Friday, February 21, 2014

Oscar Nominated Documentaries and the Monuments Men!

In feature films the director is God;
in documentary films
God is the director.
~Alfred Hitchcock

I love Docs. It seems I can't get enough of them. I had a relationship last years longer than it should have, in large part, because both of us could spend hours eating burritos and watching documentaries on P.B.S.

Anyway, this year was another great year for Documentary film making. I am by no means an expert on the subject, so let me just say that before continuing. I just happen to love watching them.

By the way, this is my 3rd in a series of posts about this years Oscar Nominees. If you want to see the others, click here and here.

Oscar Nominated Documentaries for this years awards …

20 Feet From Stardom - I LOVED this. It was so engaging and the subjects of the film were so talented and fabulous, it would be difficult to find someone who wouldn't enjoy this Doc. Seriously, I don't mean to be judgmental but if someone doesn't like this one … they must be a few chips short of a full bag. 

Here is the trailer. Enjoy!

It's available on Netflix.

These singers are crazy talented! Here's another video of one of these amazing gals, Lisa Fischer. I'm crazy about her! Her voice and spirit get me so emotional!

Here's a great interview with three of the singers and the filmmaker. 

Cutie and the Boxer - This film is a also nominated, this year, for best documentary and I rented the DVD on Netflix.

I love documentaries about art and artists. This documentary is about two artists, a husband and wife. The doc, becomes really more about a marriage, than about art, though it's still a huge part of the film. It's touching and sometimes sweet, but at other times sad and frustrating … and you feel so bad for the wife! Anyway, I don't want to give it all away, because it's definitely worth seeing. 

Here's the trailer.

Dirty Wars- Rented this on NetflixVery depressing film about what has happened behind the scenes, during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's very involved, and took more than the years of effort and tenacity (and the possibility of physical harm) to make it, so I have to give props to the journalist and filmmakers, for that. 

But, the voice over (which was done by the journalist) drove me nuts! There was something effected and melodramatic about his read. The subject matter is dramatic enough, so I think it could have been more straightforward. It's hard to explain. It's like he really really wants you to know how it all goes down, because he lived it, but in a weird way, that makes it seem more unbelievable.

Anyway, it's very interesting and gives you the feeling we have no idea what is really going on in the government, and our military … which is scary.

The SquareNo review. I haven't seen this. It's available to stream on Netflix but not yet on DVD. Big bummer, because it's supposed to be great, and unfortunately I don't have streaming, yet!!!  Here's the trailer.

The Act of Killing - Lots of controversy involving this film. It's an amazing concept but just way too dark. For me, seeing the trailer was enough. This war criminal is basically creating reenactments of his crimes. If you want to see it, you can Google it, but I don't want to put it on my blog.

OK, so I saw two of the five Best Documentary nominees, for this years Oscars. 
If I see The Square, I'll pass on my thoughts. 

Past Oscar Nominated Documentaries, that I think are worth seeing, and that I really liked for one reason or another!

Anne Frank Remembered (1995) won
The Long way Home (1997) won
Last Days (1998) won
Into the Arms of Strangers (2002) won
Bowling for Columbine (2002) won
Fog of War (2003) won
Winged Migration (2003) -watch the special features!
Born into Brothels (2004) won - This is one of my absolute favorites.
The story of the Weeping Camel (2004) 
March of the Penguins (2005) won
Jesus Camp (2006) 
Man on Wire ( 2008) won
The Cove (2009) won
Food Inc. (2009) (very important, for anyone who eats food. ;)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

More recent Docs I've rented ...

Gerhard Richter Painting- (2011)  I want to share another Doc that I recently watched and was pretty incredible, especially if you are an artist or art lover! It's not a fast paced doc, but the pace worked well for the subject matter. Sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy, this modern master!

It really was fascinating! The artist's process, especially.

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision- (1995) This won best documentary Oscar! I really enjoyed this one, as well. Maya Lin is such an interesting and incredible artist and I love hearing her concepts behind the works that she's created. 

This documentary also covers the controversy surrounding her design of the Vietnam Memorial, in D.C. and how the narrative has changed over time, in regards to peoples response to it. 

Here is a video with clips from the film.

Available on Netflix

The Saint of 9/11 - (2006) I had heard about this man, a priest, over the years since 9/11. This documentary is moving telling of his life, and work in his community. It's wonderfully made and inspiring … and holds some unexpected stories within it, as well. I recommend this one, too!

I rented this on Netflix but it's free on Hulu.

Sort of switching gears … 

Monuments Men- I love this story!!! I had seen the greatest documentary about the art, stolen by the Nazis during WWII, called The Rape of Europa. In fact I did a blog post about it, some time back. 

Anyway, the movie was entertaining. It's not his very best directing (that, I would reserve for Good Night and Good Luck or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) but it was still completely enjoyable and a story that I am so happy he has told, about the soldiers who did what they could to find the art, as well as protect what was left, of both important pieces of art and historic places. 

And who doesn't love a little Clooney? Plus, it was fun to see all those guys together, including Lord Grantham. ;)

I'm sure you've seen all the commercials and trailers for the Clooney movie, but here is the trailer for The Rape of Europa. I highly recommend this documentary. It's fascinating!

One of the producers of Rape of Europa, Robert Edsel, also wrote the book of The Monuments Men, as well the books Saving DaVinci (which I gave my dad for Christmas) and a new book Saving Italy. Recently, because of the Clooney movie, he has been interviewed on Charlie Rose, as well as other news outlets. Click here for that interview, if you are interested! Took me a minute to get it play, I had to click the center of the screen. Anyway, it's interesting.

You have to understand, my dears, 
that the shorts distance between truth 
and a human being 
is a story.
~ Anthony de Mello, From One Minute Wisdom

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Screeners and Movie Reviews, Part 2 (More Nominees and others…)

This post is a continuation of my last post, which included all 7 nominated films in the Oscar Best Picture category. If you are interested in those, click here.

Best Adapted Screenplay~

Before Midnight is the last in a trilogy. I would definitely recommend renting the first two films, before you see this one. I think it makes it all more meaningful.

The first of the films, Before Sunrise, was made in the mid 1990s and it's fun to see the characters and the actors, age and change, throughout the years. The three movies were made 9 years apart. I really enjoyed them, and hadn't watched them all, until recently. Thank you Netflix. 

The script, of the most recent film, was written by the two actors and the director. It was so natural and yet has a poetry in its reality. The three of them also collaborated on the second film. I also love that the movies are set in Vienna (Before Sunrise) Paris (Before Sunset) and Greece (Before Midnight.) 

Here's the trailer for the first film, Before Sunrise.

If you like movies that are character driven, as opposed to plot driven, I think you will enjoy them.

And, I love Julie Delpy! On top of being an actor and screenwriter, she is a director and writes music for her films. Here's the sweet song she sings in the second film, (directed by Richard Linklater) which she wrote for her character.

I went to film school to make films
just because you're in control of the story.
~Julie Delpy
Actor, writer, director

Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress 
August Osage County- I watched a screener and kind of wanted to shoot my TV. 

I know people, whose opinion I very much respect, who really liked it. I think I would have loved to have seen the play, from which it was adapted, but somehow seeing this at home … I was glad when it was over and I could get these horrible, unlikable, personalities out of my bedroom!  

There was also a bit of the "chewing up of the scenery," as we like to say, in the acting world. I liked Chris Cooper a lot though, and some of the smaller roles, I guess. I won't say don't see it, because a lot of people really like it, but I would never watch it again. 

Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress
Blue Jasmine- Let's take a moment to discuss the goddess that is Cate Blanchett. She is amazing, and was robbed out of the best actress Oscar, for her role as Queen Elizabeth. 

Yes, she won a best supporting Oscar for The Aviator, but really … for her generation, I don't think that there is anyone better. I shouldn't say "better" since everyone has a different acting instrument that they bring to the table, and each actor brings their own "toolbox," but really … she was incredible in Blue Jasmine

Here're a clip, from the film.

Now, I want to see her do Streetcar on stage. (In case you are unfamiliar, Blue Jasmine is a pretty much a modern version of Streetcar Named Desire.) And, whatever your feelings about Woody Allen, the script was great.

I think that's what I love about my life.
There's no maniacal master plan.
It's just unfolding before me.
~Cate Blanchett

Best Cinematography, Sound Mixing
Inside Llewyn Davis- (Winner of  Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.) 
First of all, it has great music. In fact, I ordered the LP before I even saw the movie. (Yes, by LP, I mean vinyl.) Been listening to it ever since!  On top of that, they created such an interesting visual world, where you feel like you are stepping back in time. Not far back, but back to the early 60s.

It's a quiet film, and a slice of life. I'm glad I saw it on the big screen, at a good theater. In part for sound system, and also the beautiful, desaturated cinematography, in mostly cool tones  I also love coming out of a film feeling I was transported and when the lights come up it feels like .. Oh yeah, this is the real world, as if you have somehow forgotten.

If you are looking for a plot movie, this wouldn't be it. If you enjoy the Coen Brothers, you should definitely see it.

The amazing actor, Oscar Isaak, singing as his character Llewyn Davis ...

We tend to do period stuff 
because it helps make it one step
from boring everyday reality.
~Ethan Coen

more movies ...

The Butler- Oprah was great, as was Forest Whitiker, which is not surprising. I think I always love Forest, but especially in The Last King of Scotland!

Anyway, were scenes that were beautifully done, in The Butler. Then, there were a few that I felt were … a little like I was watching a movie of the week. Basically, some of it worked well, and some of it didn't. It was a bit uneven.

 …Cuddos to Danny Strong for some great dialog. I had acting class with him years ago. Nice guy and very talented.

Saving Mr. Banks- I went to a screening of this at the Director Guild, and cried through the last probably 20 minutes of the movie. Actually, I got choked up, several times during the movie. It was a very shiny Hollywood Movie, with great production value, but was much more serious in tone than I had thought it would be. I also liked the movie more than I expected to, and found it very moving. 

Emma Thompson was wonderful. She is one of my all time favorite actresses. (Her big scene toward the end of Sense and Sensibility is one of my all time favorite acting scenes, on film.) Emma is Brilliant, and I feel that she always brings the best of herself to whatever she is doing. She's fearless and funny and raw. Love that and I loved her in this film. 
I was a little bummed she wasn't nominated. 

Having professed my acting love for Emma, I must say that I have always loved the movie Mary Poppins, so the music and all the references to the "making of" the movie stuff, within Mr. Banks, were very entertaining and enjoyable. I would say, you should definitely rent this. 

Here is a featurette about the music, in the film.

I love hearing what filmmakers have to say, about the process. Below, is a press conference, with the cast and filmmakers, of Saving Mr. Banks. As aways, Emma is a hoot.

We don't make movies to make money,
we make money to make movies.
~Walt Disney

I've seen a few of the nominated documentaries, as well, but I will post those later. 

For a full list of Oscar nominations, click here.

Have a great week!
Blessings and light!

Pain is temporary,
film is forever!
~John Milius

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Screeners and Movie Reviews! Part 1! (Best Picture Nominees)

Most of these movies, as you can see below, I watched at home on DVD screeners. I got 7 in the mail, for SAG/AFTRA voting (Yes, I am still a member of the Screen Actors Guild.) And, my friend, in the Directors Guild, got a bunch more. (The DGA is higher on the pecking order, so they get twice screeners that the actors get. 

Often seeing something on your television does the film a disservice, and usually makes a huge difference in your response to the film. I will let you know the ones I saw in the theatre, but most were at home on my bed, watching the tube.

Here are my thoughts on the films nominated for best picture. Everyone has different taste so you can take them with a grain of salt.

Oscar Nominated Films
Best Picture

Philomena - Judy Dench rules. Just give her the Oscar already! That's what I said 10 minutes into the movie, although I hadn't seen Cate Blanchett, yet, in Blue Jasmine. One of my favorite movies so far, along with Dallas Buyers Club. And, it's another true story, which I didn't know until the end of the film. It's quiet, with a subtle wit and charm, and very very touching. Beautiful, really. Judy Dench, as always, gives an incredible performance. Yes, the story is heartbreaking but they found a way to put humor in the script, and a sort of resolution, in the end. Great screenplay. Huge recommendation.

Dallas Buyers Club- My other favorite. Best McConaughey movie, by far. Beautifully acted. Energetic, yet touching- great story and wonderful character arc. It was inspiring and had a great message, about  challenges that make us become the best version of ourselves. McConaughey will probably win best actor and supporting will likely go to Jered Leto. Well deserved.  

American Hustle- Great characters, Jen Lawrence was hilarious but still vulnerable and Christian Bale created a unique and interesting character. Of course, Bale is nearly always great, but the movie felt sort of frenetic and all over the place, somewhere in the middle. That might have been intentional, and might have worked better on the big screen ... and not after two glasses of sangria. I would still recommend it, if you like David O'Russell films, which I do. It's very entertaining. I also loved the costume design, which it was nominated for, as well.

Nebraska- It grew on me. See it on the big screen, if you can. Or if you have a big flat screen, it's OK, but I do think the vastness of the landscape would have been amazing, in the theater. (Even though I do like my TV, it's not the same.) 

It was nominated for cinematography and it's easy to see why. There was also some really funny stuff in it, and it reminded me a little of when I used to visit my grandparents. My favorite scene is when the parents and kids are all together in the car. That's all I'll say, because I don't want to ruin it. Bruce Dern has definitely deserved all the accolades he's gotten during the award season, including the Oscar Nom. Really good film.

Wolf of Wall Street- Holy crap! Do not see this with your parents. I was sitting next to my dad and I thought I'd crawl under the coffee table. It was WILD. Wild, I tell you! And, completely over the top, satire. It could have been a half hour shorter, but having said that it still moves and is rather entertaining. 

DO NOT see this if you are easily offended, or appalled, because you will be. 

Leo was great. Everyone was, but it's definitely not for everyone. In anyone other than Scorsese's hands, it could have been a disaster, but it wasn't. I was just happy knowing the guy (in real life) went to jail.

12 Years a Slave- Brutal and beautiful. I cheated and fast forwarded parts of the torturous scenes. Have to cop to that. I would watch a bit of the acting in those scenes, so I could vote for the SAG Awards, then went past some of that. 

Having said that, I think it's an important film and definitely worth seeing. Deep and transcendent acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o. Amazing. They both deserve any awards they get for their incredible work. A beautifully done film, a true story ... but rough. 

Here's a scene from the film. (It's not a violent scene, in case you're worried.)

Gravity- Definitely an on the edge of your seat film. I must confess, that I have always been completely freaked out by the idea of floating off into space, so I planned not to see it. Then, I figured that if I was ever going to see it, I should see it in 3D, at the theaters. And since I was voting for the SAG awards … I sort of guilted myself into it.

So, here's what I did to take the edge off. I found out from my aunt who would live and die, in the film, before seeing it  (my uncle was appalled by this!) and then I put wine in my coffee thermos and shared it with my friend Karen during the previews. I'm quite sure these things kept me from getting PTSD. Anyway, you can keep that in that in mind with this review. 

It was entertaining and obviously the effects were incredible. I don't even think you can call them effects. Everything you see visually, was pretty much created in post production except the actors. And, they were solid. 

There is a message, in the film, about these two people, that live their lives in completely different ways. One, lives in the moment, taking it all in, and conversely, the other character is just going forward and not really being present for life … and how one teaches the other how to really live. Interesting character arc for her … It becomes a rebirth. I know I'm being vague but I don't want to give it away.

Here is a behind the scenes Featurette. It explains some of the overall themes of the film as well as some of the special effects. It really makes you appreciate the actors imaginations! If you don't want to have a sense of what happens, in the film, end the video at 5:30.

Captain Philips- Really solid film. Tom Hanks truly disappears into the role, and gives a very moving performance, especially toward the end of the film. 

It's not a subject matter that I connect with in a huge way, but it's a really well directed, written and produced film. A friend of mine dated a guy for years who used to ship out, to all kinds of crazy places on those cargo ships, and she loved this film. She is also a picky movie person, and she highly recommends this movie.

Her- Wow, I'm not even sure how to review this. I think it will stay with me for a long time. I watched it last night, and it's going to take some time to digest. 

It is completely unique and touching … and strange … but in a good way. It's set in the not so distant future, in Los Angeles, but you can go with the premise, based on how people are with technology now. 

I don't know that it's for everyone, but I really liked it, a lot. Spike Jonze makes such cool, interesting films. This one has a lot of heart and is sweet and tender, even though Joaquin Pheonix's character falls in love with his computer operating system. And, I have to say, with how the film is done, it's believable. Anyway, I was worried about being horribly bummed out, after watching it, but I wasn't. And, Joaquin Phoenix was really great and completely believable, in a very challenging role.

Here is a Youtube video I found with some of the great voiceover between Samantha (Scarlett Johansson/his operating system) and Joaquin Phoenix. It's set over  "making of the movie" shots.

I will be watching the second Hobbit film tonight. So, Part 2 of the reviews with include that, along with Before Midnight, August Osage County, Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Butler and Saving Mr. Banks. Yes, I've been on a movie seeing mission!

Every great film should seem new
every time you see it.
~Roger Ebert

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Safe Travels Curley Top! A Tribute to Shirley Temple Black

Likes millions of others little girls, I loved Shirley Temple. It was always so exciting when we realized a Shirley Temple movie would be on TV. We even named one of our puppies "Curley Top" (She became "Curley" for short) and at 8 years old, I was so excited to be doing "Animal Crackers in My Soup" in my tap recital. 

With "Curley Top" Christmas 1981

Billy Clower Dance Studio recital 1977

That's me, on the far right, and below. Always a poser.
This was just after our rendition of "Animal Crackers" and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."
And, believe it not, I am still in touch with Michelle and Courtney, above, on Facebook!

There were so many Youtube videos of Shirley, but most were colorized, which makes me crazy. So here are a some of the few I found, in the original black and white.

One of her very young moments on screen ...

I love her reaction, in the little Colonel, when she giggles after Bill Bojangles pauses after dancing on the stairs. (around 2 minutes in.)

I class myself with Rin Tin Tin.
People in the Depression wanted something 
to cheer them up,
and they fell in love with a dog and a little girl.
~Shirley Temple

Here is a film short from 1932. It was her second film, with a bunch of tiny kids ... that would never be made today!

When I was 14, 
I was the oldest I ever was.
I've been getting younger ever since.
~Shirley Temple

One more … 
On the Sunny Side …

Thanks for all the joy and for your service.

Rest in Peace

Shirley Temple Black

Monday, February 3, 2014

Downtown Los Angeles … The Silk Road and The Last Bookstore!

Natural History Museum 
Los Angeles County

In January, my sister Penny, had a free day, in Los Angeles. So, we decided to head to the Silk Road Exhibition, at the Natural History Museum, near downtown Los Angeles. 

We've both been interested in that part of the world, for a very long time, especially after my parents lived in Central Asia, (Pakistan) and we met so many people from that part of the world.

"During its golden age (AD 600 to 1200), the Silk Road opened up the world to new ideas and products. It stretched 4,600 miles through scorching desert sands and freezing snowy mountain passes, from eastern China through Central Asia to the Middle East. But along the way, travelers stopped in cities that, at the time, were the most tolerant and advanced places on Earth. Now those cities come alive in the exhibit Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World.
As smells of spice and music from ancient Chinese instruments fill the air, visitors explore bazaars filled with gems and crafts; a silk-making workshop with live silkworms; ancient scrolls filled with the secrets of technology and religion beliefs; the inside of a long-ago cargo ship; and astronomy tools that helped mariners navigate the seas."

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos after the first room, with the camels, until we got to the end, and were in the "Marketplace." 

Just like coming off a ride at Disneyland, you end up in the gift shop. Only, this one had very cool stuff, from all over … mostly Asia. In fact, the scarves and cookbooks were pretty great, but I kept my wallet in my bag and just took iPhone photos!

In the exhibition, they had all sorts of things from along the Silk Road, from China West to Iraq, including a whole area on making silk. They even had live silkworms. I was thinking my nephew would have gotten a kick out of a lot of it.

They also had displays of things that were used for making dyes, as well as all sorts of spices. There were huge jars, with different scents that you would try to guess. I guessed the rose and patchouli, though the patchouli smelled much better than certain memories I have hippy girls at concerts and fairs. 

Anyway, they did a great job on the way the whole thing looked. The walls were painted in rich, deep jewel tones with huge hanging panels of fabric. It made me want to come home and paint my living room deep red!

Anyway, I got out without doing any damage to my pocketbook and even got a teacher discount, on the ticket price. Nice, huh?

My sister was on a quest to "do something funky, like a flea market or used book store." Well, I'd been wanting to go to a place called The Last Bookstore, since they opened (in December of 2009!) so we headed into the heart of Downtown Los Angeles.

Photo, below, taken in the All Day Parking Lot.

I asked my friend Marcello for a food suggestion. He really could be a tour guide, in town, if he wanted to. 

I am good with certain areas, of Los Angeles, but downtown has changed so much in the last decade. Certain areas are downright unrecognizable, from when I live down there in 1992. Anyway, he told us to go to Baco Mercat, just a short distance from the Last Bookstore, so we wouldn't have to pay to park twice. 

We ordered the hamachi crudo (some sort of fish with avocado thing,) an olive mix, and the double mushroom pizza. Yum. All of it was very tasty and so was the iced tea, which I am quite picky about. I wish I'd taken pictures of the chairs. They were old drafting chairs, I think. Very cool, old wood and burnished steel or something.

Walking to the bookstore ...

When we found the address, (not the building above) we walked into the entry to an old building … and there was this fabulous sculpture!

My sis …

I realize now, that all day, there must have been a smudge on my iPhone camera lens because all the pics are blurry and doing weird things, but anyhow, at least you will get the feel of this great place!

The Last Bookstore
453 Spring Street, DTLA

You cannot open a book without learning something.

Penny …

The upstairs not only has more books, but art and lots of vintage goodies ...

I'm writing a book.
I've got the page numbers done.
~Steven Wright ;)

There is no friend 
as loyal as a book.
~Ernest Hemingway

Groovy 3 dimensional art upstairs …

Teatro Mona by Mexican Artist Armando Arreola 

In the vintage area upstairs ...

Not sure how long we were in there, but we could have stayed for hours, if she hadn't had a dinner to attend that night. 

I could have gone completely crazy with the old record albums alone, but I settled on two books. One is on the life of Michelangelo (surprise, surprise) and the other is a huge 20 pounder. It's a hardback, from the National Gallery in Washing D.C., with 1,028 color plates, for 15 bucks!!! 

My sister must have left with at least 6 or 7 books. I don't know, I lost track of what she was buying! Anyway, it was a great bicep workout, walking back to the car!

I will definitely be going back to the bookstore, and exploring the changing downtown area, as well. 

I believe the Silk Road exhibition is next going to Washington State, if you are in that area. In Los Angeles, it goes through April 13.

Someone asked me,
if I were stranded on a desert island
what book would bring …
'How to build a Boat.'
~Steven Wright

Next up, will probably be the movie reviews. I've gotten a few of the nominated documentaries in the mail, from Netflix, so those will be included with all the others. 

I remembered, doing this post, that I'd seen Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, years ago, at the Hollywood Bowl. It's was a sort of fusion of Eastern and Middle Eastern musical traditions, with jazz and European styles. So, here's a little share of what some of it sounded like. Very groovy mix of sounds ...

Hope you all had a fabulous January, 
and February is off to a great start!

Blessings and light!