127 Hours

Spoiler Alert, he cuts off his arm.

127 Hours stars Freaks and Geeks’ very own James Franco. He quickly became famous in one of the most successful film franchise in history (even the bad one) and after a small run on a soap opera, this still-rising star shines in 127 Hours.

The film is based on the true biographical events of Aron Ralston’s canyoning accident in 2003. It chronicles the events of Ralston’s journey of getting his hand trapped under a rock and freeing himself by amputating his own arm.

Wait, a guy stuck in a rock alone sounds long and boring. False. That is why the 127 Hours is so good, the film makers take advantage of that and structures the film around them it to make it a very interesting adventure. Aron’s story was widely published, so everyone already knows what happens in the end. But still, you keep questioning, “Is this when he does it?!” because they keep you in suspense for a healthy amount of time.

You are supposed to feel stuck with Aron, but the pacing of the film is perfect. Right before each time the feeling of being stuck is about to turn into boredom, you are presented with something new such being taken away from Aron and the rock completely. Aron has multiple hallucinations, flashbacks, and possible flashfowards of what he should live for. These are used to break up the film into a nicely paced story.

The cinematography of the 127 Hours was beautiful and helps the powerful story. I enjoyed the film’s pallet of strong oranges and stong blues. The blue of the sky and Aron’s hat, along with the orange rocks and Aron’s shirt, help compliment each other into stunning images. The camera is utilized to make you feel stuck along with Aron in a minor claustrophobic way. Often times a God Camera is used for going into places that are impossible to show normally. Like when the omnipotent camera goes inside of Aron’s water tube, or showing the bone inside of arms in a creative way. The editing is very unique by sometimes using a tryptic style of showing three images at once. It’s used well when showing Aron is losing his mind as it drifts to many different thoughts.

Knowing the story works this time around. The film shows the inner and outer struggle of a person, and it is a very emotional ride. Each moment of the film is strong, but the powerful ending is brought to an even higher level with the help of a song by Sigor Rós. I will admit I cried at the very end with James Franco partial of Aron’s rescue, along with seeing the real life Aron Ralston with his family.

Not only is 127 Hours nominated for Best Picture, it was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Actor. Even though I think that Colin Firth’s performance in the Kings Speech will win Best Actor this year, James Franco should still get some credit for supporting an entire film all by himself. If James Franco were a true method actor, he would have actually cut off his arm and taken home the Oscar. At least he gets his consolation prize is hosting the 83rd Academy Awards with Miss Anne Hathaway.

127 Hours is directed by Danny Boyle. Boyle also directed Slumdog Millionaire, the winner of 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2008. And it is not just the director, both 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire share many of the same collaborators, including the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, the composer A. R. Rahman and the producer Christian Colson.

I believe that 127 Hours was hands down the most emotionally powerful film of the year but overall it is one of my top picks of the year. It’s hard to place it, but it might be my second favorite film of the year. I would have given it a higher rating if it would have kept its original title that was similar to last year’s Precious: “127 Hours based on the Novel Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston based on the real biographical events of Aron Ralston cutting his arm off while stuck between a rock and a hard place for 127 Hours.” Maybe that joke was too long and I should have cut it off at the arm.

5 out of 5 stars.

Reel Geeks

Reel Geeks is a show produced by my myself and a friend Nick Allen. In the show Nick and I just discuss and joke about films. We both were inspired to do the show because this is how our conversations normally go when we discuss film. Critical discussions of films that quickly lead into random and obscure jokes about them. The only difference this time is that we record our discussions and share it with the rest of the world.

Here are the behind the scenes of the show. We both met at Columbia College Chicago. I have already graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Video with a focus in Traditional Animation. Nick is still at Columbia and is working toward his Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Video with a focus of Film Critique. We both record the show and I painstakingly edit it. Nick’s musical talent was used to produce the great music you hear.

The first episode just went live today. Hope you enjoy the show. Subscribe on iTunes now.

The Secret Of Kells

The Secret Of Kells is an Irish traditional animated feature film. The story is about a young boy named Brendan who lives with his monk uncle in the walled city of Kells. His uncle is very controlling and wants to protect Brendan and the city from the outside world. One day another monk comes to the city with a book that needs completed. He inspires Brendan to adventure beyond the walls of the city and to help complete the book. The story continues with very adventurous and emotional moving moments.

The first thing many people will notice about the film is the visuals. They stand out compared to all other animated feature films. The story is based around the Irish Book Of Kells. The beautiful ornate illustrations from the real book itself was the main inspiration for the film’s art direction. Every single shot looked likes like a completely different hand drawn Illustration that moves. Everything is very flat and geometric but there is still a very strong organic element to each image. Just because the style might look basic, the animation is still fluid and not choppy.

As a traditional animator myself, I found the film’s visual style extremely enjoyable. I am a fan of the video game series The Legend Of Zelda, which The Secret Of Kells had a very smiler style and story to the series. But many fantasy adventure stories have smiler plots and style. I am such a big fan of Zelda that the similarities actually made me enjoy the film more, instead of a negative factor.

I am happy the film was nominated for the Academy Award For Bet Animated Feature. Even though it did not end up winning, the nomination alone will make more people watch this film that could have easily gone over looked. I still wish The Secret Of Kells had actually won because its story and style were just as good as the rest of the collection. The film is appropriate for all ages, but adults might understand it a little more. So I highly recommend this film to everyone.

The best way to describe the film is to simply show you more images.

The Princess And The Frog

The Princess And The Frog is the return of traditional animation by Disney. The film is Disney’s own take of the fairy tail, The Frog Princess, but with a new twist. The story is about a young African American girl named Tiana. All she has ever worked for in her life was to make enough money for her own restaurant. She wishes upon a star for her dream to come true. The interesting thing is, the fairy tale of The Frog Prince actually exists in the films world and the characters are aware of it. So after making her wish upon a star, she sees a frog and sarcastically questions if she needs to kiss him to turn him into a prince. Since it is a talking frog, she finally grudgingly agrees to kiss him. Since this is a twist on the original tale, instead of the frog becoming a prince, Tiana herself becomes another frog. The story continues from there in the classic Disney animation style of the two going on an adventure while meeting new friends along the away.

I think Disney did a very good job at creating the characters of the film. They are not the stereotypical fairy tale or classic Disney characters that we are use too. This is the first Disney Princess film in a very long time to feature the Princess with a mother. Out of the eight former Disney Princesses, there has only been a single Princess with both a mother and a father. The past five Disney Princesses only had a father and no one ever mentioned a mother. In this film, Tiana actually starts with both parents until her father passes away. After his passing, Tina’s motivation is living up to her fathers dream. Which is a very strong motivation for any character. The princess himself, is actually very poor. Trying to get rich again is his motivation. This seems very shallow and negative at first, but this allows room for his character to grow and change is ways and become a more dynamic character. I even teared up during a very sad moment during one of the final scenes of the film. I was completely surprised and still unable to think of another one of Disney’s animated films to have same emotional rich plot point in the film.

Not only is The Princess And The Frog a return to traditional animation, but also the classical idea of it being a musical. I had almost forgot completely about the idea of singing in an animated film. It was very rare for any animated film over the past decade for a character to brake out in song and dance. This film featured many songs, maybe too many. I am not a fan of this musical style of animated films any more. It might of been fun when I was a kid, but I enjoy a more traditional way of telling a story now. Instead of a character braking the flow of a story by singing their feelings and motivations. The only saving grace was that it just reminded me of all my favorite classic Disney films and their song and dance numbers of my child hood. I actually enjoyed the very first song, because the character’s did not stop what they were doing to sing and dance to it, instead the music was just background music during montage like sequence. I hope Disney loses the complete musical style format, and instead make it more subtle background music.

A very important note is that, spoiler alert, Tiana does becomes a princess. This means she is the first African American Disney Princess. There had been so many Western European Princesses, a Middle Eastern princess, a Native American Princess, an Asian Princess, and even some kind type of Fish Princess. So after already having the majority of races, and even a fictional one, it was finally time for Disney to have African American Princess.

Since The Princess And The Frog is brand new, of course it is missing the nostalgia factor of all the classic Disney animated film. But I can easily see how a young generation and generations to come will classify this film in the same nostalgia category that my generation and I do for Aladdin and The Lion King.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite films of the year. It is based on the book by the same name by Roald Dahl. The story is about Mr. Fox, voice by George Clooney, who is forced to quite his risky job as being a thief at the request of his wife, voiced by Merly Streep. Years later Mr. Fox has a more boring job of writing a news paper column and now have a son, voiced by Jason Schawrtzman. His family moves to a brand new house and with three neighboring farms. This inspires Mr. Fox to start up thieving again. He slowly gets more people involved in his plan and starts putting his family and friends in danger when the three farmers try to take revenge. Including one friend, voiced by Bill Murray.

The film has a unique charm to it. I always found myself smiling while watching it. There is many funny and quirky parts, including a punch line at the end of almost every scene. A constant joke was how human-like the animals acted, but randomly and suddenly they would turn back into the animals they are and act out their animal instinct. It had a lot of adult themes and ideas that would go over children head. Nothing is inappropriate, so I would have to say that this film is made for adults, but can easily be watched by children.

Fantastic Mr. Fox’s visuals and animation where very original. The director Wes Anderson helped make this film stand out from all other animated films. Animator Henry Selick actually worked on part of the film before he moved on to work on his own project, Coraline. Since Wes Anderson is not an animator, but a live action director, he treated the film as if it was just another live action film, resulting in the film’s unique style. Wes Anderson is already a stylized director but this new thought towards animation makes it stand out from other animated films and even his own filmography. He uses lots of close up on the stop motion characters, which means that you can see all the hair on the character’s body swirl around because of people touching it during the animation process. Which is very uncommon in stop motion animated films. Another idea Wes Anderson brought to the production was to not record in a sound stage like nearly every animated film, and even live action films method of rerecording dialog. Instead he would record the voices and performance of the actors outside and actually have the actors digging into the ground if the animated characters were doing just the same. This added a warmness to the voices. All these new perspective of how to make animation did not detracts from the film, but actually added to its charm.

I enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox so much that I feel it could have been included in the top 10 Best Picture nominees. Maybe that is just me wishing for more animated films being nominated for Best Picture. Even though, I am very happy that it did get nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Coraline

Coraline is one of the most beautifully animated films ever made. It truly shows that stop motion animation is not dead, and that it should not be overlooked. Coraline is based on the novel by the same name by Neil Gaiman. It is about a little girl named Coraline, voiced by Dakota Fanning. Coraline and her parents, voiced by John Hodgmen and Teri Hatcher, move to a new house. Coraline finds this new place boring, even though she meets crazy neighbors. She soon finds a small door in her house that leads her into an alternate version of her house. Everything is more magical, wonderful and fun there. There are versions of her parents and neighbors, who she finds more fun and interesting. Even though this new place seems fun on the out side, Coraline is smart and quickly realizes that this world is much darker and twisted than it may appear.

Half way through the film is when it gets a little stranger. It gets very video game like at two different points. First the the second darker would actually brakes apart and reforms again, as if she was inside of a computer, Matrix or Tron style. Right after this she is instructed that she needs to collect three different objects. Which feels very much like any modern platform adventure game. The story progressively gets darker and scarier. Coraline is rated PG and is made to be a children film. But the story gets so dark and twisted that it is easily one of the scariest PG films I have ever seen.

I was lucky enough to watch the film in Stereoscopic 3D. This added an extra element of depth and amazement to the already rich visuals of Coraline. The best part about the film is that there is always something new and interesting to look at. With the two different worlds, the scenery always switches up before it gets stale. The stop motion animation was so fluid and believable, in this area of computer generated images, I was constantly questioning if it had just been created in the computers. I know better to question it because I know that it is fact all classic stop motion. One very interesting aspect of Coraline’s production was they did use the help of computers, but not how Pixar uses those tools. The entire film of Coraline was created by stop motion animation puppets in camera. The interesting thing was how they actually created the puppets. With the help of 3D programs, they created character and objects on the computer. Once completed, they actually used a 3D printer to print out the finished parts. Then they would have the characters and object in the real world to animate in camera, the classical stop motion way.

Coraline was directed by Henry Selick. The true man behind the animation of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, not Tim Burton. This was Henry Selick’s first full stop motion animation feature film without Tim Burton, and in my opinion, hit a home run. I am looking forward to Heny Selick’s next project.

82nd Academy Awards Retrospective

During the week running up to the Academy Awards, from all the buzz by everyone about The Hurt Locker, I predicted it to win Best Picture. Even though I still wanted Up In The Air to win because that was my personal favorite out of the 10 films. My original Academy Award for Best Picture of 2009 prediction…

All the Inglourious Basterds who were Blind Sided by Avatar’s visuals are not A Serious Man and should grow Up and get An Education or should be thrown into The Hurt Locker inside District 9 because the Best Picture of 2009 is still Up In The Air because the honor is very Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire.

As for the show itself, the 82nd Academy Awards honoring the best films of 2009 was held last night. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin co-hosted the awards. The duo were mainly funny when they roasted celebrates at the start of the show. During last years 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, Tina Fey and Steve Martin presented an award and that is when I wished for the two to host together in the near future. I guess Tina Fey’s 30 Rock co-star Alec Baldwin is the next best choice. After hosting the last years Emmys and having a dance number on his own show, everyone’s favorite Neil Patrick Harris opened this years Academy Awards with a dance number.

As for the awards themselves, I am very happy of the winners. Everyone won an award that deserved it. Up won for Best Animated Feature. Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds. Like I said in my review, his character is an instant classic and his evilness over shadowed even Hitler. Mo’Nique won for Precious: Based On the Novel Push By Sapphire. Simply one of the most stomach turning roles I have ever watched. Jeff Bridges won Best Actor for Crazy Heart. I have yet to view the film, but his praise for the role and his winning has inspired me to watch it. Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for The Blind Side. It was not my favorite film of the year, but she deserved the award. Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director for The Hurt Locker. And Finally, The Hurt Locker won Best Picture. I think it deserved to win even though it might have not been my top choice for Best Film of the year. I did think it was much stronger than the majority of the 10. I am happy that it beat out Avatar for both Best Director and for Best Picture. Many people thought Avatar might win Best Picture, which I felt was a much weaker film. Avatar ended up only winning three out of its nine nominations. Avatar won the awards it deserved because all three awards were specifically about its visuals, which is the only substance the film has.

I noticed many connections between the 10 Best Picture nominees.

There were many films about war.

• Avatar
• District 9
• The Hurt Locker
• Inglourious Basterds

Spoiler Alert, two different films featured the exact same twist ending.

• Up In The Air
• An Education

A rarity in Hollywood, there were films that focused on Jewish people.

• Inglourious Basterds
• An Education
• A Serious Man

Two films were about young poor African American children wishing for a better life.

• The Blind Side
• Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.

There were many films that had elements about Education.

• Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
• The Blind Side
• An Education, blatantly by the title alone.
• Up featured a boy who is trying to get an education by earning merit badges.

Avatar and District 9 were basically the exact same film, hitting many of the same beats.

• They both were about Man versus Aliens.
• The main character is a man that ends up turning into an alien.
• The main character as an alien turns on man because they become evil.
• The final climactic scene features the main character fighting the main villain, with one in a giant robot suit.

All 10 films feature a sex scene.

• Avatar featured the Na’vi aliens having weird pony tail sex.
• The Blind Side featured, well, Sandra Bollock’s character had kids somehow.
• District 9 featured a fake Photoshopped image of the main character have sex with an alien.
• An Education, Spoiler Alert, they have sex.
• The Hurt Locker did not have a sex scene, but featured Evangeline Lilly, who is sexy enough.
• Inglourious Baserds features a two second long sex scene.
• Precious, well, lets just say no one is looking forward to that scene again.
• A Serious Man, featured a dream sequence where the main character has sex.
• Up featured a sad miscarriage at the beginning. The baby had to be created somehow.
• Up In The Air featured Vera Farmiga’s naked body.

All 10 films dealt with xenophobia.

• Once Again Inglourious Basterds, An Education, A Serious Man, all focused on xenophobia of Jewish people.
• Avatar and District 9 focus on Man being xenophobia agents Aliens.
• The Blind Side and Precious had elements of xenophobia of African Americans.
• The Hurt Locker featured elements of xenopobia of Iraqis.
• Up In the Air featured only white people except for a single African American, who of course rapped.
• Up, all old people are of course racist, and it was clear that original the old man was upset that the little fat asian kid joined him on his adventure.

Up In The Air

Almost anyone who has seen the film Up In The Air can easily tell you that it is one of the best film of 2009 and I agree wholeheartedly. Up In The Air is about Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney. His job is to fly around the country and lays off employees for bosses who are unwilling to do so themselves.

His disconnected and hollow life might seem unappealing to the outside observer, but Ryan enjoys it and would not want his life any other way. Since he has no real life prospects to look forward to, the only thing he has, since he flies so often, is to save up his frequent flier miles to reach a goal of 10 million miles. This is his only goal in life and he would be the 7th person to ever achieve it. He also gets by with making small connections with random women in between flights. Ryan’s latest minor connection with another frequent flier is Alex Goran, played by Vera Farmiga. They enjoy each others company enough they start a casual relationship by comparing flight scheduling to see when they will meet up next.

Ryan’s own boss, played by Jason Batman, grounds Ryan and makes him return to the home office to find out that ironically his own job is threatened. A new young employee, Natalie Keener played by Anna Kendrick, has a new cost saving plan. Instead of spending a lot of money physically flying people around the country to perform a layoff, they now would layoff people over the internet with a video call. Ryan is upset by this because his shallow way of life and job, that he personally enjoys, is now disrupted. Ryan convinces his boss to allow him to take Natalie with him on his next round of layoffs the old fashion way. The rest of the film involves Ryan showing Natalie the old way versus the new way, and Ryan actually trying to make a real connection with another person for once, Alex.

Up In The Air is very well paced. Featuring many funny, dramatic and unique true life moments. The delivered and performance of the witty and smart dialog helped emphasis the great quality of the writing. After the first viewing of the film I thought it was the best film of the year. On a second viewing of the film, it reconfirmed that my choice was right. The film was actually better the second time around, which I did not think was possible. On the seconded viewing, now having the foresight of what will happen in the film, it was even more clear of how well the film was structured. The character’s actions and development are true to life but still very original.

Even though the film is based on a novel from almost 10 years ago, this film truly captures a unique perspective on this current financial economic crisis. It is a very realistic and relatable film. An interesting thing the director Jason Reitman did, was include real people that had actually been fired from their job, in the film. This is done three times through out the film. They basically slightly look past the camera and talk about the what it feels like to be fired. The footage was used by inter cutting between George Clooney and the person that had been fired, making it appear as if he had just fired them. Almost every word the real people said about losing their job was heartbreaking.

Out of the 10 Best Picture nominates, Up In The Air is my favorite. Hope it wins as many Academy Awards as possible. There are many other films that I hope win as many awards as possible, but then there are films that don’t need to win many.