Tuesday, October 22, 2013

12 Years A Slave

This Fall is turning out to be one of the best in terms of films having Oscar potential, especially this early in the game! Tonight I had the much-anticipated pleasure to see 12 Years A Slave with other OSU students and Wexner Center members. Before the film I confidently said it would win Best Picture hands down; after the film I (still) feel it has much exceeded my expectations and emotions. Where do I start?

The all-star cast: Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberpatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye (Pariah), and the shorter performance by Quevenzhane Wallis (Oscar nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild). Fassbender is obviously McQueen's choice actor, and his role transition from sex addict in Shame to slave owner (still donning his Shame cap) is more than fitting. His vivacious performance creates even greater scenes with the phenomenal Platt (Ejiofor) and Patsey (Nyong'o). The harsher the scene, the more intense the acting; consequently, the harder it is to look away even though the material becomes more graphic.

If only I could showcase 100 stills from this film to capture only part of its perpetual beauty. Here, Patsey defends her life against master Epps.
Not only is this the first slavery film that shows Platt arguing with or fighting back against his owner and getting away with it, it is the only one (that comes to memory) with multiple owners challenging the horrific, yet seemingly realistic conditions slaves endured. Tibeats (Dano) plays the common, rotten, and enraged Slave-hater, but Ford (Cumberpatch) and Bass (Pitt) show that challenging bullies is an everlasting concept that is still being dealt with 170 years later.

Every shot is a beauty unto itself. Platt (Ejiofor) works in the cotton field, above.
The spectacular cinematography kept me entranced as any quality film would and should. The colors contrast beautifully in every scene while the camera not only moves, but captures innovatively. Even the transitions are crafted to startle and yank the viewers' eyes and soul from one scene to the next, a subtle reminder that the slaves had no such break to delight in. The rippling, receding waves of the steamboat paddlewheel (a surprisingly unsettling sequence of shots) are a constant reminder that only looking to your past gets you thrown overboard, no matter the circumstances. The long takes are (as always) exceptionally gratifying.  Semi-spoiler: Seeing Platt tiptoe for his life while hanging by a noose for minutes on end during multiple long takes (in story time this lasts for almost a whole day's work) keeps the viewer breathless and mystified. Notice the house he was building stands in the background as a blinding reminder of why he suffers (end spoiler). Then one of the final shots follows Platt's distressed eyes before they finally fix on the screen/viewer forcing each of us to contemplate the ideals of living and surviving as a slave. Did he survive favorably in the eyes of God? Should he have followed through with Patsey's offer? His growing rage and determination were secured during the extreme long take and moving scene where a group of slaves sings "Roll, Jordan, Roll," reminiscent of the earlier paddle wheel and rolling tide. Be ready to hear this powerful tune again at the Oscars: it will definitely be up for Best Original Song.

The kind master (Cumberpatch) gifts his most worthy slave with a home away from home.
Music plays an important role throughout the film and at multiple times deliberately challenges diegesis vs. non-diegesis. Hans Zimmer's sometimes provocative, rarely uplifting, and mostly impending and Inception-reminiscent score perfectly parallels Solomon's fiddle-playing abilities. His talent which ironically gets him kidnapped via a circus scheme is his only resting place during capture. A wave of his bow silences screams and soothes souls, a literal reminder (he scratches the names of his family left behind into the violin) of the transcendent power of music (and sound mixing & editing in film). Zimmer has long been, for me, the most famous composer of this generation and he will continue to rise (Get it? Because he scored The Dark Knight Rises, too...) in popularity after he nabs an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. Here is just a pre-preview of the soundtrack since it won't be officially released until November 5th (1:50 is a good place to start):

The gripping story of Soloman Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and turned into a slave fights for his survival for 12 terrifying years and captures the audience for 133 minutes. While the film deals slightly with the issue of white supremacy, the overall message has nothing to do with black power. There are some white slave owners that understand the cruelty forced upon The messages are more centered around the power of strength, soul, and family keeping a man determined to one day be reunited with his family. Patsey is by far the most profound woman he meets along his journey. She makes the viewer step into her shoes to realize that while she may have major skills picking cotton in the fields, she is living in a constant hell between Edwin Epps and his Mistress (Fassbender & Paulson). In the end, Solomon and her relationship are reduced to a few words: "But what about Patsey?"
This harrowing tale is based on a memoir of the same title published by Solomon Northup in 1853. As Bass suggests during his heroic monologue, the laws continue to change even though some people are stuck in their own ways. Slavery has since been outlawed but it is a memory never forgotten. Yet, kidnapping, sex trafficking, civil rights, and a countless other inequalities are still profoundly relevant today. A world where people don't have to live in such fear is still miles away, but it is a future that should not be thought of as impossible. It is a goal that Solomon fought for years after he was enslaved, and his heart lives on today in those that carry this similar drive.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Defying Gravity

I have no idea why I didn't write a review of Gravity right after I saw an advanced screening two weeks ago. It has taken me almost this long just to accept that it actually happened and that I actually experienced that most amazing...thing. I saw the teaser trailer when it was released and forbid myself from watching the full trailer and other clips until after I saw the movie. So if you haven't seen the trailer yet, DON'T. Just watch the teaser and be prepared to be even more blown away!

Gravity is more than just a film: it is a cinematic experience which assaults your senses in the most stylish, unexpecting, and welcoming of ways. I still remember the film (more than a 'movie') starting and me not knowing how such a piece of work would be able to begin. But the few lines of text appeared and then the vastness of space in 3D appeared. My giddy eyes reeled from the cinematographic and special effects beauty, the long takes deepening my focused and aroused senses.

Sandra gives the performance of a lifetime as Dr. Ryan Stone. Yes, I know. Every new movie that Sandra Bullock is in has these same lines attached, but this time it is even more true! She dons a boyish haircut, which adds to her vulnerable character (bringing to mind one of my top 3 shots of the film. Can I explain it? No, that would ruin the moment. But the shot creeps up on you in the softest of ways and once you realize what is being captured, your heart just wants to embrace the full power of the image. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey.). Dr. Stone's transformation is beautiful. It begins after she tells us about her daughter (no spoilers) and continues through the final shot of the film, a memorable extreme, low angle shot of her rising and defying gravity.

There are a million things to say about this film but to simply write them in a blogpost does none of it justice. I cried three separate times thanks to Sandra's performance and I walked out of the theatre knowing the Oscar should already be split between her and Cate Blanchett (for Blue Jasmine), despite the already insane amount of Best Actress Oscar hype. The cinematography is instantly jaw-dropping because it really does look like space (I've been scouring the web to find a real IMAX theatre around here) and the camera movements will have you reeling for something to hold onto. The special effects will have you asking yourself over and over "How did they do that?! They really must be in space!" Every slight movement or particle in the air acts as if it were 'weightless'. My third favorite sequence is when water droplets disperse and one splatters on the camera lens. Every string that gets bumped in the space station and every blast from the fire extinguisher are as fluid as hair gliding in the wind.

The sound editing is almost just as important in transporting you into the perils of what is happening. While the camera moves seamlessly from space to the inside of Sandra's helmet, the flawless sound transitions from Sandra's deep breaths and frantic calls for help to the vacuum of space where not even Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) can hear or help her. Alfonso cleverly and constantly switches between barriers to make sure the audience doesn't become fully comfortable with the horrific situation. He keeps you saying "What the heck could come next?" and of course, something even worse happens.

There are moments (yes, plural) that I stopped breathing or held my breath hoping it would replenish Dr. Stone's disappearing supply of oxygen. The beauty, the magic, the intensity, and the power of this film escapes me. It should without a doubt be seen in 3D. The technology is subtle in many ways, yet I also caught myself blinking when I wasn't expecting meteorites to fly towards me.

Now, I hope none of this scares you. I started this post off by saying Gravity is an experience you need to fully immerse yourself in and if you do that, it will be one of the most fulfilling things you do this fall. It will not escape attention from the press or a growing cult fanbase for the months or years to come. It already rose from 8.5 to 8.7 after the official opening day (Friday Oct 4) on IMDB and is (not surprisingly) Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If I get you to rethink seeing this film because you are afraid of heights or space, then I have done my job. I already convinced my grandma so there must be a few more waivering souls out there.

Do yourself a favor today. Take a break from work or studying and go see Gravity. I guarantee it is like nothing you have experienced before.
For the much-awaited arrival of Fall, I bring to you a pumpkin smoothie! So cozy up in front of the fire with this smooth delight :)

3-4 oz. frozen pumpkin pie filling (freeze ahead of time!)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
dash of cinammon

After you blend everything together, feel free to top your drink with crushed (cinammon) graham crackers. Or go ahead and add them to your drink!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sundance: Day Three

[I know this is quite a delayed post; I just found it in my drafts folder. It may be a bit incomplete in terms of the day's agenda, but it is still telling of recent wide releases.]

Once we got to the cashier for Day Of tickets, I got a ticket to Touchy Feely later Saturday at noon and Breathe In for 8:30am Sunday morning (see Day 4 blog!). So thankfully I got an hour nap before the screening-- especially because I just had about 3-4 hours sleep...on a cold, tile floor.

I was extremely excited for Touchy Feely- I've kept an eye on Rosemary Dewitt ever since her role on United States of Tara. The director introduced the film and was extremely happy to be a part of Sundance US Dramatic Competition once again, especially because she is one of the eight women competing. Yet, I was disappointed by the film. Don't get me wrong, Lynn Shelton incorporated interesting techniques that illustrated Abby's internal conflict; microscopic rack focus shots of the skin show Abby's impending claustrophobia towards her massage patients. A later ecstacy-scapade also creates a surreal environment for the drugged characters. The supporting cast is impressive with Allison Janney topping the lot. Josh Pais' awkward Paul, a dentist who mysteriously gains healing powers to cure TMJ in his patients provides most of the comic relief (is it coincidence that all of the supporting casts' lives get better once Abby undergoes mental distress?). The main reason why I was disappointed with the film was by the short ending that really didn't explain the resolutions. Character's emotions and thoughts drive the narrative, yet the conclusion is so abrupt. Another highlight is Tomo Nakayama's "Horses" (found here) which he plays during the climax of the film. The song captures the delicacy of each character and his/her struggle to discover himself/herself. His voice is stunning, but his character reminds me of a similarly awkward Michael Cera from Juno.

I was excited to see Ellen (and get her autograph), Allison, Lynn, and Rosemary after the screening behind Eccles!!

The rest of my day can be summed up shortly with cinematic disappointment. After the screening I went to the Morningstar Farms restaurant with a newly made filmmaker friend. The restaurant is famous during the festival because they are serving FREE lunch & dinner: veggie burgers and veggie chili. Can't go wrong with free food! Then after lunch I went to wait in line for the premiere of Toy's House. I was 7th in line, with Nick Robinson's aunt and friends ahead of me (he's the lead in the film). I think I arrived around 4:15 and waited until 8:30, and after they let 6 people into the screening, I was the first person to not be given a ticket :'(  I was devastated, but for a happy ending, see Day 5... I really wanted to see Mud and Interior. Leather Bar. which were premiering at the same time, but since I HAD to try to get to the premiere of the film I was an extra for, I had to deal with only seeing 1 film today.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Goodbye, Summer...

With the summer winding down, I was trying to make a Best Of Summer list and quickly realized it was an amazing summer for indie & Sundance films! The Spectacular Now definitely makes the Top 5 along with The Bling Ring, The Kings of Summer, Before Midnight, and Fruitvale for the independents and The World's End, World War Z, This Is The End, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Despicable Me 2 for the blockbusters (take into consideration that I did miss out on some other good ones, apparently). I'm not big on star-studded, action-popping blockbusters but I do enjoy a mind-numbing cinematic experience from time to time. Other Sundance films that have been making their rounds include: Blackfish, In A World..., Don Jon, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The Way, Way Back, The East, Stoker, Top of the Lake, Stoker, Austenland, Adore/Two Mothers, Upstream Color (now on Netflix), We Steal Secrets, After Tiller, and soon to be released: Kill Your Darlings (!!!!!!), Concussion, A Teacher, Afternoon Delight, Breathe In, and A.C.O.D. (Jobs, Lovelace, Touchy Feely, and The Book of Love among the Black Sheep of the lot).

What other films did you love this summer and which do I NEED to see stat??


A Post-workout milkshake/smoothie:
1 serving

1/2 banana (frozen or fresh)
1 handful strawberries (just to sweeten)
1 spoonful (chocolate) protein powder
2 Tbs. peanut butter
1/2 cup ice
cover ingredients in blender with (vanilla) soymilk


The Spectacular Now

I'm not really sure how to even begin to translate the emotional shock I'm in right now into words. Most of all I just feel disappointed in myself for not giving The Spectacular Now a chance during Sundance this year. The characters, the story, the hardships, the hope, the future. A seemingly redundant high school flick soon turns into an emotional journey for two vastly different (yet very true) personalities in small town-paper route America. The cold open (so to speak) allowed the audience to quickly understand Sutter's role and his alcoholic crutch. His uninhibited nature allows the intensity to build to the slap-in-the-face title frame where the towering NOW could only mean a deeper look into Sutter's imperfect mind. The awkwardness between Sutter and Aimee Finicky is so palpable that it becomes part of and creates the reality with which the audience falls in love. The best of the script lies in the pain family causes both teenagers, discovering yourself with and through someone else, and allowing yourself a potential future even with considerable imperfections. Let alone the phenomenal cinematography and my geeky side that fell in love with the many long takes.

I was considerably surprised by the weight this film carries in terms of emotional power, sensuality, and honesty, and its ability to merge these milestones with such grace. Sutter is your typical high school bro, looking to score with girls, have fun at parties, and get by in school without working too hard. It is so frustrating to see him constantly looking at Cassidy when he has Aimee comfortably in the palm of his hand; yet, his flip-flop tendencies caused by raging testosterone levels are actually 100% real in high school (and college...) populations. While his transformation from start to finish is expansive, it is definitely believable and possible unlike in many movies. Even I began to see a part of Sutter inside of myself.

Sutter leaves the audience with some of the best advice: "The best part about now is that there's another one tomorrow." Live your life, laugh, and definitely love. The film shows how easily you can live without fear simply by letting your guard down and allowing someone to believe in and love you. Realizing that change is always present will make you stronger and keep you fighting for what you truly love.

You'll leave the theatre with a new understanding of the word 'spectacular.'

Because-I-have-a-ton-of-baby-spinach-lying-around smoothie:


1 banana (small frozen ripe, peeled)
2 cups baby spinach
1 tbsp peanut butter
3/4 cup milk (almond or soy to be healthy)
1/2 cup plain or vanilla greek yogurt

as seen here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sundance: Day Two

I've been so caught up in the Sundance experience that exhaustion is a common thread that has (ironically) held my body together these past few days. So even though I haven't been updating everyday, I still plan on writing about everything I've seen! So I started off Day Two with getting a taxi to the Box Office at 5am. My friend and I waited until 8 (we were about 15th in line) to see if any tickets were available for Day-Of showings. Even though most films were sold out (once films are sold out, the only other chance one has is by waiting in the waitlist line, which can begin anywhere from 2-5 hours before the screening), we did get tickets to Sightseers. This film, directed by Ben Wheatley, was promoted as one of Sundance's favorites that premiered at Cannes. Sidenote: Sightseers is in the Spotlight category and not In Competition.

So this film, premiering at 11:30 at the MARC Theatre, is quite hard to explain without revealing the true atmosphere it creates. The "cold open" immediately evoked laughter, and it left me in such awkward and artistic yet interesting confusion. The juxtaposition of photos of a white terrier with a man pinpointing pit stops on a map, played to an offscreen moaning noise isn't what you first expect from any film. What follows is a melting pot of genres that details a harrowing, yet still comedic journey of a couple travelling to museums around England ("Chris, can we go to the Pencil Museum now?"). Road genre, romcom and gruesome horror slasher is the beginning of the awkward relationship that blooms from the couple. In a way Ben Wheatley becomes a British Tarantino. At each stop along the way, Chris and Tina meet people that rub them the wrong way, leading to their unfortunate- albeit hilarious and hard to watch- demise. The backstory to the introductory shots the dog, later discovered to be the late Poppy, is disturbingly revealed in (once again) an over-the-top fashion.

I can see most audiences having a polarized response to the film, either loving or hating it. The conflict between human vs. nature is prevalent throughout, especially in the many shots of nature and historical locations. So the gruesome, almost unwatchable scenes could easily overshadow Ben's artistic elements which are easy to love and entrancing. I haven't seen Ben's other films but I'll be adding them to my list, regardless of how conflicted I am by the film.

Later Friday Night I waitlisted for Two Mothers, a story of two mothers (*shocking*) who have affairs with each others' sons. Each of the four leads- Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuels, and James Frecheville- exudes a unique chemistry with the other characters. The cinematography is stunningly beautiful! The Australian landscape becomes an important character itself, providing a home to the characters that don't want to leave for Sydney. The capital city, only being shown in two shots, is immediately disguised as impersonal to the relationships the characters form. Even though Sydney borders the ocean, the beach and beach house provide a flourishing and intimate setting. Water is such a key symbol- swimming, surfing, motion of the tide- that immediately reveals nature's central importance.

The film's homosocial depictions are hard to misconstrue. Even in the first sequence with younger versions of Lil and Roz swimming to the pivotal dock out at sea, the framing of their feet swinging through the water lead me to believe they could be more than friends. Later Roz, played by Robin, reminisces about a kiss they both shared as kids when Lil (Naomi Watts) asks her, "Are we lezzos?" Even shots of the two children, Ian and Tom, question their playful relationship; however, the high eroticism is attributed to the more-than-often thinly dressed, or naked, cast. The repeated capture of butts becomes a symbol of the juxtaposition between young and old and frames the question of maturity in the film. The situation is definitely odd, but the characters learn to deal with the consequences and portray a believable, emotional compromise.

Naomi, recently Oscar-nominated for The Impossible, was beautiful on-screen and on-stage for the post-screening Q&A. Anne Fontaine, the French director, misunderstood some of the questions asked during the Q&A. For example, when asked why both mothers kept their wedding rings on throughout the entire film (there are reasons why this may seem unconventional), she responded in confusion. Even after multiple people tried to rephrase the question (I understood), she finally concluded with "Why not?," which is an upsetting answer to an intriguing detail and possible continuity blooper.

The final sequence, as described by my friend as reminiscent of the Horse Head scene from The Godfather,  is so beautiful that I would see the movie again just for the penultimate shot. I have to see it again regardless, but for another reason that links itself to film circuit experience. During the more awkward moments, the audience would erupt in laughter. The first comment that Anne made after the film was that she was definitely not expecting such a comical response. I felt bad during the screening because I was not laughing (there are definitely purposeful humorous moments) and it broke up the dramatic intensity of the scene.

In conclusion, I definitely recommend seeing Two Mothers! It's sure to be released later in the year (it is part of the Premieres category), so keep your eyes peeled!

After the screening Megan & I went to the Box Office to check on Day Of Screening tickets, and since there was a good amount of tickets to screenings we wanted to see, we decided to quickly get food then sleep over- YES, SLEEP OVER- in the building so that we could get a good chance at tickets!  (see Day 3 for more!)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sundance: Day One

Day One at Sundance was incredibly unforgettable and surreal! I can't believe that I'm finally here and I think how tired I am can attest to my full exhaust. Once we arrived, I immediately left for the Eccles Theatre so that my friend and I could wait in the waitlist line. We were about 15th in line- not counting the 5 people who ended up cutting in front of us- and finally 22nd. We got in line at 3:30 and finally heard that the first 25 people were being admitted to the screening of May In The Summer. I COULDN'T BELIEVE I ACTUALLY MADE IT IN TO TO THE FIRST SCREENING!!!

Cherien Dabis, the director, opened the film- and in turn the entire festival- with a quote that her mother once said to her: "This is Sunny Dance." And what an introduction to my first Sundance film ever! It was a beautiful film with so many real-world conflicts: parent/child relationships, May at a crossroads in her life in many respects (leading to the overall Sundance theme of arrows and moving forward), and acceptance in religion, sexuality, age, and gender roles & rights.

Also, random celebrity appearance goes to...Bill Pullman!

Afterwards, Cherien explained parts of her filmmaking process, leading to her "speaking star" in casting herself as the lead. She believed in herself and the film, allowing it the chance to flourish with endless positive energy.

Overall, I give the film a 3.5/5. I definitely still want to see her directorial debut, Amreeka.

We've basically been planning all day for tomorrow which is definitely going to be an even more exhaustive day, let alone the 3 or 4 films I plan to see. 3:55am wakeup call, here I come...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



I am honored and utterly speechless to be leaving tomorrow for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah! I will try to update this blog as quick as possible with spoiler-free information and reviews on the newest independent films being released this year. If you have any recommendations or questions, please let me know!!

Django Unchained

I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Django Unchained December 7th and I couldn't be happier with the result! I had to see it again over break and was again very pleased as well as made some new discoveries a second time around. The screenplay was previously floating around the internet and I would love to finish reading it. Django ("D-J-A-N-G-O. The D is silent") is everything a Tarantino flick should be and I didn't want it to end. From the opening shot of a rocky mountainside with the Django theme song playing in the background to the wide-angle, scenic shots, to the blood baths that shocked me, yet made me not want to look away, it's hard not to fall in love with the entire film. If you haven't seen any of Tarantino's work before, you might think he's purely comedic; the film sustains laughs around every corner. On the other hand, if you've seen other of his films, then you won't be surprised by anything new. He tackles satire and historic events with ease, uses gallons of blood, crafts a pointed screenplay with lots of wit, teases us with flavorful food, and he even makes his cameo (more so exit cameo) with bravado. Tarantino's Best Screenplay win at the Golden Globes (albeit, a bit awkward) was well deserved.

Also, I am EXTREMELY happy for Christoph Waltz and his Supporting Actor win at the Globes! I suppose Tarantino needs to keep casting him as the German with such quick and intelligent dialogue so they can both keep winning awards.

I know this post is a bit late, but still for those that haven't seen Django yet, DO IT!! I will always fully endorse the Oscars binge. Many of the films are quite long-- it seems as if there's been a trend in this lately. However, they are all worth enjoying, for historic and entertainment value. Stay tuned for more Oscars buzz! Just over 1 month away from the celebrated occasion!!!


Heard about this smoothie this week and I have to share it! It sounds delicious and I NEED to make it soon!

Banana Sunshine Breakfast Smoothie

Below are smaller portions compared to the website, which makes 5-16oz. drinks.

  • 1 cup frozen Peaches
  • 1 medium frozen banana
  • 16 oz (2 servings) Greek yogurt
  • 2 T. ground Flax Seed
  • 1/2 cup Orange Juice
  • 1/2 cup Old Fashioned Quaker Oats, ground
  • 12 oz Blackberry Black Tea, unsweetened, chilled
  • Grind oats into a fine powder and then combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
  • Side note: If you plan on eating these immediately and not freezing them for later consumption, I recommend making the tea ahead of time and freezing them as ice cubes before blending your smoothie.

Source: http://chicagodieteticassociation.org/banana-sunshine-breakfast-smoothie/