About a month ago, the Academy Award nominations were revealed.  Now, in the past I have waited until after the Oscars to finally sit down and watch the nominated films to see if I agree with their worthiness and so forth.  Either that or I am just too lazy to get out and watch more movies and so find myself cramming afterward to get them all watched.

This year, I figured I’d try a new approach.  How about watching these movies before the big night instead!  Novel idea, I know.  So that’s just what I did.  I took four days and watched two films a day in order to cram the Best Picture nominees in first.  Normally the Academy takes full advantage of the ten slots they’ve allotted for Best Picture nominees, but this year, oddly enough, they’ve chosen to only pick out eight films for consideration in the category.  While this is puzzling, it certainly made my life easier.

Before I go any further however, I must point out that I am extremely upset that my favorite movie from 2014 was snubbed from the Best Picture category and as a result, I hope it sweeps every other category it was nominated for.  That film would be Interstellar.

Now, I didn’t really go in any particular order here, so let’s just go ahead and get started where I did.

Selma:  6/10

Nominated for:  Best Picture, Original Song.

I have been discovering that my thoughts and opinions on some of this year’s nominations probably do not align with the vast majority.  This film was the first of said cases.  There was some hullabaloo surrounding the Academy’s decisions on this film when the nominations were first released and they were not favorable.  People were extremely upset that it was not recognized for more achievements and one of those was David Oyelowo’s performance as the iconic Martin Luther King Jr.  Sadly, I have to agree with the Academy regarding this picture.

In general, it turns out to be a wonderful movie, however I really feel like it was not Best Picture worthy.  In fact, as we go along, I’ll say this again for a few of the others as well.  One of the issues with this film is that this year’s class is extremely “biopic” heavy.  There tends to be a trend with this type of film attracting the attention of the Academy, but 2014 was apparently the Year of the Biopic.  As a result, you really had to stand out and hit the ball out of the park with your particular story in order to run with the big dogs.  Selma just falls short.  Oyelowo’s performance was rather bland, and unfortunately, the rest of the film suffered from the same staleness.  There were only a couple of instances where I felt like there was any real emotion involved in the characters or the story at all.  The scene at the beginning with the church bombing and the ending with the victory speech on the capitol steps were the most emotion-inducing scenes for me.  The other issue I had with this film was that it seemed to rely too much on stock footage.  This always tends to bother me though, unless it is done well, and in most cases it seems to be used as a crutch or money saver instead of adding substance to the film with the cast members instead.  One of the other nominees is a good example of how to use the cast to recreate stock footage and I’ll bring that up later.

Selma seems to be conveniently released in a year where we seem to have reverted back to that time in history.  I’m looking at you Missouri.  We all know what I’m referring to, but I know that’s not why this film was made.  The timing is just fitting and so was the song that was nominated for Best Original Song.  The lyrics are still, unfortunately relevant today.

Technically, this film is well done, and well put together.  Overall it is shot fine with no overbearing issues.  I never really noticed the music or score though, and that is a disservice because the music in a movie can really make or break the story.

One of the things that really took me out of the film was Oprah Winfrey.  Now, I won’t knock on her acting skills because she’s not that bad at all really.  However, I think that she is too much of a brand name in her own right to be taken seriously in roles where she really wants to be.  This is unfortunately one of those cases.  Her performance was good and she had some pretty remarkable scenes, but I couldn’t get passed the whole, “oh hey, it’s Oprah again” and I couldn’t see her as her character.  This really is not her fault of course, but it does take away from the film.

A couple of other little tidbits of note:  I didn’t like that it just skips over Malcolm X’s assassination, since he was in the movie.  They should have made that a more prominent part of the film, even if it was just one scene.  Tim Roth was great as Governor Wallace.  The same can be said for Tom Wilkinson’s performance as President Johnson and of course, as I said before, David’s portrayal of MLK was really great.  The main problem I had with the film was that I felt like it lacked emotion.  It lacked the power that a film like this should pack behind it.  Last year we got an extremely powerful and emotional storm with 12 Years a Slave and with Selma it was little more than a light breeze.

American Sniper:  4/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay.

The year’s darling war drama.  We seem to have one of these at least every other year.  One of the big issues with having so many films like this come out each year or just about is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine which film is better than another.  We’ve had powerful war dramas of late in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty so it makes it more interesting to see whether new additions can hold up.  While I think American Sniper is probably better than those two films or at least on par, I am hard pressed to see its Best Picture potential but perhaps I was too preoccupied with not wanting to be biased about the movie that I may have been too harsh on it.

I have found that I’m kind of in the minority about this film.  It’s being touted as a wonderful film about a wonderful American hero and I have no disagreements with the latter part of that statement especially, but it suffered from the same lack of emotion that Selma did.  I found myself on my phone a lot during the movie and kind of losing interest throughout a lot of the movie and I’m not sure what to make of that outside of the fact that it must mean it was unable to hold my interest and for being a war film, that’s not good news.

The sound mixing and editing were wonderful.  Cooper’s performance was spot on (especially if you’ve seen interviews with Kyle in them in real life).

Eastwood has this knack for making really great movies that just fall short of being pushed over the edge into greatness.  That’s not saying he hasn’t made such films before, but of late, it seems like he has either missed something in a film here and there or just hasn’t been able to find that next level the way he did with Letters to Iwo Jima and Mystic River, or even Unforgiven.

American Sniper also suffers from the stock footage problem.  The most powerful moment in the entire movie was actual stock footage at the end of the movie and that’s not okay.  In order to be a successful director or have a shot at being the best picture of the year, that power has to build and be displayed throughout the film by the actors and the production crew.  Using tear-jerking bait at the end of the film while the credits roll almost shows an acknowledgement of failure to convey that tone during the rest of the film.  For those of you that have seen it, there were only a couple of instances in the entire film where I felt an actual response because I’m a father.  Outside of those quick scenes and Cooper’s performance, there isn’t really much else to the film.

Boyhood: 3/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Picture, Directing, Film Editing, Original Screenplay.

Okay, let’s just be honest with each other here for a minute.  This was not a bad movie.  It was actually quite interesting and had a lot of great content and acting.  Here’s the deal.  We all know it’s only getting nominated for stuff because it literally took the production twelve years to film it.  Last year we had 12 Years a Slave, well this year we have 12 Years a Film Project.  It worked out quite well, but the content of the story is absolutely tried and true and nothing new.

The idea was for the film to follow Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and mother (Patricia Arquette) through their mundane family life for 12 years.  So the film starts out with Mason at age 6 and then ends with Mason at age 18 as he goes off to college.

The trick about this movie is that the character development is literally grown over time and I’m guessing very little writing had to be involved in order to achieve this since the audience was able to follow these characters as they aged along with the actors themselves.  We see Mason struggle through being a young boy in school while his mother struggles with failed marriages and going back to college and in the midst of all this, Mason and Samantha get little moments with their father (Ethan Hawke) throughout the film.  It creates a really great picture of what separated or divorced families really go through and how sometimes the only way they can get through some hard times are by working together when absolutely necessary.

I have a really difficult time believing the production crew on this film had a difficult job and I felt that way as I watched.  Since we see little snippets of Mason’s life every year here and there, I felt like it couldn’t have been a very difficult task for some of the people working on the film.  One example I thought about was the editor.  It must have been nice having a year at a time to edit portions of the film together, but I’m sure they still had tight deadlines.  I saw an interview on Conan with Ellar, however and it made me feel like my beliefs are valid.  Conan asked him about how it felt making the film as he grew up and Ellar just said that it was much like anything else.  He still went to school and lived his everyday life but they would get together for about a week at a time and film the necessary scenes for whatever age he happened to be and then they’d go back to their lives.

I think it’s a noble project for a director to take on.  I think it would take extreme commitment from everyone from the actors down to the catering crew but at the end of the day, it’s a story about a single mother struggling to provide for her two children, juggle school and work and bad relationships and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.  This was the third Best Picture nominee that I felt didn’t deserve said nomination and again find myself in the minority.  In fact, Boyhood may very well snag the Best Picture award away from more deserving films, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The Imitation Game:  7.5/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Picture, Directing, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay.

Here we have film number three that deals with an actual historical figure or existing person.  The film is set in England during World War II and follows the amazing events surrounding the cracking of the German Enigma code machine by Alan Turing and his crew.

Turing is touted as the father of the modern computer (I suppose without him, I wouldn’t be writing this on my laptop, and you wouldn’t be reading it on a website!) but his brilliance was cryptography and with this he and his team were able to successfully crack the Enigma code and their efforts had significant influence on the outcome of the war.

The film is full of other layers of Turing’s life, of course.  As it is likely well known, Turing was found to be a homosexual and ended up being punished for his orientation.  The film touches on his early relationship with one of his classmates during primary school that alludes to his orientation throughout the film.  While the film does not focus on this aspect of his life, I think it does a wonderful job at keeping his upbringing and his personal lifestyle relative to the story at hand and helps to explain his mannerisms and actions throughout the film.  I think it was important for director Morten Tyldum and writers Andrew Hodges (book) and Graham Moore (screenplay) to convey that aspect of his life so that audiences could see the turmoil he was faced with as well as the persecution he went through that ultimately lead to his suicide because the way his country treated an essential war hero was appalling at best.  The film was able to do that very well without detracting from the main focus  in the Enigma Machine.

As a film, this is your typical Academy Award type of film.  Set in an older period of time, involves an historical figure, a war and really intricate web of dramatic sub-plots and includes wonderful performances by the actors in the starring roles.  Benedict Cumberbatch is really making the acting thing look easy, although given the nature of the film and the time period, it did feel a little Sherlock Holmes-esque at times.  Kiera Knightly gives one of her best performances to date, although I didn’t feel like it was anything overly powerful or memorable.

Overall, it felt kind of like your typical British period piece with what I also refer to as “typical British coloring” and of course, a proper musical score to go along with it.  I’ve not had much of a chance to listen to it separately, but Alexandre Desplat pieced together quite an appropriate score to go along with the film.  It’s the kind of score you don’t really notice, however, as it just kind of happens to be in the background, only coming forward for dramatic effect once in a while.  I think that was the weakest part of the score, although this is never a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s better for the score to go unnoticed, although music is an important factor.

This film is fantastic at what it sets out to do, and should hold your attention with some of the interesting content, mostly surrounding the Enigma and Turing Machines.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:  5/10

Nominated for:  Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Original Screenplay.

Okay, first thing’s first.  If you are a Wes Anderson fan, you will likely love this movie.  I however, am not.  I have given his films several chances in the past and I just cannot get behind them.  I get the humor and I have a dry sense of humor myself, but I just cannot bring myself to like his stuff.

So, this review will likely be short.  Here’s what I will admit to though.  I really do respect Wes as a director and filmmaker.  He has a great ability to make artistic and aesthetically pleasing films.  That being said, they just don’t do it for me.

Here’s why I respect him.  He usually ends up luring in great talent for his roles.  They usually end up giving great performances for said roles.  The cinematography in most of his films is almost always exquisite and this film is no exception.  There is normally a significantly obvious color theme and style theme (often more than one) at work throughout his films and they work wonders as scenes and sets on their own as well as together.  When I see a Wes Anderson film, I feel like I’m looking at an old boring but probably really well done piece of art from who knows what time period.  For this film, this has special indications as the plot of the story revolves around a certain painting so the cinematography is very cleverly reminiscent of paintings or other mediums of artwork as well.  The music in his movies is usually on point as well and Alexandre Desplat has woven together a wonderfully fitting ensemble of pieces for this film.  This score is significantly better than his Imitation Game score.  However, one thing I noticed is that the score includes other classical works not written or composed by Desplat and therefore I feel like that should have disqualified it from Original Score contention.

Aside from the purely technical and production aspects of Wes Anderson’s films, I can’t really bring myself to waste much more time talking about this film.  Again, if you’ve enjoyed his stuff in the past, you might view this one as his best yet.  I certainly think it is and I still didn’t like it.

Whiplash:  9/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay.

I dubbed this one this year’s Gravity in terms of overall runtime.  This is a film that doesn’t waste our time at all which is especially poignant given that timing and/or keeping time is a specific focus of the film.  The story is rather simple and concise.  Andrew is a music student and percussionist who is attending the nation’s best school for music and he is trying to get into a class that is taught by a renowned and notorious musician.  Fletcher is a no-nonsense, drill instructor (I felt like Simmons channeled his inner R. Lee Ermey for the role) type of guy who does not tolerate failure, laziness or general mediocrity in his classes from his students.  He is a terrifying presence and his students not only respect him, but they fear him as well.

There are a few things that have made Whiplash one of my favorite Oscar films of 2014.  The story is simple and the runtime of the film doesn’t waste time either.  Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons put on one heck of a display of machismo, arrogance, pride, testosterone and sheer willpower clashing together between the two of them to form this dynamic and volatile relationship between student and teacher.

I can’t really say much about the film without telling a lot of the greatest parts of it and ruining the fun, but what I can say is that if J.K. Simmons does not walk away with an Oscar for his performance, it will be a crime.  A crime not unlike allowing a musician to perform onstage without the proper music sheets.

I personally think another film will and should win Best Picture, but I will not be upset at all if this one steals the win away.

The Theory of Everything:  9/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Best Picture, Original Score, Adapted Screenplay.

Admittedly, I wasn’t really interested in this film because I’m not really a fan of Stephen Hawking.  I know, the science community would likely bite my head off for saying that, but that’s fine.  I do greatly appreciate his contributions to science of course, for sure though.

Now, I bring that up because once I got to watching the movie, I began to become more and more engrossed in the story and blown away by Eddie Redmayne’s performance.  His performance alone not only carried this movie, but elevated it into the kind of film the Academy salivates over.  Felicity Jones lends her own powerful performance as Hawking’s wife Jane, who wrote the book the film is based on.

The story is rather straight forward, and the most biographical of this year’s biopics.  We are able to see Stephen before he was diagnosed, and if the film is any indication, he was quite the charismatic personality and I think if it weren’t for that, we may be experiencing a very different Stephen Hawking in real life.  Strong will and determination are necessities when it comes to overcoming and dealing with debilitating conditions such as Hawking’s and Redmayne gives us a painfully wonderful glimpse into the world that Stephen deals with every day.

Eddie has my vote for Best Actor, although I’m quite certain it may go to Michael Keaton, which I’m also fine with.  Eddie’s performance was just so vivid that I find it hard to see a better performance out of the nominees.  Felicity matches his intensity and may very well have earned herself the same award.

This film is the perfect example of how you can use the actors and production to recreate already existing stock or home video footage.  This is what American Sniper, The Imitation Game and Selma failed to do.  There is an important scene in the film that shows Hawking and his family playing in the backyard and you see his children playing with him and climbing on his chair and it’s wonderful how close the production got to making it look exactly like the home video footage of the same instance that I remember seeing some time ago.  For me, this adds to the film and makes it more authentic.  I think if they had just thrown in the home video footage there, it would have lost the power of the scene.  Sure, that type of scene has its place and did fit well near the ending of American Sniper but for the most part, I think director’s should avoid that tactic.

The Theory of Everything is also an example of how you compose a score worthy of the film itself.  Johann Johannsson composes a beautiful array of piano and string heavy sounds that really tend to stand out throughout the film.  He does a wonderful job at creating a distinct theme song that resonates throughout the scenes as you watch the story unfold onscreen.  This is exactly what it means to compose a film score.  Out of the composers nominated in this category, only Hans Zimmer outshines Johannsson with his Interstellar brilliance.  However, if there’s anyone that should deserve to win this award over Zimmer, it is definitely Johannsson.  I loved this score.  Plus, even though Alexandre Desplat is nominated twice for his two different scores, I feel like he cheated on The Grand Budapest Hotel score.

Ultimately, this movie is a tragic love story but it is a true tragic love story and those seem to carry more weight and speak to people just as well if not better than those made up.  If you’re a woman and you have a nerdy significant other, or you’re both just science enthusiasts in general, then it’s a film both of you can enjoy.

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance):  9/10

Nominated for:  Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay.

If it wasn’t for Whiplash and The Theory of Everything, this one would easily be my favorite of the eight Best Picture nominees.

Michael Keaton plays a washed up has-been comic book hero film star who is trying to get credit back to his name somehow by producing, directing and starring in his first Broadway play.

This of course lends the perfect environment for the wonderful ensemble cast that makes up the players.  Edward Norton’s character is the resident Broadway veteran who agrees to come aboard to replace a previous actor who gets knocked out by a falling, errant stage light.  Norton is hilarious and awkward at the same time.  He is one of many characters that continue to wonder why they are even doing what they’re attempting to do constantly throughout the film.  None more so than Keaton himself, who struggles with doubt and an inner monologue that continues to tell him to give up and return to the glory days of comic book films.

Emma Stone gives her first big time dramatic performance in this film and she does quite a wonderful job of it as well.  I’m not so sure she puts up an Oscar worthy performance by any means, but she was pretty good nonetheless.  Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis round out the rest of the big time players.  Zach actually does a great job in a dramatic role, which may land him a few more of this type of role similar to the situation Jonah Hill found himself in throughout the past couple of years.

The movie itself is a strange but wonderful mixture of comedy, chaos, confusion, doubt and purposely, theatrical drama.  It could be seen as a parody within a parody of itself.  Often it felt like the goal of the film was to poke fun at itself for preaching about being washed up and trying to become relevant again.  It also liked to take jabs at the debate between film and theatre, which added a different level of humor to the mix, as if it were a play within a play that was being filmed almost documentary style.

The cinematography lent merit to this as Inarritu chose to use a lot of tight, close-up shots and a lot of following or leading shots down long hallways.  There was a sense of claustrophobia in certain shots as well, almost like Keaton’s character felt trapped in his quarters or even when on the stage performing.  I think if I hadn’t sat down and forced myself to watch Mr. Turner, I might say that this one deserves the cinematography Oscar.  However, Mr. Turner’s cinematography was absolutely stunning and perfect.

Now, even though I’ve not seen Biutiful, I am really not a fan of Inarritu’s work.  I couldn’t stand Babel and 21 Grams was difficult to get through.  It’s okay to tell the story in a linear and chronological manner and neither of those films did this.  They seemed like Inarritu was trying way too hard to be artsy and different.  However, with Birdman he doesn’t do this and this is the first film of his that I thought was really well done.

There are a great many things I could probably say about each of these Best Picture nominees, but then there’d be nothing left for you to discover as an audience.  As always, I like to say, if there’s a film you want to see then don’t listen to the critics.  Don’t listen to me and go see it, find out for yourself and reach your own conclusions.  I did watch a lot of the other nominated films due to garnering acting nominations or nods in categories that interest me, so I may do a follow up post-awards with reviews for those films.  I hope this hasn’t been too much information at once for any of you.  Since I’m finishing this up at about 5 in the morning on the day of the Oscars, I hope you all enjoy them and hopefully the most deserving nominations win.

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.