Alright, alright, alright.

 

I have been waiting to see this film since I first heard of its announcement and saw the teaser posters.  I think it ought to be noted that over recent years and due to his fantastic care taking of my most favorite comic book hero, Christopher Nolan has emerged as one of my favorite directors.  In between filming The Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan also put out two other wonderful pieces of film in The Prestige and Inception. Both of those films were fantastic on their own and somehow Nolan found the time to string together five movies that helped raise the bar in Hollywood over a short period of time.

Now, enter Interstellar.  The story is quite simple really.  It’s not even a newcomer to the silver screen.  The film is set in a future that could be not too distant, or maybe even 100 years from now, but the idea is that mankind has used up the Earth’s resources, or at least some of them.  It is implied that there is very little rain or water available to water crops, which are being killed off in droves by some blight or other.  The only thing mankind has left seems to be corn, but the clock is ticking there too.  Essentially, we’re starving, and we’re suffocating and although slowly for now, the end is near and time is running out.

Throughout much of the first act of this film, the relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his ten-year old daughter, Murphy is much of the focus.  Here is a small hint at what is to come.  Murphy is played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn.  Cooper also has an older son played by Timothee Chalamet and Casey Affleck.  It is implied but never really explained that the mother/wife figure has passed away sometime earlier. We’ve seen that plot device before, but we can deal with it here. Her role is filled in by John Lithgow, who portrays her father and he lives with them in their beat up, dusty farmhouse.

In another career, in a different time, Cooper had been a brilliant engineer and pilot who worked for NASA, but due to the changing state of the world, he becomes a corn farmer like everyone else.  Murphy (or Murph, as she is affectionately called) still has some of her father’s appetite for exploration within her and at the same time, feels that she has been continuously visited by some unseen “ghost” or paranormal activity.  A small discussion over breakfast revolves around said “ghost” and its likelihood of existence and Murph is told to weigh the evidence against science and come up with an educated reason behind why random books keep falling out of her bookshelf.  It is this continuous occurrence coupled with a gigantic dust storm that propels Cooper into finally listening and investigating his daughter’s “ghost.”

What they find is a journey that leads them to a military installation in the mountains that Nolan wastes no time in identifying as what is left of NASA, or at least a re-invention of it.  It is led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a group of similarly brilliant minds and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway).  At this point we also get introduced to another amazing advancement in technology in the first appearance of a handful of differently functioning artificial intelligence entities that look like next generation automatic teller machines that are mobile and vocal.  Two such entities are simply known as T.A.R.S. and C.A.S.E.  They will later become very valuable shipmates and travel companions.

Professor Brand wastes little time in attempting to convince Cooper to captain their upcoming mission.  It is heavily implied that the two gentlemen have a past.  I’m guessing Brand was one of Cooper’s professors while he was in college, or maybe they worked at NASA together before.  We really don’t need to know that, I suppose, but it is a nice little addition to the character development that the brothers Nolan did such a wonderful job at developing throughout this film.

I think the character development is one of the main reasons this film is so powerful.  There is little time wasted before one begins to feel affection toward everyone in the movie and the seed of hope is planted early, perhaps nestled in between the stalks of corn that are struggling to survive the constant barrage of dust.  Watching this film as a father was especially difficult because I felt like I was the one leaving my children to go on this timeless, endless journey and no one in the film or watching it has any idea whether success will come.  It is with that heavy notion that Cooper and his crew (including Amelia Brand) blast off in search of a new home for all of us.

Once the crew is in space, and on their way to Saturn, which is where they hope to find a wormhole that mysteriously appeared there approximately 50 years prior.  Throughout much of the interactions between Cooper and the Brands and the others at NASA, it is learned that they have already sent several astronauts on loner missions through the wormhole to attempt to find a new home for humanity.  They have received promising data transmissions back from a few of the astronauts on a few of the worlds and so, they set off to investigate.

Now, I must say, if by this point in the film you have not noticed the beautiful cinematography captured by Hoyte Van Hoytema, then you have missed a lot of the feeling behind this film.  Hoytema has excelled before in the photography in Her (which I really would like to review also, but have not found the time to do it justice) and The Fighter.  Here, in another one of Nolan’s universes (surprisingly not shot by Wally Pfister this time), Hoytema captures the desolation and desperation of those left on Earth with the warm, monotone sepia filters.  The basic idea:  there is a LOT of dirt and dust and very little green left.  There is wonderful juxtaposition between the scenes shot on Earth and those shot in space or on the other worlds.  On one world the warm filters continue, but this time in a blue monochrome because the entire surface is water and as much as I would like to talk about the events that occur there, I will leave that spoiler out.  The next planet, where a great deal of the next act of the story resides is more monotony but this time we’re greeted with bright whites and grays because most of the world is ice and snow and not much else.  This is the world that they think may have the most promise.  This is also the first world where we encounter one of the astronauts sent before our crew.

Matt Damon!  It’s Matt Damon who plays Doctor Mann, one of their more brilliant scientists or “the best of us all” according to Amelia Brand.  The next few scenes and sequences are some heavy stuff and you will really want to pay attention to what is happening, what is being discussed and what some possible underlying symbolism might be.  Before too long, it might be understood that Dr. Mann literally symbolizes man as a whole.  The best evidence for this theory is that of Mann’s actions while they are on this giant ball of ice.  Since there are many plot advancements that occur with Dr. Mann’s character, I won’t say much, but I really hope that audiences will get the message.  The struggle of man, the always-present desire to survive and succeed and explore and continue on as a species and as individuals.  This is where some of the strong character development from earlier really starts to come out and shine.  Cooper’s desire to get back home to Murph is palpable.  So much so that you can feel it as you watch the film progress.  In the dialogue, in the actions of his character, in the visuals and in the music, you can feel how strongly Cooper wants to succeed on this mission.

I will always say that a movie is made or broken on the merits of the music that accompanies it.  Interstellar is a perfect example.  I have read that there were many audience complaints about how the music, most notably the pipe organ tended to drown out dialogue and other sounds throughout the movie.  I did not find this to be a problem.  While that is true, I feel like without the way they handled the score, without the overbearing pipe organ, we as an audience would miss out on much of the emotion and tone that the characters were going through.  Think about how quiet and soundless it must be while you’re floating through space.  Think about how loud the thoughts in your head have to seem in that environment.  This is what the score does.  It brings out the turmoil and the love and the strife and any other emotion our characters might be feeling in a given scene and Zimmer and Nolan have pieced it together well.   When the music gets so loud and almost unbearable, perhaps at that moment, if you were in their shoes in space, your own thoughts or situation might seem unbearable, inescapable or too strong to focus and survive.

I haven’t written this extensive a review in some time, and perhaps I dwelt a little much on the plot near the beginning but I think this film is worth it.  There are  so many aspects to this film that could fill pages of discussion and I have skipped over some.  I forgot to mention how awestruck and giddy and overwhelmed I felt when Saturn appeared on the five-story IMAX screen.  My favorite planet.  There he was in all of his glory.  I know it was CGI, but it seemed like I was watching images sent straight back in high-definition from Cassini.  The browns and the blacks and the muddy gaseous face of Saturn and the shadows and the rings…breathtaking.  As if that weren’t cool enough, later when we first see the stellar mass black hole that the main  three planets they choose to explore orbit around…just wow.  It’s not much, as far as visual effects difficulty goes, but it just looks so cool and so ominous and frightening.  Just this giant blackness with small flickers of light glowing around its edges and also creating a kind of Saturn-like look.  That could not have been accidental given the significance of Saturn and the worm hole just outside its orbit that leads to the galaxy where this black hole resides.

I have said a lot of things about this film and yet I know I have left so much out.  I know this film won’t be for everyone, and I know there’s already a critical divide among critics and audiences, but if you really like space and Nolan’s films and movies that make you think, then this one will be wonderful.  For those of you that really enjoyed Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, this movie is very similar in tone and photography and pace, but I think this movie is exactly what Sunshine was attempting to do but failed at the end (hint, I did not like said movie due to most of the second act and its ending).  For those of you that are really into the science behind film or things in general, I believe this film did its homework, and Nolan and company really tried hard to do their due diligence in at least making a plausible story that involves Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Not only does it include said theory, but I think it does a great job of explaining it and showing its key points first hand regarding black holes and time dilation and the bending of space.  There are so many layers to this film because of these aspects.  I won’t even discuss the final act of the film, but does it ever provide a really awesome scenario for what black holes COULD possibly have in store for us if we every do end up figuring them out.

If you love good storytelling, great character development, cinematography, scoring and directing, please check out Interstellar.  If you are a space and science buff, go check it out and weigh it against what you know.  Obviously it’s a work of fiction, and takes those liberties, but you may be surprised.  As I’m closing up this review, I’m sitting here listening to Hans Zimmer’s brilliantly heavy and ominous score for the film and I find myself wanting to watch it again, or wanting to drag my telescope out and look up into the stars (if it weren’t so bloody cold outside).  I think I appreciate this film because I appreciate that Nolan told a very real and raw story, kept it human and focused and didn’t need a bunch of action or explosions or aliens to carry out the weight and the gravity of the film.  With that, I leave you with a final clue as to what else becomes a large part of the focus of the film.

 

Go bloody see Interstellar!

 

 

I wouldn’t say this will become a regular thing, but the coworker and I were at it again.

 

Below is a transcript between the two of us regarding the topic of the day — the Tanka. 

 

TMTO: alright, let’s travel back to Japan, shall we?
TMTO: The Tanka
TMTO: Definition of Tanka

Tanka is a Japanese poetry type of five lines, the first and third composed of five syllables and the rest of seven. Tanka is the oldest type of poetry in Japan.

TMTO:
Example of Tanka

To live is to break
by
Ueda Miyoji

To live is to break
One’s heart for the sake of love;
A couple of doves,
Beaks touching on their way,
Are stepping out in the sun.

CW: The fourth line has six syllables…
CW: Unless “touching” is like “athlete” and contains three syllables?
TMTO: hahaha i noticed that too
TMTO: i was like: “Ueda is a liar!”
CW: He certainly is. Or he’s just bad at Tanka.
TMTO: one or the other.
TMTO: either way.
CW: So is that the way we’re going?
TMTO: yeah, why not hahaha
CW: Okay. One second, I think I’ve got a good one.
CW:
California
Unconventionality
Misunderstanding
Necrobestiality
Sociodemographic
CW:
On the first reading
That might sound a little gross,
Perhaps illegal.
I can assure you it’s not,
It’s social commentary.
TMTO:
Your social commentary
Is likely not so backwards;
but probably true.
Especially in that state
Where demographics are wide
TMTO: However shocking,
One may not be so surprised
to learn that most states
House this array of cultures
Regardless of what the law says
CW:
Something to be said
on the progress of mankind.
Openmindedness.
Not a sad state of affairs.
Personal moral compass.
TMTO:
I may not be one
To speak on moral compass
But I do agree
Society needs a change
Less offense by the conserved
CW:
So the stage is set.
A new status quo to come.
The coliseum.
Volunteer or veteran,
All glory to the victor.
CW: If the winner’s name is Victor, I’m gonna have to revise that last line.

*All glory goes to Victor.

CW:
The night draws so close.
Such a great time to be had
At the old mead hall.
Friends and fellowship abound,
There’s no place I’d rather be
TMTO:
Billiards and beer
The best way to end the week
Various options
Dark and light and IPA
They’ll get you drunk either way
TMTO: (couldn’t decide if Billiards was 2 or 3 syllables)
CW: Three, certainly.
CW: Ath-uh-lete.
Chauncey(22:17:00): hahahaha
CW: That spells moon.
TMTO: yes. it does.
CW: Came across an interesting factoid just now. www has nine syllables, and as such is impossible to use in Tanka poetry. World wide web, however, has four, and may be used as part of any line.
TMTO: That is most interesting indeed.
CW: Interesting enough to try. That is, coincidentally, quite difficult…
TMTO:
The World Wide Web here
Is most unconventional
Like nine syllables
that break the mold of Tanka
www
CW: You suck.
CW: Success!!! Time for brandy!

World wide web waits
Woven with woolen wicker,
With wanton wonder
Warmest wench with whitest wrath
Wasting witty, wispy wimps.

The following is a transcript of a conversation between me and my coworker.  By now most of you should know of said coworker, as he is the same one that helped me come up with 10 Cubed.
As I’d stated in my previous post about the sonnet, he and I have been trying to come up with entertaining and challenging ways to communicate throughout our work day.  So far it has been quite fruitful and enjoyable.  I regret that I did not think to post the transcript from Haiku Day last week. 
So here is our attempt at a new poem style called a Cinquain.  I tried to find the simplest form of the poem possible for us to start off with.   I have left the transcript in it’s original format and haven’t edited much other than our names.  Apologies if it gets difficult to read.
Enjoy:
TMTO: i think we’ll have to go with the Didactic Cinquain today.
CW: Elaborate.
TMTO: and if we’re feeling extra awesome, we can try the Tetractys Cinquain
CW: Two fives vs. three fives?
TMTO: in this particular type, it’s word count, not syllable count.
TMTO: but still 1, 2, 3, 4, 1
TMTO:
Breath
Warm, steam
Flowing, churning, spreading
Growing as it dissipates
Air
TMTO: ^ so basically this type of thing
TMTO:
Title
Descriptive words
Showing, revealing, acting
Explaining the title word
Synonym
TMTO:
Sleep
Dream plane
Creating, destroying, resting
Something I lack completely
Nap
CW:
Stress
Head pounding
Cold drinks await
The only effective solace
Oblivion
CW: Somehow I ended up botching that anyway. Let’s try again.
CW:
Reality
Visible, invisible
Carnal senses fail
There is no understanding
Perhaps
CW: Still not quite, gotta get the fourth line right.
CW: Okay, re-wrote the first two and picked up a third. Let’s see what you think of these.
Stress
Bleak, static
Bending, biting, breaking
Oh, to be free
BeerReality
Visible, invisible
Accepting, grasping, comprehending
Prove we aren’t dreaming
PerhapsGolf
Aggressive, competitive
Striking, floating, falling
The end, an abyss
Life
TMTO: hahahaha there you go.
TMTO: this one’s about word count, not syllables.
TMTO: although obviously, poetic rules are meant to be bent and broken.
CW: yeah, I got that, but when I wrote out the template from that image you posted, I mixed up a couple things.
TMTO: ah i see hahaha
CW: Obligatory apparently.
Birthday
Annual celebration
Advancing, living, surviving
Another day, another dollar
Work
TMTO:
Food
Necessary sustenance
Varying, filling, recharging
Whether good or bad
Fuel
TMTO:
Thanks
Thoughtful words?
Repeating, whispering, shouting
All day, from me
Appreciation
CW:
Cloud
Lofty, ephemeral
Floating, flowing, vanishing
Reminder all is fleeting
Symbolism
TMTO:
October
Weather confused
changing, warming, cooling
Colored leaves, bristled beards
Fall
CW: I like that one quite a lot.
CW: I’ve got a parody of that one I think you’ll enjoy. Gimme a second.
TMTO: hahaha
TMTO: uh oh
CW: No, it’s gonna be hilarious. Just be patient. 
CW: Okay, let’s try this out.
Autumn
Warm, cold
Beginning, changing, ending
Brightest colors, darkest shades
Eveland
TMTO: …. hahahahaha
TMTO: i wonder if that’s how she is
CW: I’m gonna step outside, experience a bit of this lovely autumn eve…ning.
TMTO: AH
TMTO: hahaha
CW: Pretty good, right?
CW:
Memory
Intangible experience
Selective, fleeting gossamer
Was it, or not
History
TMTO:
History
Past remembered
Remembering, contemplating, commemorating
Written by the victors
Memory
CW: Now that’s a damn good one. Ah, that gave me a great idea! We start each new one with the last word of the previous one. Sound like something that might work?
TMTO: i don’t see why not hahaha
CW: Great, let’s get this started.
CW:
Forest
Natural beauty
Enchanting, enlivening, terrifying
Never lost, only found
Home
TMTO:
Home
Under stars
Boggling, distracting, mesmerizing
Domed, vaulted universal ceiling
Earth
CW:
Earth
Interstellar cell
Living, evolving, dying
Microcosmic macrocosm, cosmic diorama
Contrary
TMTO: is “contrary” really a synonym of “earth”? haha
TMTO:
Contrary
Opposite opinion
Differing, bickering, babbling
Separate views, similar angles
Disagreement
CW: Doesn’t have to be a synonym, according to the original text. More like a synonym or reference to the title.
TMTO: meh
TMTO: dammit
CW: ?
TMTO:
Contrary
Opposite opinion
Differing, bickering, babbling
Comparing, contrasting, countering
Separate views, similar angles
Dialogue
TMTO: Disagreement
CW: Ah… I really liked the first one. I was already trying to come up with one that would end VERY SIMILARLY [cough:plagiarist] to that.
TMTO: hahahaha
TMTO: well either way
CW: Okay, dialogue it is, then. On it.
TMTO: i just liked the alliteration of the gerunds line
CW: Totally! I tried that with the Stress one.
TMTO: hahaha
CW:
Dialogue
Intelligent conversation
Bantering, ribbing, jesting
We’re talking, not fighting
Women…
TMTO: HA
CW: Thought you’d get a kick outta that. 
TMTO:
Women
[]*
[]*
[]*
Confusing
CW: How… Appropriate. 
* these lines are intentionally blank but would not format as blank lines. :(

This began as an experiment with the same coworker that I co-created 10 Cubed with.  The idea was to use only sonnets to communicate throughout the day because last Thursday we spent an entire 8 hour shift only speaking in Haikus.  I felt like a sonnet would add a different level of difficulty.

We didn’t end up doing this, because it’s been forever since I’ve attempted to write one and it took me forever.  I don’t believe the iambic pentameter is accurate either, but it was a worthy effort nonetheless.

Amidst the strands of time within this place
exists a constant thrum and drum of noise.
There seems to be a constant lower pace
where nothing can escape the sucking joys.

But this is where we stage our fight.
Prepare and stand against this day
so we shall raise our glass this night
and send these problems on their way.

Look forward to the coming of the eve
as this will be the tail end that we need.
At that final hour we may take our leave
and so commence the downing of the mead.

We will celebrate this day we set aside for Thor
with the hammering of ale until there is no more.

Helpless

Posted: September 19, 2014 in Scraps
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes I like to write in analogous or metaphorical ways based on how I feel–I think we all do.  This is something I put together on my lunch break based on how I feel toward a specific situation.

 

In those final moments, when all hope is lost and after the fragments and debris have torn apart the fuselage, you must make a choice. There is only room for two in the only emergency pod left and three of you remain. Your ship is going down, in flames and pieces, falling in a ball of fire with tails that stretch for miles.

You must make a choice, before they have a chance to protest. The lock is sealed and there you are, holding on to the rails outside. This is the last image you will see, of life and hope and meaning. But you must let go, so they can fall back to the waters waiting to embrace them.

Don’t think, just do. Let go, and push off. Close your eyes if you must, but you must do this last thing. You will be in solitude for a time and as you drift, waiting for the remaining oxygen supply to deplete, you have everything before you. The Earth and the Sun and Moon, and stars that will not even blink at this and yet, you drift, helpless and waiting…and after you are cold and gone…you will be out there, alone forever.

Not too sure about this one but the nice thing about exercises is that they don’t have to be good or anything.

Scenario:  A man wakes up to find that he cannot speak to his gramophone (this is a result of my apparent inept comprehension skills, as the situation was supposed to be that he finds he CAN speak to it)
Genre:  Surreal (if that’s even a genre)

The Gramophone

 

  1. Thunder rumbled lazily past the window while droplets of water pattered against its pane.
  2. His eyes were blurry at first and his ears were ringing, but he rubbed the sleep away and stretched limbs toward the four corners of the world.
  3. Sensors that he hardly noticed were slowly bringing the lights up in his room and the coffee pot began trickling.
  4. “It isn’t like you to be so quiet, Ptah,” the man said, nearing the gramophone in the corner.
  5. Whirring from the coffee pot and the continued gentle siege on the window pane were the only sounds in the bedroom.
  6. “Come on buddy; it’s too early for your shenanigans,” the man picked up the bras and moved it about.
  7. The gramophone showed no signs of life and dust had begun to collect on the inside of the pavilion.
  8. The wall was lit up now with the glow of the HoloVision coming to life.
  9. “…saying that prior to the incidents, low vibrations and ringing were heard…” the anchor on the wall was saying.
  10. Outside another clap of thunder boomed so close that the man stepped to the window to look out but only saw fire, smoke and a building crumbling to the ground.

I have a feeling these are going to become quite frequent.  That is perfectly fine, as at least my blog will finally get some regular usage.

 

Scenario:  Child’s Bedroom
Genre:  M. Night Shyamalan (we made this up…)

 

Battleship Row

 

|.

Sunlight fractured through the small window overlooking the simple bed underneath.

||.  

Airplane noises echoed off of the walls in his bedroom and toy soldiers and tanks were strewn about at random or some chaotic design.

|||.  

The P-51 Mustang whirled around in Charlie’s grasp as a Japanese Zero fled in his other hand.

||||.  

Toy battleships were aligned neatly in a row, with one or two askew or turned on their side here and there.

||||.

Charlie moved his arms in large arcs, and brought the dogfight down below the hard deck with zooming sounds vibrating through his teeth.

|||| |.  

The Zero broke hard to the right as it slammed into the plastic battleship and left the Mustang with no choice but to pull up.

|||| ||.

More chaos exploded around Charlie as he flew over the harbor as torpedoes splashed into water and slammed into metal.

|||| |||.  

Sirens blared faintly over the sound of his propeller as water and fire splashed in all directions below him.

|||| ||||.  

Charlie could feel the water drench his uniform and the heat from the fires was causing him to sweat.

|||| ||||.  

Outside his window, officials in white coats, blue uniforms and fire-retardant gear ran all over the lawn and in that instant his door sprung open revealing two of his captors dressed in white in the door frame.

So, apparently my buddy and I decided to take our challenge again.  I finally came up with a name for the exercise as well and added another restriction.  We’re calling it Ten Cubed.  Ten sentences.  Ten chapters.  Ten minutes.  Below is another one from today:

 Scenario:  Deep sea diver at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  Radio contact with the surface is sketchy at best. 
Genre:  Horror

 

 MARIANA

1.
To say the suit was experimental was a gross overstatement at best.
2.
The Trench was freezing, pitch black and weighed so much he felt like that time he had to play wingman to a buddy after a night of drinking.
3.
Actually, the Trench might have felt less heavy on his body.
4.
“Michaels, uh…we’re getting a rea—“
5.
“Say again Surface, you broke up there.”
6.
He spent so much time trying to keep his thing from falling off he’d forgotten why they down there.
7.
“Michaels, we have to…you…, we’ve got something h—“
8.
A flood light attached to the new suit began to flicker and failed.
9.
Down in the dark amidst the pressure of the ocean above, he began rocking back and forth.
10.
Michaels didn’t get much of a glimpse, but he thought he saw female hands grabbing at his visor just before the gravity of the see invaded his suit.

 

I am very bad at horror, as I’m not particularly a fan of the genre, but this one was quite interesting. These are either going to become easier to do, or I’ll just get worse at them.  It also might become a regular enough thing to require its own category here at ThisMilkTastesOdd.  We shall see. 

My buddy and I at work came up with a writing exercise that we decided to try out.  The rules are simple:  You are given a scenario and a genre and it’s up to you to come up with a ten chapter “novella” that only contains one sentence per chapter. Below is my attempt.

 

Scenario: Old West saloon, a new guy walks in. Genre: Sci-Fi (given to me by my buddy). 

 

The Kraken

 

I

It had rained earlier that afternoon and the puddle exploded with the impact of his boot, sending droplets and strings of water in all directions.

II

He threw the reigns over the hitch and through a loop and pulled hard, adjusted his brim and stepped up to the wooden deck.

III

The Kraken was emblazoned into the wood overhead and the rickety doors hissed, creaked and shuddered as they disappeared into the door frame as he entered the saloon.

IV

Bustling, loud and smelling of bile, fumes and spirits, the belly of The Kraken was alive.

V

“Ain’t seen you in here ‘fore, you passin’ through or lookin’ for trouble?” a voice from over the bar droned out.

VI

“Lookin’ to quench this thirst first, then I mean to have a little more.”

VII

“Seems you missed the part where you ain’t welcome here, Zachareus Granger,” another low voice but this one knew his name.

VIII

Fuck.

IX

Features did not flinch, eyes did not blink, low whines of two railguns began to climb in pitch and suddenly, the belly of The Kraken spewed out it’s contents into the muddy street.

X

Shouts rang out and echoed through the street, rails splintered and exploded everywhere as they were fired in rapid paces and the stranger was in the mud and grasping while Granger flung a leg over his steed and it roared to life in a sound of fury as he sped off into darkness.

This is an interesting and fun exercise because it gives you a set situation and genre and also forces you to be concise, choose your wording carefully and get to the point quickly. I think I did okay here, but it could definitely use some refining. 

Let me know what you think. 

WordPress tells me that today is my two-year anniversary as a member of the site.  For shame, I honestly wanted there to be a ton of content on this blog by now, but alas, I grew lazy and uninspired for a time.  Now I am forcing myself to get back in to it.  My posts may frequent the Screening Room more often than not, but at least it’s a starting point.  I spent my entire previous weekend binging out on Best Picture nominees.  So without further ado, I present my thoughts on the 2014 Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture:

I will simply go in the order in which I viewed them, so first up we have Nebraska.  Written by Bob Nelson and directed by Alexander Payne, this little film focuses on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an aging man with a mission.  When Woody receives a letter in the mail declaring that he is a lucky winner of one million dollars, he sets out on foot toward Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize.

The problem is, of course, that he is elderly and shouldn’t be making said trip on foot from Billings, Montana.  Nagging wife Kate (June Squibb) and youngest son David (Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte) make several attempts to dissuade Woody but are unsuccessful.  Finally David agrees to drive his father to Lincoln to find out what all the fuss is about.  Pulling away from the driveway from a screaming, selfish old woman, the two generations of Grants set out.

Now, it must be noted that the entire movie is filmed in black and white.  I will never mind a black and white film, as I believe that sometimes it can enhance the overall quality of the picture.  With black and white, you get two distinct colors, and you get vivid, sharp imagery and shadows.  This no doubt led to the Best Cinematography nomination this film also received.  Initially, during the Oscars, I had not seen any of these films yet, but I still like to participate and fill out a bracket to see if I can guess the winners just as well without even seeing them.  I fared a little less than half correct this year and one of my incorrect choices was Nebraska for Best Cinematography.  I think that this was the only saving grace of this film.

 

 

I do not believe that this movie deserved to get a Best Picture nomination, nor do I believe Bruce Dern put up an astounding enough performance to garner a Best Actor nod either.  Everyone’s performances were fine sure, but nothing out of the ordinary or over the top that caught my attention.  How hard can it be to play a delusional old man when you are in fact, a delusional old man?  Similarly, how difficult is it to play a bitter old woman, when you’re already an old woman?  I really don’t understand why the Academy chose to give this film so many nominations.  It most definitely did not deserve it for Best Original Screenplay.  I mean, we’ve seen this type of movie before.  Older person attempts to go on a pilgrimage and runs into unexpected delays or shenanigans.  It’s nothing new nor is it anything original that we’ve not seen before.  I am glad that this film did not take home any Oscars, because it didn’t deserve to be there.

[4/10]

When I had finally choked down the tiring and boring black and white flick, I promptly shoved Dallas Buyers Club into my computer hoping for a better outcome.  I was not disappointed.

Here we have a better quality film with better writing by Craig Borton and Melisa Wallack and direction by Jean-Marc Vallee.  Based on the story of electrician and rodeo gambler Ron Woodroof’s battle with AIDS, the American healthcare machine and the FDA, Dallas Buyers Club is full of light-hearted moments, throat-tightening moments, and two exceptional performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

I have a running joke with a fellow film enthusiast and close friend of mine where we feel like we have unlocked the key to winning an Oscar as an actor.  If you portray someone who is mentally challenged, handicapped or underdeveloped, you might get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe or Sean Penn.

If you portray someone who is dying of some disease, you may get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks and Matthew McConaughey (I can’t think of any other examples now).

If you portray someone who is a homosexual or anyone who would fit in with the GLBT community, you may get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks, Jared Leto, Heath Ledger (er, I guess you can’t ask Heath), Jake Gyllenhaal and Sean Penn.

If you portray someone who is a real historical figure or person, you might get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Jamie Foxx, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, (Reese Witherspoon too, but apparently I’ve only named male performers thus far), Will Smith and a slue of other great performances by actors portraying real people.

 

 

Anyway, McConaughey happens to nail two birds with one stone here and portrays a real person with a terminal disease, whilst Jared Leto hits one of the other categories.  Now, it maybe come as a surprise to some, but just because an actor fits into any one category or more does not mean that’s why they got nominated.  Most likely it is because they did so with a beautiful mind (see what I did there) in place regarding their portrayal of the character at hand.  Matthew and Jared downright nailed it in this film.  If anyone else had won Best Supporting actor I would have rioted. Leto is near unrecognizable as himself as he plays kind-hearted transgender Rayon who meets Ron while they’re both in the hospital due to their shared illness.  Upon their meeting, Ron is still the manly man cowboy who isn’t too keen on Rayon’s way of life, but that’s one of the wonderful things about this movie.  Throughout some uncomfortable scenes, some hilarious scenes and some change-of-heart type of scenes, we get to see Ron not only warm up to but befriend and defend Rayon near the end. 

There isn’t any spectacular score or cinematography that goes along with this film, but it is a well-written and well-acted piece of work.  We get to see Ron struggle through accepting his new condition, to accepting other human beings as being similar to himself, despite differences.  We also get to see a side of our wonderful healthcare industry here in the States that a lot of people seem to be nervous to discuss.  Ron doesn’t have time to wait around for FDA approval for drugs that will help keep him alive, so he starts up a club for people like himself to obtain proper treatment, and the shenanigans run off from there.

McConaughey doesn’t necessarily deviate from his normal performance style (his accent, his laid back view of the world) but he does use it in a manner that fits the character while at the same time transforming himself into nothing we’ve seen him portray before.  Dallas Buyers Club definitely earned its nominations and people should go check out why.

[8/10]

I waited until the next day to throw in Captain Phillips.  Oh, speaking of portraying someone who is an actual person, Tom Hanks plays shipping container captain, Richard Phillips.  Paul Greengrass’ directing style is known to just throw us into the action as quick as possible (United 93, The Bourne Identity) and he does no differently here.  In a story written by Captain Phillips himself and adapted to the screen by Billy Ray (not Cyrus, thank God), we find the captain driving himself and his wife (random Catherine Keener cameo) to the airport where she drops him off and we never see her again.  From there, we get the gist of the situation as he arrives in a foreign country and familiarizes himself with the ship and then we’re off to sea.

Instead of just having some random Somali pirates appear out of nowhere and get an early “bad guy” label, we are shown the small village where they reside and the dire situation they are experiencing in their poverty-stricken land.  With no time wasted, we are told that this village is under control of what could resemble organized crime as they are ordered off to sea to capture more boats.  They are literally employed (likely by force) by some Somalian mob faction for the purpose of piracy.

 

 

Here we get introduced to yet another Best Actor (supporting) nominee, Barkhad Abdi in his portrayal as the leader of the pirate gang that boards the ship.  I’m not so sure if he deserved his nomination or not, as I don’t think he’s really done any other acting work and who knows whether he had to act much to get said character drawn out of himself.  In either event, he did perform well and convincingly enough as did our beloved Mr. Hanks.

Surprisingly enough, most of the stuff in the trailers is over and done with quick, as this is called “Captain Phillips” and not “Hostages at Sea” or some such nonsense.  The story quickly, intensely and anxiously throws us right into the meat of the film, where we get to spend most of our time with four pirates and the captain himself aboard a lifeboat.  One would think that would make for a rather boring film with nothing going on, but Greengrass delivers.

On a side note, the first time I watched this trailer, I happened to have just purchased the video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter and there is a mission in the game that is this very scenario.  You get to be part of the SEAL team that goes in to extract Captain Phillips from the lifeboat.  I  was shocked because merely minutes before I picked up the controller, I had watched upcoming movie trailers and there it was.

Some would argue that Tom got snubbed in the Best Actor category this year, but I’m not so sure.  It was almost as if he was Jim Lovell aboard Apollo 13 again at some points and his acting reflected that, but I think his performance really kicked into high gear near the end of the film.  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought it had the right dose of fast-paced action and another dose of intense drama mixed in with each other.

[7.5/10]

Once I was done with Captain Phillips I hopped in the car to return them to Redbox and drove straight to the local video store (I know, some of them still exist!) to pick up the remaining Best Picture nominees, or at least those out so far.  American Hustle comes out today I believe.  Regardless, the next movie I chose was Gravity. I popped this one into my Playstation 3 to utilize the Blu-Ray quality and cranked up my surround sound.  Completely worth it.

Performance and story-wise, this movie is simple.  We have two main characters and they happen to be pretty much the ONLY characters in the film as well.  One is retiring astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and the other is medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock).

Let me say right off the bat that this film far and away deserved the technical Oscars it won.  Best Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound…all of it.  Right off the bat, we are treated with an enormous shot of Earth as she takes up more screen than there is room and some radio chatter filters in as we take in the view.  It takes a while for our eyes to focus on the little white spec moving closer to the screen and over the planet, and that is where we begin our journey.

 

 

In a mission that features the Space Shuttle Explorer, we find our crew’s primary objective is to update the Hubble Space Telescope with some prototype technology that Dr. Stone had developed on Earth that was supposed to help Hubble see more clearly and far deeper into space than ever before.  However, in what seems to be an ongoing relevance, Russia screws things up for our crew.  The result causes catastrophic events to occur and we are left alone in space with our two lovable crew members as they fight to survive with virtually no way to get home.

I had heard from people around me and online that there was a lot of disappointment surrounding Gravity, but I disagreed immediately after I was done.  One person had said that most of the film is dull and boring, but I felt differently.  Maybe it’s my love of space, but I felt like I was one step away from an anxiety attack throughout the film.  Sandra Bullock delivers a well deserved Oscar performance and so did the post production team.  The Sound and the visuals completely make this movie and to top off the ice cream cone of science fiction, Steven Price’s Oscar-winning Score completes the ensemble.

For a 90 minute jaunt, this movie is well worth it.

[8/10]

Now, I had to take a break after Gravity and let my senses recharge and let my hearing recharge from having my surround sound up so loud.  So it wasn’t until I was lone with my computer and the remains of a bottle of Prima Amore white wine that I got the chance to sit down and digest this year’s Best Picture winner itself, 12 Years A Slave.  Let me just say, “Wow…”

 

 

In another example of a performance based on a real person, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers, and he delivers hard.  It didn’t take me long into this film to start questioning whether I still agreed that Matthew McConaughey deserved to win Best Actor.  Even further along, I started to even question whether Michael Fassbender deserved to win over Jared Leto.  This movie is ripe with astounding performances that don’t stop with Ejiofor, Fassbender or Nyong’o.  We get cameos by Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, all of whom bring a weighted power to their limited screen time.

The story is based on the accounts of free man, Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery where he suffered for 12 years.  We get glimpses of the hell that he went through, and Fassbender’s performance is bone-chilling as the man who ultimately comes to “own” Solomon after Cumberbatch’s character sells  him away to save him from Paul Dano’s character.

Along the way we get an extremely uncomfortable performance by Lupita Nyong’o and the things her character has to put up with as a female slave.  Jennifer Lawrence, I’m sorry but you never had a chance.

I’m actually quite surprised that this film didn’t win Best Film Editing, or Sound Mixing because there were very precise close-up shots accompanied by very acute sounds that added so much substance and weight to the scenes they were included in.  One occasion is just the mere sound of strings against strained wood as Solomon tunes his violin.  Another, and my personal favorite shot in the entire film is a close up shot of the water wheel on the back of the river boat that carries Solomon into his despair.  Leading up to the shot we are treated with a barrage of intrusive drum beats that are quickly synced up with the churning of the river boat wheel.  Additionally the shot includes very sharp sunlight that brightens the red on the water wheel.  It was in that moment, that small, short scene that I knew I was in for one hell of a film and I was right.  Not even including the extremely touchy subject matter, 12 Years A Slave is a spectacular example of film making at its finest.

If you don’t see any other movie that was a part of the Academy Awards (I’m sure some of you checked out Bad Grandpa and Iron Man 3 though), you must make it a point to at least watch this  year’s Best Picture winner.

[9/10]

This is Part I of my Best Picture Nominee Binge reviews.  I have not yet seen American Hustle, The Wolf of Wallstreet, Philomena or Her as they are not out on DVD yet and I’m too lazy to go check them out in the theater.  When they are out, I will post Part II of this review series and may even add some of the films that were nominated in other categories but not Best Picture.  Please stay tuned.