Monthly Archives: March, 2016

A Shot of Short | Grandma’s Hero (Ben Ozeri & Corentin Monnier)

Two main characters, a fantasy world staging, a focus on humor and an external conflict compose this fun short created by students at Danish school The Animation Workshop.

Grandma’s Hero features ambitious environments and aesthetic work, presenting a great variety and number of characters and creatures. The Animation Workshop’s production system, which usually functions with groups of 7+ students (in this case they’re 11+), helps produce films of remarkable scope. Plenty of very wide shots are used to describe the environment, along with pans and tilts. Camera moves are also used during action sequences. Visual rhythm is high, with great attention dedicated to sound and music to accentuate it and mark contrasts and changes of pace.

Among other narrative devices the short makes good use of psychological/subjective narration (the hero’s imagined events represented in his eyes at 1m57) and a nice frontal shot of the hero walking towards the camera (3m07) with ellipses to transmit passage of time and the character’s increasing frustration.

Featuring great stylized character designs, quality animation and plenty of gags, the film’s playfulness is also worth noting – it likely mirrors the production process the authors went through.

*Reproduced from http://filmnosis.com/shortfilms/grandmas-hero/

 

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Tuesday Blog | Aligarh: a review

Aligarh 1

The frame opens and stays where it is in possibly one of the longest opening shots in Hindi cinema in recent times. Watching from where you are, you become a voyeur, peeking into the windows of a house in a colony barely lit by street lamps in the fog that is characteristic of north Indian winters. For a long time nothing happens on screen, but your mind is already abuzz and sensing what is to come. And then the movie begins.

Aligarh, directed by Hansal Mehta is  the true story of Prof. S. R. Siras (Manoj Bajpai), who was the Head of Department at the Department of Modern Indian Languages in Aligarh Muslim University. Not one to shy away from telling the truth, Mehta has not changed much about this man and his identity. Which is why the film has unofficially been banned in Aligarh, which is so telling of the times we live in – commit atrocities on those who do not conform, and disguise your inability to adapt as defense. When it is you who attacks someone not from your tribe because you cannot empathise, the excuse then is generally, “but his immoral ways are ruining our culture.” Suddenly, you gain the higher moral ground and become the victim as well – such a delicious combination for those seeking sympathy. This line of thought is exactly what Mehta is challenging: Who is the oppressor and  who is the oppressed?

aligarh2Siras is an outsider, no matter how you look at him. He is a Marathi man in a Hindi and Urdu-speaking city. He lives alone, surrounded by families in the quarters identical to his own. He plays Madan Mohan’s compositions and sings along with the nightingale-like Lata Mangeshkar in his own soulful, but broken and tuneless notes. He probably gets himself drunk every night so that he can sleep. He occasionally gets a consenting rickshaw wala home to quell his loneliness. But don’t call him ‘gay’, for he cannot understand how three letters can convey the vast range of emotions, urges, and baggage (in a society like ours) that make him the man he is. That word reduces his identity to make it uni-dimensional, and he dislikes that.

aligarh3Aligarh is also the story of the young reporter Deepu Sebastian (Rajkumar Rao), who befriends this man he set out to write stories about in his newspaper. He understands Siras, his loneliness and his pain. He finds Siras’ quirks endearing: the peg he needs to have every evening after he comes back home, the autograph he needs to sign with his own pen, his poems in Marathi that he translates into English while his case is being heard in the court (he doesn’t care to be an activist and doesn’t understand legalese), the way a blush creeps up his face when he is told he is good looking, his mild manner even when he is affronted, and many more such small things that make the man someone you’d love to know.

Their personal stories also move parallel to each others’. Both try to ward of intrusions into their privacy, and both are outsiders (Deepu is a Malayali living in Delhi). However, while Siras is the quiet timid man satisfied to be able to stand against the tide, Deepu is full of energy, fighting his daily battles with gusto. But while in a flashback, we see Siras gently kissing the face of his partner in a closed bedroom; we are told they has been doing this for eight months now. We also see Deepu kissing his coworker passionately on the roof of their workplace after office hours. As the movie progresses, you begin to take stock of whatever Deepu has said and done, and you wonder if he is in love with Siras. Is his  fling with his female coworker something he becomes part of to avoid being in the kind of situation his friend Siras is in?

aligarh4The backdrop against which the interactions of these two men is set is the painful realisation that despite the raging debate on the criminalisation of homosexuality in India, there is an utter lack of sensitivity. The judiciary can declare homosexuality legal, but the general public will continue to look at gay men and women with absolute disdain and refuse to accommodate them in whatever small manner possible. Even the champion of gay rights, the giant of a lawyer Anand Grover (Ashish Vidyarthi) gets offended when Siras thinks of him as gay too. He is possibly in this for the name, fame and a certain standing among his peers. The other lawyer (Balaji Gauri) is too steeped in age-old prejudices to be able to even want any kind of justice for Siras. She even wonders how a 64 year-old has the “strength” to have sex. She is most likely from that section of society that look at sex as something that a man and a woman have with each other after they are married. There is no more sex in such marriages after the desired number of children. Sex for such people is strictly procreational.

Here, the case around Siras’ dismissal from the University takes the shape of a man engaging in consensual sex with another adult of the same gender versus the breach of his privacy, when TV reporters break into his house, beat him up and film him in a compromising manner. They are followed by Siras’ colleagues who had set this up to settle old scores with the man who had worked with them for over 20 years, and grown to become an HoD despite being a Maharashtrian. There are so many injustices against this man who has only kept his head down and done his work well, only because he is an “outsider” in every respect.

I feel Mehta must have interviewed everyone on the crew various questions pertaining to gay rights and sensitivity and only then upon being satisfied with their answers, taken them on the film. Writer and Editor Apurva Asrani and Cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul have collaborated with the director and the actors to create a masterpiece that will possibly go down in the history of Indian cinema as he most sensitive and nuanced portrayal of gay people in India. While those in the metros walk the Pride, there has barely been any small city/town/rural representation of homosexuality in any media. Aligarh is named so because it is about the city more than it is about Siras. Aligarh is the lead character in this film. Aligarh, the city is so claustrophobic for Siras. In contrast, his small apartment makes him feel freer. He can be himself when he is there. When that shred of liberty is also snatched from him, he becomes lonelier than ever, trying to find a space to call his own. Aligarh and its people drive Siras towards his eventual end. Aligarh still continues to be in character and refuses to have anything to do with this beauty of a film. And Aligarh is just one of many places in our country that looks at men like Siras with absolute contempt.

If Siras humming along to Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

 

 

His Master’s Voice | David Fincher

David Fincher

David Andrew Leo Fincher (1962-present)

American film director, film producer, television director, television producer, and music video director

He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for the romantic fantasy drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and the drama The Social Network (2010). For the latter, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. He was instrumental in the creation of the critically acclaimed US television series House of Cards.

Fincher knew from a young age he wanted to go into filmmaking. When Fincher was two years old, the family moved to San Anselmo, California, where filmmaker George Lucas was one of his neighbors. Fincher moved to Ashland, where during high school, he directed plays and designed sets and lighting after school, and was a non-union projectionist at a second-run movie theater, production assistant at the local television news station KOBI in Medford, Oregon, and took on other odd jobs such as fry cook, busboy, and dishwasher.  Inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Fincher began making movies at age eight with an 8mm camera.

Films of note: Alien 3 (1992), Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Gone Girl (2014) House of Cards (TV series/2013-present)

 

 

 

Oscar Week | Friday Fun Fact | Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Room

Room is a 2015 Canadian-Irish drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name. The film stars Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, and William H. Macy. Held captive for seven years in an enclosed space, a woman (Larson) and her 5-year-old son (Tremblay) finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time.

Brie Larson isolated herself for a month and followed a strict diet in order to get a sense of what Ma and Jack were going through, and she claimed she avoided washing her face during filming, to really make clear on-camera that she was not wearing makeup. In preparation for her profoundly complicated character portrayal, she spent hours with a trauma specialist researching the psyche of one incarcerated to the extreme degree of her character “Ma.” This was not the kind of information that could be readily found in a Google search. Ma’s real name is Joy. Room is one of three movies released in 2015 and nominated for Oscars in which the lead is named Joy. The others are Inside Out (2015) and Joy(2015).

The film was largely shot in sequence to make it easier for Jacob to perform as his character evolves. Jacob Tremblay did his own stunt work, and wore a wig in the scenes where Jack has long hair. Although an experienced actor, Jacob could not bring himself to yell at Brie Larson in the scene where he is angry about his birthday cake having no candles. Finally the director had the entire cast and crew start jumping up and down yelling and screaming until he was able to do it himself.

There are several subtle references to the fact that while they are still imprisoned, Joy continues to breastfeed Jack even past his fifth birthday–many years after the age when most breastfed children get weaned. Although this is not explained outright in the movie, it is implied that there are several reasons that she does this. First, it provides some extra nutrition and physical immunity for Jack. It is also a way of comforting him–taking care of him emotionally and adding to their bond–and encouraging him to go to sleep before their kidnapper arrives each night. Furthermore, it provides a small amount of natural birth control for Joy, who likely would have been loathe to endure another solitary and unsanitary labor in captivity or to place another child in the traumatic position that Jack is in.

Oscar Week | A Shot of Short | Bear Story (Gabirel Osorio)

 

Bear Story is a computer animated short that tells the story of an old, lonesome bear who tells his life story through a mechanical diorama.

When the short first started playing I gotta say I wasn’t really too invested in it. The story starts out inside the apartment of a bear and it doesn’t really get interesting until halfway through when we actually get to see the bear’s story though the mechanical diorama. That part, which is the main of the short was everything I was hoping for from both a visual standpoint as a story standpoint, but the other few minutes that the short had, didn’t really interest me.

The short is completely CG animated and in the mechanical diorama scenes it works really well. The way the animation was used was fun, innovative and it looked really great. The animation looked wonderful and it looked convincing with the mechanical/metallic look of the sequence. The other scenes, however, didn’t do it for me personally. Because the budget on this short was probably not as big as the budget of a Disney or Pixar short, overall the visuals in those parts distracted me. Small things like the bear’s fur looked off and it distracted me from the story unfortunately. If those scenes would’ve been hand drawn or done with stop motion animation and the diorama scenes were kept CG, this probably would have worked better for me, but now I kind of felt distracted by it.

The short has a lovely score that weaves in perfectly with what’s happening on screen. It’s not just background music like in some films, but it actually plays a role and the story. The score has a sound to itself that is reminiscent of the music box feel that the short has in certain moments. It was simple, but added a lot to the short.

An important part of this short is its message. I like it when a story is not just a story, but when it actually has a meaning behind it. This short’s is directly inspired by the director’s, Gabriel Osorio, life. His grandfather had to leave Chile when he was younger, and similarly to the bear in the short, leave his family behind. Bear Story is not really a story about his grandfather but rather a story inspired by the mark it left on him and the thousands of other families around the world who had to go through the same and in some cases still don’t know where their loved ones are.

Bear Story is a simple story with a lot of meaning behind it. It has a beautiful story with a wonderful message and I absolutely loved what they did visually with the diorama scenes, it was fun, refreshing and it looked fantastic. Even though some of the other scenes weren’t personally my cup of tea, I know a big team of very talented artists worked on it with the resources that they had, and they did the best they could with that. Bear Story is one of those shorts that a lot of people will and enjoy and will be able to relate to and that is why I sincerely recommend you to check it out.

✮✮✮1/2

by Max den Hartog on http://www.rotoscopers.com. For link to the original published story, click here.

 

 

Oscar Week | Tuesday Blog | ‘Spotlight’ joins ‘All the President’s Men’ in the pantheon of great journalism movies

Spotlight

“Spotlight” tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation team that uncovered the Boston Archdiocese’s cover up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church (Open Road Films)

In 2002, the Boston Globe published an explosive series of articles about the decades-long scandal of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, involving 70 local priests, more than 1,000 victims and the collusion of Cardinal Bernard Law in covering up the crimes. As a piece of journalism, it was a barnburner, one that garnered the paper a Pulitzer Prize the following year for its airing of truths long suppressed within the Catholic hierarchy.

Named for the team that reported and wrote the Globe stories, the movie “Spotlight” chronicles the shoe-leather investigation conducted over several months prior to publication. But before we get to the review, a few disclosures are in order: For one, the film’s chief protagonist, Globe editor Marty Baron, is now executive editor of The Washington Post.

For another — and perhaps even more important — the film depicts a profession this reviewer has pursued for 30 years and held in near-worshipful esteem for far longer. For journalists, watching “Spotlight’s” meticulous portrayal of their vocation is a surpassingly gratifying experience, one that former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, at the film’s local premiere in September, only half-facetiously compared to watching porn.

With “Spotlight,” director Tom McCarthy has fulfilled his first duty, which is to create a world that is utterly, convincingly immersive, down to the last granular detail. After a brief prologue set in the 1970s, the film opens in 2001 with a “caking,” an all-too-familiar newsroom ritual whereby departing staffers are celebrated with a heavily frosted sheet cake and some colorful war stories. Having nailed that scene — and its attendant whiff of economic insecurity — with anthropological care, McCarthy proceeds to get everything else uncannily right, from the overstarched shirts and pleated khakis worn by the Globe’s male reporters to the drudgery of looking up old clips and cranking microfilm. It’s not a stretch to suggest that “Spotlight” is the finest newspaper movie of its era, joining “Citizen Kane” and “All the President’s Men” in the pantheon of classics of the genre.

In its precision, modesty and restraint, “Spotlight” even does its most famous predecessors one better. McCarthy and his fellow screenwriter, Josh Singer, did their own reporting to create the film’s script, revisiting the reporters’ methods and even breaking a crucial piece of news of their own, revealing that the Globe missed a chance to advance the abuse story as far back as 1993. If “Citizen Kane” was a monumental narrative of operatic scope and visual ambition, and “All the President’s Men” a tautly paranoid thriller attuned to the dawning cynicism of its time, “Spotlight” has achieved something far more difficult, marshalling a pure, unadorned style in the service of a story that rejects mythologizing in favor of disciplined, level-eyed candor.

Consistent with that pared-down ethos, McCarthy has made “Spotlight” an ensemble piece rather than a showy star vehicle. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James virtually disappear into their roles as the members of the Spotlight team: editor Walter Robinson, reporters Mike Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, and data researcher Matt Carroll. For his part, Liev Schreiber delivers a crafty, masterfully understated portrayal of Baron, who assigns the abuse story the very first day he arrives at the paper as its new, slightly enigmatic editor. It’s Baron’s status as an outsider — as one character puts it, “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball” — that gives him the distance necessary to ask uncomfortable questions of an institution with which the Globe historically had a cozy relationship.

A solitary, soft-spoken, ultimately poignant figure, Baron is the closest thing “Spotlight” has to a hero, no more so than when he resists the temptation to run with a particularly juicy piece of information, preferring to keep the team’s focus on the system rather than on one individual. If “Truth,” which dramatizes the disastrous “60 Minutes II” episode investigating George W. Bush’s National Guard service, is a cautionary tale about rushing a story, “Spotlight” is its antidote. Fully embracing the hiccups and bureaucratic roundabouts that reporters hit on a regular basis, McCarthy and Singer have created an improbably gripping account of how the best journalism can often entail sitting on a story rather than going to press.

Restraint isn’t just one of the subjects of “Spotlight.” It defines the film’s aesthetic as well. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi has created a subtle, slightly washed-out palette for “Spotlight.” In defiance of the close-up-centric grammar of most mainstream movies, the filmmakers insist on pulling the camera back, letting the actors play off each other in the newsroom and its cluttered, nondescript offices. An actor himself — he played a reporter in Simon’s HBO series “The Wire” — McCarthy has evinced a knack for casting in previous films he’s directed, including “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win.” His instincts are similarly on point in “Spotlight,” which co-stars Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as victims’ attorneys. Some of the film’s most searing scenes are delivered by a group of little-known supporting players, including Jimmy LeBlanc, Neal Huff and Michael Cyril Creighton as abuse survivors, and Eileen Padua as Pfeiffer’s devout grandmother.

Like the reporting at its center, “Spotlight” derives its power from the steady accumulation of moments that gain momentum and meaning as they accrue.

For all of its modesty and dedication to process, “Spotlight” winds up being a startlingly emotional experience, and not just for filmgoers with intimate knowledge of the culture it depicts . The look and tone of “Spotlight” may initially feel like an affectionate throwback to the stripped-down aesthetic of the 1970s, but there’s genuine moral force behind McCarthy’s method. His integrity as a filmmaker not only echoes the shared sensibility of the journalists he admires, but it also allows pain, betrayal and sadness to surface organically, without facile manipulation. The film’s resolute gaze invites viewers to share McCarthy’s high regard for daily journalism, his alarm at its possible obsolescence and his wariness of tribal loyalties and institutional deference. Most cathartically, though, it gives us space to grieve.

*This article (including the image and links to other related articles) has been reproduced from The Washington Post’s  ‘Spotlight’ joins ‘All the President’s Men’ in the pantheon of great journalism movies