What I Didn’t Expect to See in “The Force Awakens”

Theatrical poster for "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"

Theatrical poster for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

WARNING: The following contains some major spoilers about the newest Star Wars installment. Read on at your own risk.

3:00 a.m. A moment ago, I was in the land of sleep, but now that bliss is denied me. My muscles are tensed. My mind is churning so hard it’s likely to produce butter. Each effort to relax seems to be in vain.

This isn’t like me. Undisturbed sleep is one area in which I typically excel. I once slept through a fire alarm, after all. So I’m going to attribute this nocturnal interruption to the excitement of the previous evening, when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

True, I probably shouldn’t have had that Cherry Coke. I try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening, and these days I avoid soda in general. (Something about all those added sugars being bad for my health, so I figure that abstaining means I can skip that five mile run.) But it’s not every day that I see the opening of a new Star Wars film, and this one promised to be a cut above the rest, so I decided to indulge. Live and learn.

Then again, caffeine has not historically given me fits, so maybe there’s something else to explain this unpleasant wakefulness. Could it be that I’m still a bit in shock from what I just saw on the screen? Continue reading

Update: ’12 Years a Slave’ Wins Best Picture at the Oscars

"Twelve Years a Slave" stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (far left) and Lupita Nyong'o (center) with director Steve McQueen (far right) at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Flickr photo by Steve Rhodes

“Twelve Years a Slave” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (far left) and Lupita Nyong’o (center) with director Steve McQueen (far right) at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Flickr photo by Steve Rhodes

 

I wish to extend my hearty congratulations to those involved with the film 12 Years a Slave after its success at the Academy Awards last night, taking home the trophies for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a not a clean sweep, and the Academy members rightly wanted to honor another ground breaking film, Gravity, with a slew of technical awards, Best Original Score for Steven Price, and the Best Director prize for Alfonso Cuarón. Interestingly, American Hustle got completely shut out. (A full list of winners can be found here.)

Back in November, after seeing 12 Years a Slave, I wrote a rather extensive analysis of the film.  If you are interested in reading it, click on this link. I have to say, it was refreshing to see for once that the Academy actually chose their Best Picture winner based on merit (at least in my opinion). The voters have a habit of going for feel good sentiment, or movies that seem to praise movie making, while shying away from films that are darker or deal with difficult subject matter. Well, not this year! Perhaps host Ellen DeGeneres was right: the Academy members’ only choices were to choose 12 Years a Slave or look like a bunch of racists.

One final note: the presenters for the Best Director award were Angelina Jolie and living legend Sidney Poitier, who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his win for Best Actor, the first ever by an African-American. The main rival in this category to eventual winner Cuarón was Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave. If McQueen had won, he would have become the first black director to win Hollywood’s top prize, and he would have received the statue from Sidney Poitier. I cannot help but think that this had something to do with the choice of presenter (as they could have easily had Poitier introduce another category), but it was not meant to be.

2014 Oscars Best Dressed List

If it’s the Oscars, you know that I have to be putting together a best dressed list for the ten most beautifully attired females in attendance. In order to avoid copyright violations, I am going to be linking to pictures of the garments in question rather than stealing them and posting them here. Just click on the name of any of these ladies to see what I am talking about.

10. Jennifer Lawrence – A classic red peplum dress; nice and glamorous, though it could have done with some more glitzy jewelry. (It’s the Oscars: if you’re not going to go with the glitz here, then where else?)

9. Naomi Watts – She played Princess Diana this year in a film that was widely panned, but this dress, which looks as if it could have been worn by Di herself, gets an ‘A’ grade from me. Continue reading

Update: Oscar Nomination Reactions

"The Wolf of Wall Street" did better than pretty much anyone expected.  Movie poster copyright Paramount Pictures, used for commentary purposes only.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” did better than pretty much anyone expected. Movie poster copyright Paramount Pictures, used for commentary purposes only.

 

For those of you who read my Oscar nomination predictions for this year and were curious to know how I did, I thought I would provide a brief rundown of how things went. I was 4/5 in every category, except for Best Picture, where I correctly predicted all nine nominees. Because the number of Best Picture nominees cannot be known for sure ahead of time, I provided a total of ten predictions, so one of them was incorrect. However, since I did predict all of the ones that were nominated, I think we should consider this one a perfect 9/9, no?

As for who will win the big award, today’s announcement changes nothing. It is still a three-way race between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave.

Full list of nominees from Variety. Continue reading

Oscar Nomination Predictions

The red carpet rolled out in front of the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) for the 2009 Academy Awards. Flickr photo by  Greg Hernandez ("Greg in Hollywood")

The red carpet rolled out in front of the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) for the 2009 Academy Awards. Flickr photo by Greg Hernandez (“Greg in Hollywood”)

It is that time of year again: the time for Hollywood to engage in its annual orgy of self-congratulation.  The Oscar nominations are set to be announced this coming Thursday, January 16, at a time early enough in the morning for all the nominated actors and actresses to insist –

“Oh, I was sound asleep when my agent called me to tell me the good news!  I was so surprised!  This is such an honor!  Not that I think you can really compare art.  I mean, there were so many amazing films this year.  It’s an honor just to be mentioned among these other men/women. I suppose I’ll have to find something in the closet to wear…” Continue reading

For Japan and China, a Dispute Worthy of Voldemort

Yasukuni Shrine Wikipedia Fg2

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on a rainy day. Photo by Wikipedia user Fg2

I had a nice post prepared for today that was going to deal with a controversial issue in the religious world, but I have decided to put it aside and instead address a controversy that is currently brewing in the world of international relations.  One might even say it takes place in the fantasy world.

Let me first state a well known fact: China and Japan do not get along.  Subjects of disagreement between them include the fact that one is Communist and the other is a Western-style democracy, one is a major U.S. ally and the other more of a U.S. competitor, both are economic powers going after some of the same markets, a controversial chain of islands is claimed by both of them, they each have capable and expanding military forces, and one of them has a bunch of cute pandas while the other does not. (Ok, that last one isn’t really a source of tension.) Yet, all of these factors tend to take a backseat to a list of historical grievances that have proved to be infinitely hard to forget. Continue reading

“12 Years a Slave”: Thoughts on America’s Darkest Chapter

An examination of some of the issues raised by director Steve McQueen’s newest film, including its historical, cultural, and spiritual implications.

I did not go to see 12 Years a Slave intending to write about it, but as much for myself as for others, I feel a need to do so now.  What I saw was not an ordinary film.  I knew before I went in that it would prompt a great deal of philosophical pondering, but perhaps even this expectation has proved to be too small.

The film tells the story of Solomon Northrup according to his 1853 autobiography.  A free black man living in New York state, he was deceived and abducted into slavery while on a trip to Washington, D.C.  For the next twelve years, he witnessed the horrors of slavery on multiple plantations in Louisiana, until finally a chance encounter allowed him to press his legal case and earn back his freedom.  It’s the kind of amazing true story that screenwriters would normally dream about, but the darkness of the subject matter is likely part of the reason that no filmmaker has attempted the feat until now. Continue reading

Captain Phillips is a Case of Greengrass Déjà Vu

Going to see the new movie Captain Phillips was a case of massive film déjà vu.  No, this is not because I was recently on a boat that was taken over by Somali pirates, or because I was once trapped on a lifeboat for several days.  Fortunately, there was nothing from my own life that bore a striking similarity to the events on screen.  Rather, it was a case in which one film reminded me of another film, and the similarities were no coincidence. Continue reading

Classical Music Isn’t Dead – It’s on the Big Screen

A live performance of the score from "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010.  Photo by Flickr user workinpana

A live performance of the score from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010. Photo by Flickr user workinpana

Word on the street is that classical music is dying out.  Sales for classical recordings are plunging, attendance at many concerts is on the decline, and it is getting harder for new graduates from art and music schools to find a decent job.  The reasons for this downward trend have been much debated.  As you might expect when dealing with the subjective world of art, everyone seems to see the problem a little bit differently.

“The root of the problem, musicians tell me, is a plague of pirated Internet downloads and a spreading anti-intellectual climate in the U.S. music world, especially among the young,” read one article by the American Spectator’s Michael Johnson back in 2011. “Further pressure, as if any were needed, comes from the current economic squeeze.” Continue reading

Lost in Austen Adaptations

Eymery

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia user Eymery

While at the movies this past weekend, I saw a trailer for the new film Austenland, which apparently features Kerri Russell going to some sort of Jane Austen-themed resort in England where guests dress in period costume, attend nightly balls, and engage in flirtations with the opposite sex.  The film will apparently show how a dose of Jane helps the heroine to overcome her fears and give in to love, or something like that.  All I could think was, “Another one of these movies?  Really?”

Don’t get me wrong: I love Jane Austen, as do most women who are at least moderately clever and can appreciate men who know how to dress and dance properly.  I’ve seen pretty much every adaptation of an Austen novel made in the past twenty years.  There are probably too many of them, but at least they tend to stay true to the source material.  There are worse things I could spend my time watching. Continue reading