Don't ask me what my favorite film is. It's like asking a parent which child is the favorite.

Welcome to my film blog. I strive for a synthesis of good/bad and theoretical criticism.

Friday, December 19, 2014


More Mary Poppins than 2001?

A Review of Interstellar

By Daniel Carstens

Pop quiz: Name as many characters from 2001: A Space Odyssey as possible.

Chances are most people reading this review were able to come up with HAL 9000, just plain Hal, or “that computer that kills people.” Even those who have not seen the film are familiar with HAL. HAL 9000 is an icon of cinema, the cybervillain in one of the most celebrated films of all time. Chances are most people were not able to name any other characters in the film. I struggled for several minutes before playing scenes from the film in my mind before finally coming up with Dave. Dave is the protagonist and has significantly more screen time than Hal, yet Hal is far more memorable. It is almost paradoxical that a film depicting the progress of mankind from “dawn of man” to advanced space exploration features no extraordinary human characters.

Yet, it is fitting for the film. 2001 is about the evolution of mankind as a whole. The film is merely a few snapshots in time, seemingly insignificant compared to the many thousands of years of existence. Even this existence of mankind is insignificant when juxtaposed with the vast expanse of space depicted in the film. In the film, man would not even exist were it not for the monolith, the massive tombstone-like object that is undeniably a machine in Arthur C. Clarke's novel version of 2001. Not only is man dependent on machine to survive in space, but man would not exist at all if not for machine prompting apes to evolve. So, it is appropriate that the most memorable character in the film is HAL, a machine attempting to end human life.

It is inevitable that Christopher Nolan's Interstellar draw comparisons to 2001. It is a space film, after all, and Nolan cites Kubrick as a massive influence. Nolan even references 2001 in Interstellar. TARS, a robot at times shaped like a monolith, jokes about shooting humans out of the airlock and into space. He is programmed with a humor setting and he does all possible to help humans. Interstellar may be compared to 2001, but looking beyond the fact that both are set in space reveals vastly different films. Because 2001 has few notable human characters, the audience watches with cold distance, almost like HAL watches the astronauts. The film is set in the vast nothing of space. The audience is meant to be distant.

Much of Interstellar is set on planets. The audience is carried on a journey not only through space, but to planets both beautiful and terrifying, including near-apocalyptic Earth, an ocean planet (complete with massive tsunamis), and a treacherous cold world that would make Hoth seem like Hawaii. The audience is part of the journey, shot with intimate intensity that is the polar opposite of Kubrick's gentle waltz through space that the audience watches like ballet spectators.

Of course, the obvious difference between 2001 and Interstellar is the humanity. The basic premise of Interstellar is that Earth will soon be inhabitable, and the human race must look to other planets to survive. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leaves his family behind to search for a planet inhabitable by humans. One potential planet is near a black hole, which means that time travels slower (real science!). When he returns to space, 23 years have passed, but Cooper has aged only hours. On the space ship, he watches videos transmitted by his family over the years. Knowing he missed decades of time with his family, Cooper breaks down. Yet, he keeps his eyes on the videos, tears streaming down his face. This heartbreaking moment is one of many truly emotional scenes in the film. In 2001 the only emotional scene is when HAL is deactivated, a moment that evokes more pity than sadness.

In a space film that deals with the doom of the human race and mind-bending astrophysics concepts such as wormholes, black holes, and higher dimensions, Nolan has embedded a simple father-daughter story. It's the true brilliance of Interstellar. This relationship transcends time and space. Ultimately, science and technology are not sufficient to save humanity without Cooper's unconditional parental love. Numerous web sites have called Interstellar “the new 2001.” Yet, because of its clear focus on family, in terms of 60's films, Interstellar may have more in common with Mary Poppins than 2001.

Upon release, countless web sites, bloggers, and tweeters have pointed out the scientific flaws in Interstellar, down to the incorrect shade of yellow surrounding the black hole. Clearly, these people have missed the point. Interstellar is a brilliant film, not because it tackles the work of astrophysicists, but because it is a story of humanity and family within this mind-bending plot. The science is not the focus, merely the canvas for a family portrait. It's a sign of a truly special film when so many people attempt so intently and relentlessly to discredit it. No one who watched it, whether they loved it or hated it, will forget Interstellar. It is a film that, like Cooper's relationship with his daughter, will transcend time, and certainly transcends the genre of space film.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Super Hiccup

A Review of How to Train Your Dragon 2

By Daniel Carstens

There's a scene in How to Train Your Dragon 2 where Hiccup, Astrid, and their dragons, in their exploration of new lands, discover a ship, shattered and penetrated by giant ice crystals. In an undoubtedly conscious design decision, these giant ice crystals are strikingly reminiscent of those that comprise Superman's fortress of solitude. At this moment, having destroyed the ship, they particularly resemble the destructive employment of the crystals by Lex Luthor in Superman Returns. If the resemblance was questionable at first, minutes later Hiccup discovers a sort of fortress of solitude for dragons, surrounded by the ice crystals. Visually, besides referencing Superman, this is one of many truly beautiful moments in the film. Dragons of many colors swirl around the hidden paradise. Like the first Dragon, the strongest aspect of the film is the animation. Even in 2D, the film is gorgeous.

Also inhabiting the fortress of dragon solitude is Hiccup's long lost mother (voiced with an aura of haunting mystery by Cate Blanchett). She invites Hiccup to join her and live in the fortress to protect the dragons he adores. Ultimately, Hiccup cannot stay isolated. His duties remain with his people as well as the dragons who with they have become intertwined. Like Superman, he cannot stay in the fortress of solitude, but must save the people who need help. In Dragon 2, Hiccup even flies solo, Superman-style. In the end, of course, Hiccup defeats the villain and saves his people.

In the first Dragon, Hiccup succeeds in changing the mind of his hard-headed Viking father and the entire dragon-fighting culture of his town. At the age of fifteen, Hiccup was supposed to kill a dragon as part of his entrance into adulthood. Instead, he shows his father and the town that dragons are inherently peaceful creatures. Even Superman needs help, however. In Superman Returns, Lois Lane saves Superman's life. Likewise, Hiccup needs his friends to help change the anti-dragon culture in the town. In Dragon 2, Hiccup and friends are twenty years old. The new generation is preparing to take over leadership and defense of the town. They must save their people and dragon companions from the forces of evil that seek to destroy them.

Both Dragon films center on this group of youth who enact great social change in their town. It is a strong message for today's young people. During the Civil Rights Movement, many high school youth took to the streets in nonviolent protest. Some were beaten and many were arrested. These images shocked the nation and contributed to the advances toward equality. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key organization in the movement, one whose members were near the age of Hiccup and friends in Dragon 2.

Dragon 2's message of the power and influence of young people, that was once present in the United States through Vietnam, has been lost in recent decades. Perhaps the Reagan-era return to 50's values helped diffuse the fighting spirit of American youth. In 2014, this spirit is needed perhaps more than any time since Vietnam. Utter political polarization has rendered Congress virtually useless on most issues. Civil Rights problems still exist, particularly in education and economics. The income gap between wealthy and poor is exponentially increasing, to the detriment of the backbone of the economy, the shrinking middle class. Social Security is being depleted, and the changing climate threatens the future stability of our planet. These are all issues that will affect young people the most, yet the aged who hold political office largely ignore these problems, leaving them for the next generation, when much damage will have already been done.

The How to Train Your Dragon films convey an incredibly important message to today's youth: Young people have power. They have voices, and if these voices are united, they can spark change. They can influence parents as well as politicians if they so choose to make themselves heard. Young people will take over official power in due time, but, as Hiccup learned, even now they can be influential and cause change in a troubled society. Hiccup may resemble Superman in several ways, but one key difference stands out, which he shares with real young people everywhere: He has no super powers. He uses his own ingenuity and passion to save his people and create a better society for future generations.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Watergate: Mutant Conspiracy?

A Review of X-Men: Days of Future Past

By Daniel Carstens

The most popular scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, according to internet buzz, features young Xavier, Magneto, and Wolverine being shot at. The seemingly hopeless situation turns to super slow motion, and Quicksilver, moving super fast, changes bullet trajectory, steals hats, and positions the shooters' fists to punch themselves. The scene tainted the film for me, because from that point I realized Quicksilver could have taken care of the original problem, as well as each subsequent problem, and my mind was no longer entrenched in the film from that point on.

That aside, the scene illustrates the importance of a good director. After a hiatus, Brian Singer makes his return to the stale franchise. The Quicksilver scene is well crafted, the perfect combination of action, humor, suspense, and pacing that has people buzzing all over the internet. Brian Singer has returned X-Men to the high degree of cinematic creativity of the first two films.

The long-running series features the struggle of mutants vs. non-mutants, and in some cases, mutants vs. other mutants with more radical ideologies. The mutants are the vast minority, and face oppression and even violence from non-mutants. In Days of Future Past, Wolverine travels back in time to 1973 to prevent the complete eradication of mutants. 1973, the year of Watergate, and the height of blaxploitation and Black Power.

The struggle of mutants vs. non-mutants very much mirrors the struggle between blacks and whites in the era. While violence against blacks had decreased by 1973, discrimination was very much alive. The conflict within the mutant race mirrors that between non-violent blacks and the Black Power movement. Magneto, feeling that non-violent measures were ineffective, called for war against non-mutants, much similar to factions of the Black Power movement. In many ways, the X-Men film franchise is an allegory for the race struggle of the late mid-20th century.

Days of Future Past features a prominent role for Mystique. This prominence may be due to Jennifer Lawrence's casting in the role. At the very least, Lawrence's popularity influenced the filmmakers' decision to feature her physique on several occasions. Mystique changes form to any person, and often she changes to Jennifer Lawrence's blonde hair and light skin.

Mystique changes her appearance to any person she chooses, to hide her real self. Despite her seductive form, she morphs her blue exterior into Lawrence's blonde hair and light skin, or a middle aged woman, or a security guard. Mystique hides her dark skin, always taking the form of a white-skinned person. While changing her appearance usually serves to sneak her way into a highly secure area or to hide from a pursuer, perhaps turning white expresses a much deeper meaning, if not for Mystique, then for the film itself.

Though the franchise is about a struggle against racial oppression, almost everyone in the film is white. There are only a few non-white mutants, some of which are racial stereotypes, such as the martial artist Asian mutant. All non-white mutants are very minor characters. Storm (Halle Berry) was a major role in previous films, but despite several screen appearances, only has a few insignificant lines in Days of Future Past. Usually, she is silent. Paradoxically, in a film about a struggle against racial oppression, the minority roles are repressed by the filmmakers. It's an ideological flaw that few audience members will notice or care about, but in a way it contradicts the basic premise of the franchise.

The Quicksilver scene sums up the film: loved by audiences, problematic in my own opinion, but showing creativity that was lacking in the non-Brian Singer films. The highlight, in my opinion, is Nixon, particularly when he shuts off the tape recorder. Perhaps the film should have been centered around Watergate. Nixon could have been a mutant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Frozen: Faux-Feminism

A Review of Frozen

By Daniel Carstens

“Let it go.” I hear it on the radio. My kids, who have only seen the film once, sing it. Teenage boys sing it. “Let it go” is a sensation. So is, of course, the film it originates from: Frozen. The film has been heralded as the transformation of the Disney princess. Internet memes proclaim Frozen as the first Disney film to teach girls that they do not need a man to save them. Every girl, small and grown up, and many boys, small and grown up, are obsessed. It's easy to see why. The catchy songs. The cute snowman. The catchy songs. “Let it go.” Disney struck gold and the hearts of girls everywhere. But, has the film really transformed the Disney princess? If we melt away the ice, we see the same old Disney.

First, let's tackle the “man” issue. With no concern for subtlety, the beginning of the film highlights the oppressive patriarchy in which the princesses live. Elsa's father convinces her that her freezing powers should be hidden. It's told so explicitly, and so many times, that I momentarily hated all men. But, lack of cinematic subtlety aside, the theme of the oppressive male is set. Years later, after the parents are deceased, Elsa's younger sister, Anna, falls in love at first sight. Elsa cautions Anna against those feelings. Sure enough, the prince Anna thought she loved has evil intentions. The old notions of love at first sight and happily ever after have been challenged. Thus, the memes about girls not needing a man.

The memes, of course, ignore Kristoff. He kisses Anna at the end. It's not explicitly happily ever after, but it still appears that way. More importantly, he is crucial to the plot. He helps Anna significantly. The girls do need a man. He has a less prominent role, but it is crucial. He is not a prince, of course, but an ordinary guy. This theme was perhaps groundbreaking twenty years ago with Aladdin, but not now.

The memes also ignore Brave. While Frozen explored love between sisters, Brave tackled mother-daughter relationships. In Brave, men get in the way, rather than help the women. So, why is Frozen getting highest praise, while Brave is being ignored? Brave's princess is a red-haired scotch tomboy. With Frozen, Disney returned to the more feminine, stereotypical beauty for its heroines. Therein lies the reason feminists should hate Frozen. Anna and Elsa are gorgeous princesses, unhealthily skinny (setting the standard for young girls!), allegedly from some Nordic land but essentially American. Frozen is not a transformation, it's a step backward.

Let's explore “Let it go.” In the film, Elsa sings the song at a transformational moment. She decides to leave her kingdom for a land where she is free to use her powers. She builds an ice castle in her new “kingdom of isolation.“ “Let it go” means let everything else go, “turn away and slam the door.” Quite literally, the song and the sequence, which is the most sung and most memorable part of the entire film, explicitly say that Elsa (and girls) are free to be themselves, so long as they do so in isolation. Use your powers, but do it elsewhere. Be yourself, but don't disturb society.

Yes, Elsa eventually returns to her kingdom, where she uses her powers to build an ice rink. This small gesture seems to reverse the message of “Let it go,” but within seconds, the credits roll and “Let it go” immediately plays. The film leaves us with that message, returning to the “kingdom of isolation” where girls can be themselves. It is no coincidence that the song is featured at the beginning of the credits, that it was performed at the Oscars, and that girls everywhere adoringly sing the song. Disney chose to feature that song, rather than any other, to submit it for the Oscar, and to promote it. Disney chose the message of expression only in isolation. Frozen is about as feminist as Hooters.

Films actually do exist that send truly positive messages to young girls, but we should not be looking to Disney to make them. How about The Wizard of Oz? Dorothy gets by with a little help from her male friends, but she runs the show. She stands up to the Wizard, and she kills the Wicked Witch of the West. She liberates the Munchkins and the flying monkeys. And, as Glinda points out, Dorothy always had the power to go back to Kansas. Despicable Me, believe it or not, also has a wonderfully feminist message embedded within. Three small girls transform an evil villain into a loving father. That's power.

My personal favorite example of feminism in children's film is the overlooked Monsters vs. Aliens. Like Frozen, it challenges the normal Disney notions of romance. Susan, on her wedding day, encounters a UFO. She grows into a giant. When she later returns to her fiance, he is unwilling to accept her giant stature. She soon realizes that her fiance held her back. Without him, she realizes that she is “amazing.” Another scene plays on the traditional sci-fi teenage couple in a parked car. In a reversal of roles, the girl is dissatisfied that the boyfriend is scared of making love.

Besides challenging romantic norms, Monsters vs. Aliens provides a truly positive message for young girls. Susan is not a princess. She is thirty feet tall with ghost-white hair. She is labeled a “monster.” She is as different as can be. At first, she is afraid of her appearance. She still desires a “normal” life. However, Susan soon realizes that her differences are powerful. “I did it! Did you see how strong I was?” She breaks through walls and escapes from an impenetrable force field. She realizes her potential and vows never to short change herself again. Susan does not have to “let it go, turn away and slam the door.” She can be herself without isolation. She uses her once-feared power to save the world, rather than run from it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Noah's Tea Party

A Review of Noah

By Daniel Carstens

“The Creator.” In Noah, it's used in place of the “G” word that appears in every English Bible but writer/director Darren Aronofsky's. Sure, it seems ridiculous that a two hour-plus biblical story could go without mentioning Yahweh in some form or another, but Aronofsky, who previously brought us lesbianism in Black Swan and brutal violence in The Wrestler, pulled it off. Instead of that “G” word, we have “The Creator,” this mysterious being who formed the heavens and the earth from nothing, who is worshiped by believers. “The Creator” is simply a catchy name; a buzz phrase that avoids the truth. Clearly, Noah is not concerned with Biblical accuracy, or even fitting within any sort of widely accepted notions of Christianity. Rather, Noah is an outlet for Aronofsky to push his ultra-conservative agenda.

The constant acknowledgment of “The Creator” embeds in the audience's subconscious a popular buzz phrase among uber-right wingers: the “Job Creator.” These equally mysterious beings form jobs from nothing, and are worshiped by Fox News. “Job Creator” is a buzz phrase that avoids the truth. Just as “The Creator,” and indeed the whole film, suggest, this supreme being creates and destroys, nothing more. Noah (Russell Crowe) makes all the decisions, while “The Creator” just hangs out in the sky and sends the rain. Any Christian will testify that He does much more. Likewise, “Job Creator” suggests that these beings simply create jobs. Obviously, this ignores the other important tasks these people perform, such as causing recessions, making billions doing nothing but allowing a supercomputer to make stock trades, and, as 1% of the population, possessing 45% of the nation's financial wealth. So, as ultra-conservatives sell the “Job Creator” short, Aronofsky undervalues “The Creator.” However, my task is not to criticize Aronofsky, but to unmask his ultra-conservative propaganda.

After he has the dream that alerts him to “The Creator's” plan, Noah gathers his family and pays his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), a visit, to understand what he must do. Where does the answer lie? In a cup of tea, of course. The contents of the tea lead Noah to discover his task. The message is clear: The Tea Party has the answers to the survival of our very society. We must figuratively drink the tea with our votes, for the sake of America, and, given our unsurpassed importance on a global scale, for the sake of humanity.

Aronovsky uses Noah to promote several key points of the Tea Party platform. When the ark is nearing completion, Noah travels to the evil men's encampment in an attempt to find his younger sons wives. He decides that there will be no wives, since all are evil. This is clear evidence of the general xenophobia that pervades the ultra-conservatives, in their views on immigration reform. The disallowing of foreign women to wed Noah's sons represents the widely-held view that all illegal immigrants should be removed from the country. Not only did Noah refuse to let his sons marry these foreign women, but he even refused to help a woman who was caught in a trap. Noah had the opportunity to save her, but instead, without a second thought, allowed her to be trampled to death. This represents the Tea Party desire to drastically cut foreign aid. Aronovsky felt that these issues are of such importance, that he ignored the Bible's account, where the sons have wives that went into the ark. To the radical right, political agenda is more important than scriptural accuracy.

One of the most important issues to the ultra-conservative is the second amendment right to bear arms. Aronovsky tackles this issue with full force. From an extremely loose interpretation of a single word in Genesis 6:4, he creates the Watchers, massive beings made of rock whose purpose is to protect humanity. When the rains begin to fall, an army of evil men attack Noah and his family in an attempt to steal the ark. The Watchers ward off the attackers, destroying dozens in mere seconds. Clearly, the Watchers represent Aronovsky's desire for the legalization of assault weapons and the capability of killing dozens of people in mere seconds. For self defense, of course.

But what about the controversial scene that, on the surface, appears to support evolution? Noah tells his family the story of creation. As he narrates the creation of animals, the audience views a visually-impressive sequence where a small animal crawls from the water and evolves, eventually progressing to a gorilla, as Noah recounts the creation of man. On the surface, this appears to suggest the radical theory of theistic evolution, where “The Creator” set evolution in motion, which most ultra-conservatives oppose. However, the evolution taking place in this sequence is not that of animals to humans, but the evolution of the United States government. Tea Party members strongly believe in a less powerful centralized government. Yet, they feel that the federal government is progressively becoming stronger, invading the business of private firms, over-regulating markets, and interfering with the lives of normal citizens. The federal government has evolved from a small creature to a giant gorilla, which will soon grab the United States and climb the tallest skyscraper, only to come crashing down.

Perhaps a review of Noah as Darren Aronofsky's attempt to advance the ultra-conservative agenda via cinematic propaganda seems preposterous. It's not nearly as preposterous as the film itself. There is one clear relationship between Noah and the Tea Party: God is nowhere to be found.

Friday, March 14, 2014


The Russian Inferiority Complex

A Review of Stalingrad

By Daniel Carstens

The Volga river. It is a clear night. The full moon glows over the river and the city of Stalingrad. A light mist floats over the calm river. A line of soldiers walks across the water.

It is revealed shortly after that a bridge had been built just below the surface so as to be invisible to the German soldiers who occupied the city on the other side of the river. But, for a moment, Stalingrad leads the audience to believe that Russian soldiers walk on water. This moment perhaps best symbolizes the film.

Visually, the film is fantastic. Shot in IMAX 3D, the film is clearly highly-influenced by American action and war films. Most of the CGI is top-notch (better than some American films). Massive, sweeping, overhead shots of the city look real. The film is worth viewing solely for the 3D, CGI spectacle. It is clear that director Fedor Bonderchuk and the crew put the highest effort into the film, which is more than can be said of most American action films. It's too bad the plot is weak. Still, it's a surprisingly decent film, and definitely worth a watch.

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest battles in modern human history, in which the entire city of Stalingrad became a battleground. The film focuses on one single building on the river. A young woman, Katya (Mariya Smolnikova), is the only Russian citizen left in the building, choosing to remain in hiding long after everyone else had evacuated or been killed. A small group of Russian soldiers infiltrate the building and kill the German soldiers occupying it. The soldiers meet Katya, and become her protectors.

Like Enemy at the Gates (2001), also about the Battle of Stalingrad, Stalingrad hones in on a few people on each side, providing a personal perspective. Both films show the impact and importance of one person. Enemy at the Gates shows how one man raised the moral of millions of Russians. Stalingrad shows why he and others fought. The soldiers protect Katya. She is the mother of the narrator; clearly a symbol for “Mother Russia.” The small group of soldiers protect their country and its people, and a seemingly insignificant building is vital to the war effort and to the survival of Russia.

Any war film, and practically any film, for that matter, glorifies the “good guys” and exaggerates the “bad guys.” History, of course, shows us how bad the Germans really were, but the exaggeration in Stalingrad is of 1940's proportion. The Germans have a problem with lice, which the Russian soldiers have solved. The Germans struggle with lice throughout the film. Near the end of the film, the dying German colonel says he feels nothing, except the itching of the lice. Not only are the Germans too incompetent to eradicate the lice, but so evil that they have no feelings as they near death.

The main villain is a German officer who has discovered a Russian woman who reminds him of his deceased wife. He not only rapes her, but becomes infatuated with her. The Russians who live with the woman ridicule her for sleeping with the German. This might seem cruel, but she begins to show affection towards the German. Her punishment is execution by a Russian sniper. It is a disturbing fate for a woman who was in constant danger and tried to protect herself, and whose rape undoubtedly caused severe emotional trauma. She should not be punished for her feelings, but as far as the film is concerned, she is no better than the German who rapes and kills Russians.

As horrible as the Germans are depicted, the Russians are equally glorified. Besides walking on water, they perform other superhuman feats. One soldier banks an explosive shell off a tank, sending it around a corner at a group of Germans. Early in the film, the Germans set fire their fuel supply to ward off a Russian attack. A massive, fiery explosion half a mile wide seems to consume everything around. However, burning Russian soldiers emerge from the flames, firing their rifles and throwing their burning bodies at German soldiers.

At first glance, Stalingrad's glorification of Russian soldiers, beyond that of normal war films, seems simply like over-the-top film making. However, it is also evidence of Russia's (and Putin's) inferiority complex. For a century (or more), Russia has desired to be a world power, yet in world wars depended on world powers for survival. The Cold War was a struggle for power. The Soviet Union gained its power through nuclear weapons, yet internal struggles and hardships showed that it would never become like the United States under communist rule. Now, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia still feels inferior to the U.S. The record-setting cost of the Sochi Olympics was an attempt to showcase Russia as a modern country and as a world power. The current struggle in Ukraine is Russia's attempt to flex its muscles. These all show Russia's (and Putin's) inferiority complex, which it often attempts to combat in rash ways, such as throwing money at an Olympics or invading a sovereign territory.

Stalingrad's depiction of the Germans shows not only Russia's hatred towards Germany during World War II, but its lingering jealousy towards the country. Germany, responsible for two world wars and the death of tens of millions of Russians, is more prosperous than Russia today. The United States supported Germany while squabbling with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and Russia today resents it.

Stalingrad is an attempt to showcase Russia as a cinematic world power. It was the first non-American film to be shot in IMAX 3D, and indeed looks and feels like an American action/war film. The glorification of Russian soldiers is an attempt to showcase Russia's superiority, or at least put Russia on the same level as the United States. The Russian media is controlled by the government. Undoubtedly, the government heavily influenced Stalingrad and its glorification of Russia. The film releasing right when Russia has been constantly in the news (Olympics and Ukraine) is no coincidence. The film is part of Putin's blitz to assert Russia as a world power.

Though the film was very successful in Russia, Americans ignored the film. It grossed around half a million dollars in the U.S., which is what most American action films make in a few hours in their opening weekend. Stalingrad could have been made by an American production company, with English-speaking actors, and been at least moderately successful. Perhaps the Russian production companies (and perhaps the Russian government) thought that Stalingrad would be a sweeping success in the United States, putting Russia on equal footing cinematically with the U.S. It did not, and it will be interesting to see what the Russian inferiority complex produces next.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions

Oscars 2014 Predictions

Original Screenplay

Who should win: This is a tough category. Her, Nebraska, and Dallas Buyers Club are all deserving. I like Her, for the plot if nothing else. Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club, and also Blue Jasmine, are all driven more by an incredible acting performance, while Her is my favorite film of the category, much due to the screenplay.

Who will win: American Hustle. For my complete thoughts on this, I will defer to my review of the film at

Adapted Screenplay

Who should win: I think this is a more difficult category for me than for the Academy. While 12 Years a Slave is absolutely my favorite film of the year, it was due to the direction, acting, and cinematography more than the screenplay. However, I think it is still deserving of the award, though I strongly consider Philomena.

Who will win: 12 Years a Slave. Wolf of Wall Street has an outside shot.

Visual Effects

Who should win: Easiest category. Gravity.

Who will win: Gravity.

Sound Editing

Who should win: These categories are tough to pick. I don't think most of the Academy really knows why they are picking a film in the sound categories. Personally, I think The Hobbit deserves this award.

Who will win: Probably Gravity, though Captain Phillips is a good possibility, simply because both are action-filled movies nominated for Best Picture.

Sound Mixing

Who should win: Tough. I want to say Gravity, for having so many wonderful moments of silence, but then, a space film should have it. I pick Inside Llewyn Davis, because I love the way the songs are mixed, studio-quality, but sounding live. Also, the film uses silence very creatively.

Who will win: Gravity, though again, Captain Phillips is a possibility.

Production Design

Who should win: Her. I absolutely love the way the future looks in this film. It's 70's influenced, yet futuristic, and very plausible. It is a truly unique design, reminding us that designs of the future are always influenced by the past.

Who will win: Gravity. I think visual effects will cause this film to win production design.

Original Song

Who should win: “The Moon Song,” from Her. It's a beautiful moment in the film.

Who will win: The song they chose to nominate from Frozen. It doesn't matter which one, it would win regardless.

Original Score

Who should win: I didn't see The Book Thief, so I can't judge Mr. Williams' score. I like Her's score, it is not out-there futuristic, but it fits in well with the film. I would not be disappointed if Gravity won this category.

Who will win: Gravity. Though I see Saving Mr. Banks as a real possibility.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Who should win: How there are only three nominees in this category, I don't know. I think The Hobbit should win, but it wasn't nominated. I think Jackass: Bad Grandpa should win among these three, just because they did an awesome job making Johnny Knoxville look like an old man.

Who will win: Dallas Buyers Club, solely for making Jared Leto a transvestite. I don't think the Academy could give an Oscar to Jackass, though they did give one to Eminem.

Film Editing

Who should win: They need to change the name of the category. No one edits actual film. Anyway, Gravity nominated in this category is a joke. Gravity was almost completely previsualized, meaning there was about as much editing done as on an animated film. The Academy is confusing directing with editing? I love 12 Years a Slave's editing, though I feel that what I love about it are as a result of the director choosing long takes. My Oscar could easily go to The World's End. But among the nominees, 12 Years a Slave takes it.

Who will win: Captain Phillips. The Academy will confuse best editing with largest number of edits in a good action film.

Costume Design

Who should win: I didn't see all the films. My pick would go to The Hobbit, were it nominated. However, among the nominees, 12 Years a Slave.

Who will win: In an attempt to spite me as much as possible, the Academy will go with American Hustle, though I think The Great Gatsby is a possibility.


Who should win: Two of the films I have not seen. I think that's a good thing, as the Academy cinematographers seemingly decided to choose their nominations based on cinematography rather than best picture. As obvious as that sounds, it's not the norm. Llewyn Davis was probably nominated for this category largely because of lighting, which is part of cinematography. However, if this was what they did, where is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? The shots are like a series of great photographs. This film is hands down my favorite cinematography of the year.

Who will win: Gravity.

Animated Feature Film

Who should win: I have only seen one film, Despicable Me 2, so it's not really fair to pick the category.

Who will win: However, I can make a prediction. Frozen, because Disney, decades behind society, has realized that women can be independent of men, and is being highly praised for it, for some stupid reason.


Who should win: One of the easiest categories for me. Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen) drew incredible performances from each actor, constructed amazing long takes, and knew when to simply let the audience ponder for a moment with Solomon. He made the film as awesome as it is.

Who will win: Alfonso Cuaron. He is almost solely responsible for Gravity being what it is. And I won't be too disappointed when he wins, but I feel that Gravity could have been a bit better film plot-wise.

Supporting Actress

Who should win: This is the absolute easiest category for me. Lupita Nyong'o gave one of the most moving performances ever. I did love June Squibb in Nebraska, but this is no contest.

Who will win: At the Academy screening of American Hustle, the audience went nuts when Jennifer Lawrence's name appeared during the credits. They are infatuated with her, and they will probably ignore the best performance of the year because of it. Again, my review of the film goes into more detail on my thoughts on this matter.

Supporting Actor

Who should win: As odd as it is to say this, Jonah Hill should win an Oscar. His performance was fantastic. He brought the character to life, and was the highlight of The Wolf of Wall Street.

Who will win: Jared Leto, for the wrong reasons. I will defer to my Dallas Buyers Club review for my complete thoughts on this.

Leading Actress

Who should win: Cate Blanchett. Another easy one. She was Blue Jasmine. Fantastic performance.

Who will win: Cate Blanchett. Meryl Streep would be a lock in any other year.

Leading Actor

Who should win: This might be the most difficult category. Mathew McConaughey, Chiewetel Ejiofor, and Bruce Dern are all deserving. As much as I loved 12 Years a Slave, I think McConaughey should win the award.

Who will win: I think it's a bit easier for the Academy, and McConaughey will take home the statue.

Best Picture

Who should win: 12 Years a Slave. It's an incredible film in every way, and important to U.S. and film history. It's the epitome of Best Picture.

Who will win: Apparently this is a toss-up between 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity. I am surprised to see Gravity considered, and slightly appalled. It is a great film, absolutely incredible visually, but to give a film Best Picture because of visuals is completely the opposite of what the Academy usually does. I don't think it will win. I am disgusted by the love for American Hustle, a thoroughly mediocre movie. However, unfortunately, in my cynicism towards Hollywood, I think the Academy will give in to its love affair with David O. Russell and the actors in the film. If they do, I will be done watching the Oscars.