned on Gale watching Katniss kiss Peeta.
  • Rue in the tree signaling the trackerjacker hive to Katniss.
  • “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.” –Cinna
  • “That is mahogany!” –Effie
  • Peeta: “You’re our mentor. Don’t you have any advice?” Haymitch: “Yes. Embrace the probability of your imminent death.”

Final Thoughts/Queries

  • MPAA Rating – My biggest question and thought following my first viewing of The Hunger Games regards its MPAA rating. Yes, it was rated PG-13, so some parts had to be cut back to take away from the grisly violence of kids ultimately killing each other. I have to wonder what the film would have been like had it been rated R in terms of violence. Roger Ebert mentions in his review how it’s actually silent in the opening part of the games, with kids dropping like flies. While the scene is powerful, I tend to wonder if the sound was taken out in order to keep the PG-13 rating. It only makes sense to keep the rating no higher than PG-13 in order to not cut out the target audience of the film. But if there were an extended or R-rated version of the film, I wonder which scenes would be different. Would Clove actually cut Katniss’s lip when she has her pinned down? Would Peeta actually have a far more severe leg injury? Would we hear the effects of an arrow piercing a child, or a knife cutting flesh?
  • The Bar Is Set for Sequels – With the growing success of the film, how will the sequels play out? Will they pale in comparison, or will they rise above? Compared with other series such as Harry Potter, whose finale rated high, will The Hunger Games be able to top itself in its sequels, or go down in popularity?
  • Will Gary Ross Continue? – Unless I have misheard (a high possibility in itself), no director is set for Catching Fire, although a release date of November 22, 2013 has already been announced! Should Ross direct the sequels? I certainly think so. Other series have proven that a consistent continuity strengthens–not diminishes–from film series.

OK, folks. Lots of questions for you now. First, what did you think of the film? Second, what did you like, and what disappointed you? Have any favorite moments? Consider the final thoughts and add your opinion.

Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2011

The time has come for me to finally make this list. I haven’t seen Tree of Life or Drive yet, so I feel like this list could possibly be adjusted after a viewing of either, but despite those exceptions, I still had a difficult time compiling this list. Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2011:

10) Something Borrowed

Of course I’m the only person out there who will be putting Something Borrowed on my list. It rated 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and received poor reviews all around. HOWEVER, this is my “dud” on the list. There’s a reason Something Borrowed makes my favorites list (as I not so subtly bolded the word favorite earlier), and not the list I consider to be the BEST movies of the year. I know it’s not going to be other people’s favorite, but that’s the point, right? This film resonated with me. I enjoyed the story (and the book it was based off), and maybe part of my problem is that I have this thing for John Krasinski. I don’t know.

9) The Muppets

And now to hit the movies that are on other people’s lists. I ended up seeing The Muppets twice. This is one of the most fun films to come out this year. Jason Segel did an excellent job reincarnating this group of lovable puppets that stole many hearts of earlier generations. From the screenplay to the original music, The Muppets won me over almost without trying.

8) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I found this newest edition to the franchise to be the most adrenaline-pumping of them all. Nonstop action, and some of the craziest stunts I’ve seen take place in a movie. There was great chemistry between Simon Pegg, Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner for the latest IMF team. I really enjoyed the craziness of this movie and am happy to see Tom Cruise phoning in another good performance.

7) X-Men: First Class

This is one of the most exciting movies that came out this summer as well as the best one of the franchise by miles. Originally, I had never seen any of the X-Men movies, but on just a single viewing of  First Class, I was interested in the series. When a prequel can draw a non-fan in without annoying fanboys/girls with excessive detail or repetition (or really, just treating them like they’re stupid), then it can really be a great thing. I really enjoyed being introduced to the awesome Michael Fassbender as well as seeing James McAvoy play a young Professor X. And to top it off, a great soundtrack by Henry Jackman served as background.

6) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

I was one of the people who waited in line to see Deathly Hallows Pt. II and left feeling exceptionally underwhelmed, most likely due to steep expectations. After a second viewing of it, I came around and started thinking more about it. Deathly Hallows Pt. II was a great end to such a successful movie franchise. Although many fans of the books were left wanting with having many scenes changed or completely left out of this movie, it’s hard to argue that this movie didn’t move you in some way if you’re a Harry Potter fan. I was especially fond of the epilogue and the tone it left viewers with. There were so many great performances, that it’s hard to pick just one or two standouts. For me, it was exceptionally nice to see Daniel Radcliffe give all that he could to his Harry Potter role throughout the series, and then watch it all come together as he gave his life in Deathly Hallows Pt. II.

5) Midnight in Paris

I’m so happy to see all the critical chatter Midnight in Paris is drawing. I had heard almost nothing about it before I saw it, but I read a nice review by Roger Ebert. In the middle of a summer filled with lots of action, superheroes, and monsters comes this beautiful and creative stand-alone movie from Woody Allen. All the locations filmed in Paris alone serve as a great backdrop and historical picture of past and present Paris. I really enjoyed seeing Owen Wilson shine in a newer type of role for him alongside the gorgeous Marion Cotillard. From the music to the costumes to the humble, but smart screenplay, Midnight in Paris was easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

4) The Descendants

Since I first saw a trailer for The Descendants in theaters, I knew I would want to see the movie. I really enjoyed George Clooney’s previous Up in the Air, and I was excited to see him in an indie-styled film. Coming across as very grassroots, The Descendants takes a family that is seriously messed up and lets us journey with them through an especially harrowing time for George Clooney’s character, Matt King. What I enjoyed most about this movie was the realistic touch. Shailene Woodley gives her all in a dramatic role of playing a rebellious, but hurting teenager. It’s a story about family, making decisions, grieving, and dealing with unpleasant situations, and at the same time, it gives the audience a sense of realism. That pain and frustration and arguing and death is a real thing that happens every day, and shapes you as person as you deal with those times by your reactions to certain situations and interactions with the people close to you in life.

3) The Help

Based off the novel by Kathryn Stockett, the story of The Help is both moving and inspirational. This movie was able to accomplish both of those tasks–move and inspire viewers–without the unnecessary pizzazz or cheesiness that tends to accompany many films of the same genre today. Stripped of all the colors from the costumes, The Help makes you think beyond the movie theater and the book. Some of the best performances of the year took place in this movie, from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to Emma Stone. Jessica Chastain was hilarious in her supporting role as well. Although there’s still controversy over this movie, The Help is no doubt one of the best movies to come out in 2011.

2) 50/50

Barely missing the top spot for my favorite film of the year, 50/50 made me cry and laugh and walk away very thankful for life by the movie’s end. Perhaps because the story was written by the guy (Will Reiser) who was actually diagnosed with cancer–and has now survived it and is in remission–50/50 offers the most realistic look at a young person dealing with a rare form of cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is both brilliant and endearing in this role, seeming to act the part from the inside out. A great supporting cast of Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, and even Seth Rogen ties this dubbed “bromance comedy” together. Both moving and hilarious to watch, 50/50 was one of my favorite movies of the year.

1) The Artist

Until this past Sunday, 50/50 held the number one spot in my list of favorite movies for 2011. And then I saw The Artist and couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen one of the greatest films to come out in a long while. I walked in with low expectations, assuming I would be bored or disinterested, but found myself unbelievably surprised and thankful for the opportunity to see this movie gem. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are flawless in this Michel Hazanavicius film filled with great performances, a great score, great writing, and great cinematography. It’s difficult to restrain from overpraising The Artist, not only because was it that good, but also because nothing else remotely similar has come out in ages, much less would be comparable to it. The Artist will probably hit it big at every awards ceremony this year, and rightfully so. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, please do so. It’s definitely my favorite of 2011.

What was your favorite movie of 2011? Did you like any of the ones on my list? What was missing from my list, and what do you think I should see still? I missed out on just about all documentaries in 2011, so I’m definitely looking for suggestions!