There are some films that, for one reason or another, have an extremely high ‘rewatchability quotient’ (as I like to call it). You know, one of those movies that you happen to come across one night on TV when you have nothing better to do, and you end up watching till the end (even when read more...
November 15 I was very impressed with myself for killing off my final article of my Beijing assignment, and so I decided to reward myself by seeing some of the sights of Beijing that I had been dying to visit since the day I arrived. Of course, the must visit attraction, apart from the Great read more...
[Updated to include latest info on Landry Fields and Lin's love interest] Avid New York Knicks fan and filmmaker Spike Lee has announced a shortlist of actors to play Jeremy Lin in his upcoming sports biopic based on the life of the Asian-American superstar who has taken the basketball world by storm. The film, which read more...
It’s a Christmas Day miracle! Yeah, you better believe it. I have finally finished watching and reviewing all the 2011 movies (ie, movies with a 2011 release date according to IMDB) on my list and I’m ready to deliver my worst and best lists of the (last) year. Sure it’s a little late, but better read more...
I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies or romantic dramedies or comedic dramas or whatever you want to call them, but Silver Linings Playbook easily tops my list of “whatever they are” for 2012. Funny and odd yet warm and heartfelt, not to mention powered by possibly the best ensemble cast of the year, it is a worthy Best Picture nominee that ticks the right boxes and pulls the right strings.
The slant of Silver Linings Playbook is mental illness, a risky angle that paid off when it could have easily backfired. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a seemingly regular dude who has lost a lot of weight while being in a mental institution after suffering a breakdown (for reasons that are later explained). He returns home to his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Aussie Jacki Weaver, and continues to hope to rekindle his relationship with estranged wife Nikki. He sees his shrink and goes about making people uncomfortable until he meets kindred spirit Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Best Actress Oscar for this role), a young woman battling her own mental demons. And so begins an unusual, quirky and volatile friendship that directs both damaged characters onto a journey of healing.
It doesn’t really sound like enthralling cinema, but the sharp script (based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick) and direction by David O Russell (The Fighter) elevates Silver Linings Playbook far above your average comedy or drama. It is a rare feat when both the jokes and the drama are spot on, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that was hilarious but not crude, dramatic but not melodramatic, sweet but not saccharine. Silver Linings Playbook achieves all of these.
This film, as is the case with all good films, is driven by its characters and their relationships. Of course, Pat and Tiffany dominate, but all the supporting characters have a story to tell as well. Pat’s father is a superstitious wreck, while Pat’s friends Ronnie and Veronica are in a struggling relationship that I’m sure will ring true to a lot of couples. Even Chris Tucker, who plays Pat’s friend from the mental institution, is an interesting fellow I wanted to see more of.
The characters and their relationships are driven by the phenomenal performances. I never thought of Bradley Cooper as much of a thespian, but he’s really convincing and makes Pat a likable protagonist you want to root for. I think it is by far the best performance of his career.
Jennifer Lawrence (sigh…). Just when I thought I couldn’t like her any more than I already do, she pulls off last year’s best performance as Tiffany, a beautiful, seductive, explosive and manipulative woman who has no idea how to deal with her pain. She’s that good, and with all due respect to the other Best Actress nominees, Lawrence is absolutely a deserving winner. Kate Winslet’s spot as my fave actress is in grave danger.
I don’t even need to mention the typically brilliant De Niro, though Weaver, whose role is smaller than I expected, struck me as a weird Best Supporting Actress nominee. Sure she’s good, but she wasn’t really given much of an opportunity to shine.This wasn’t like Animal Kingdom where she would grab you by the balls and never let go.
Anyway…I don’t need to say much more except that Silver Linings Playbook is worthy of all the critical acclaim. Some may be put off by the mental illness aspect of it, others by the quirkiness or the more predictable elements of the plot (and I admit, there is a sense of inevitability about the outcome, especially as it draws closer to its conclusion), but it’ll be a tough task to find a better 2012 romantic comedy or romantic dramedy or comedic drama or whatever you want to call it.
In typical me-fashion, I am blogging about something that happened almost a month ago. That’s right; I’m talking about the 85th Academy Awards.
This recap is really for my own selfish benefit because I don’t want to forget it in case I never get invited again. Not to the Oscars, of course (though I still hold out hope that this could still happen some day – as soon as I have the time and money to write, produce, direct and star in my own film, Tommy Wisseau-style), but to be a consultant on its Taiwan telecast.
Allow me to take a step back and explain. A few weeks ago (well, a month and a few weeks ago), a colleague recommended me to one of the two TV stations with rights to broadcast the Oscars in Taiwan. These stations will air the Oscars (at least) twice – live in the morning (Taiwan time) and again at night with subtitles. Each producer will have a team of dedicated translators who will work tirelessly all throughout the day to get those subtitles ready in time for the second telecast.
Sounds easy, or so I thought, but it’s actually a lot of work. It’s more than just direct translations from English to Chinese — there could be a lot of obscure film, TV, music, pop culture or fashion references that need to be researched and confirmed; jokes, slang words or accents that are difficult to understand for non-native speakers; or just a lot of indecipherable mumbling and hollering that even most native speaker don’t get. All of it has to be impeccably translated, verified and matched with the recorded footage. While there are bits of scripted material and lists of names that will be translated in advance, the vast majority of the work is done on the day, on the spot.
Where did I come in? Well, notwithstanding the dozen or so high-quality translators they hired for the day, they still needed someone with English as their native tongue who knew a thing or two about the movies. Just in case. The pay, as is usually the case in Taiwan, is not great, but to be honest I would have done it for nothing. I’d have to take a day off work, but I knew the experience of being a part of an Oscars telecast was too good to pass up.
We started early. By the time I arrived at 7:30am, the two rooms dedicated to the challenge were already filled with translators plugging away and preparing for the dreaded red carpet (which would be re-broadcast with subtitles after the ceremony in the rerun later that night). The rooms themselves were small and crowded. One was crammed with tables and laptops for the translators, while the other was crammed with couches and a TV for people like me.
This is the TV I watched the broadcast on
The day itself was a blast. Very long but extremely enjoyable and insightful. It was fun to watch the Oscars live for once (it’s usually on during work hours in Sydney and it was impossible to avoid finding out the winners before getting home) and with a group of people who have a passion for film.
For the majority of the live broadcast I was glued to the TV with our other consultant, a radio personality in Taiwan who once tutored Chinese actress Gong Li (you know, the one with the icy stare from Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice) in English for a year. Apparently she is…um…nice — in person, that is.
Gong Li stares
Every now and then we would hear a call from the other room for “er duo” (literally “ears”), and we would go scampering over to assist. Sometimes it would be to decipher the name of a fashion brand (especially during the red carpet), or the punchline of a joke, or the name of a person mentioned during the acceptance speeches. Sometimes it was just a whole lot of gibberish from William Shatner or Queen Latifah.
Shatner tearing it up at the Oscars
The only real “work” I had to do all day was to help transcribe a couple of songs from the opening act of host Seth MacFarlane – so that the translators could use them to do the Chinese subtitles. On this point, I am disappointed to say, I could not, for the life of me, figure out one of the lines in MacFarlane’s final song, Be Our Guest, in which he tried to make fun of the name of the nine-year-old Oscar-nominated star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhane Wallis.
Southern Wild had some luck, it was made for 50 bucks
With a star whose name looks like a …?
After listening to it about 50 times, none of us could figure out what the heck Quvenzhane’s name looks like. It didn’t really matter in the end because the Chinese translation simply needed to convey that her name was difficult to read or pronounce, though I must admit that the line really bugged me for the rest of the day. After researching on Google and Twitter I still couldn’t find a single person who knew what he was referring to.
(A few weeks later, an article I read suggested that he had compared the name to “a vision test” – which could be correct, but even watching it again now I still think it doesn’t quite sound right. Check out the video of the entire opening below – the line comes in at around the 13:44 mark.)
Anyway, the rest of the broadcast went along very smoothly, with Ang Lee’s win for best director, naturally, drawing the biggest emotional high. It was probably the only time during the day that everyone stopped whatever they were doing and just watched the man they call “the pride of Taiwan” (along with basketballer Jeremy Lin, pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, and any other Taiwanese person or person with Taiwanese heritage who has ever done anything remotely newsworthy in the world – though one must wonder why Justin Lin, the Taiwanese-born director of the last few entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, has barely gotten a mention).
The moment Ang Lee accepted his Oscar for Life of Pi
Much of the real work would come after the awards ceremony ended. You would think with a dozen or so people each translating a different segment that it wouldn’t take all that long to translate every word uttered in a three-and-a-half-hour ceremony and the preceding red carpet show – but it does! It really is hard work.
I must mention here that the translators we had working on the subtitles were amazing. Since moving here a little more than a year ago I’ve often been appalled with the quality of the translations in Taiwan – even for official government documents, brochures and marketing campaigns. But the people they hired on this day were all brilliant; I’m sure they are some of the best translators in Taiwan. I was particularly impressed by their meticulousness and their abilities to pick up the nuances and fudge difficult lines into coherence. One of them was a subtitle specialist who had worked on more than 5,000 films and TV shows, including good old porn (which is, allegedly, a pretty stiff job given that much of the dialogue occurs during hardcore close-up scenes…).
I feel I really should write a post on the plight of translators in Taiwan some day because it’s a topic I’m sure many people are passionate about. In short, it’s a shitty industry because the pay is so low and the work is so often very very hard. There are plenty of translation agencies out there taking advantage of translators by offering ridiculously low rates of say US$0.01 a word. At the same time, there are a lot of hopeless translators vying for – and often scoring – freelance gigs because they are willing to work for peanuts in exchange for horrendous translations. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps dragging down both the quality and the price of translation work in the country.
But I digress.
Oscars day was fun, and it stretched well into the evening and beyond the 8pm start time for the re-run thanks to the final subtitles for the red carpet. Contrary to my understanding of how Taiwanese media treat their staff, all of us were well looked after, with all three meals taken care of throughout the day. I really hope there will be another opportunity to work with them again in the future.
Thoughts on the Oscars
Seth MacFarlane as host
As for the ceremony itself, I thought this year’s was one of the better ones. Seth MacFarlane received average to negative reviews for his performance, but I actually thought he was pretty good. Not gut-bustingly funny but amusing enough for the stuffy Oscar oldies, and nowhere near as uncomfortable as Ricky Gervais. Yes, the opening monologue was a little longer than usual, but I’ve always considered it the most entertaining part of the show, so no complaints from me.
As for the low-brow humor, including the “We Saw Your Boobs” song (in which all the actresses were clearly in on the joke) and some orgy comments from his teddy bear creation Ted, I don’t think any of it was unexpected. I mean, come on, the show’s organizers knew exactly what they were getting when they signed the creator of Family Guy and Ted – no one could say with a straight face that they had expected him to be Hugh Jackman and keep away from the crude jokes. No one can beat Billy Crystal, of course, but at least MacFarlane was better than the disaster that was Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011 (almost entirely the fault of the stoned latter) and the bizarre duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin the year before.
My favorite parts of the opening monologue were those that received assistance from another star – the Star Trek segments with William Shatner and the Flying Nun skit with Sally Field. On the whole, however, it was one of the better openings in recent memory. As they say, it’s the toughest gig in Hollywood, so kudos to MacFarlane for at least having the balls to take it on when he knew he’d probably be savaged for it.
Seth MacFarlane as the Flying Nun
Winners and losers
Having finally watched all of the nine best picture nominees, I have to say that this was a strange year in which there was no real favorite because no film really dominated.
Argo, which won best picture, only had a single acting nomination (for Alan Arkin), while its director, Ben Affleck, didn’t even get a nomination. And let’s face it: it was a very very good film, but still one of the weaker best picture winners in Oscar history. At least it was better than Crash.
They may take away my best director nomination, but they can never take away this Oscar!!
On the other hand, you had Lincoln, which may have ticked all the boxes but was a bore that few would call the best film of the year. Amour was the token foreign film nominee that was far too depressing to win, and Beasts of the Southern Wild was a nice little fairytale (given its shoestring budget) that was too weird for a lot of people (including me).
Les Miserables divided audiences and critics alike (I was more against it than for it), while Zero Dark Thirty was too “controversial.” Personally, my three favourite films of the best picture nominees were Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi, probably in that order.
If I were a betting man, I probably would have put my money on Life of Pi because it will probably go down as the most memorable of the lot, and plus Ang Lee won for best director, which I felt was totally deserved. But unlike many who have seen it I didn’t think it was that amazing. Django and Silver Linings Playbook weren’t perfect and were genres unlikely to win best picture, but they were by far the most enjoyable of the nominees.
At the end of the day, Argo probably won by default.
As for the rest of the major categories, apart from best director (for which I thought Spielberg was the favourite) and best supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones reportedly had the odds on his side), most of the outcomes were predictable. Daniel Day-Lewis, the male Meryl Streep, rarely loses once he gets nominated. The annoying thing is that you know he totally deserves it every time. The only guy that really could have competed with Daniel Day out of the nominees was Joaquin Phoenix, and you know they were never giving it to him.
One of the best non-Ang Lee moments at the Oscars this year was when Jennifer Lawrence, who is on the verge of overtaking Kate Winslet as my favourite actress, won for Silver Linings Playbook. I thought Jessica Chastain was excellent in Zero Dark Thirty, but Lawrence really hit a home run with her performance and proved that her nomination for Winter’s Bone a couple of years ago was no fluke. To top things off, she stacked it on the steps while heading up to the stage. Right now she’s like the female Ryan Gosling – impossible to dislike no matter how hard you try – well, except he’s still looking for his first Oscar.
Jennifer Lawrence takes a tumble on her way to the stage
Anne Hathaway’s win for supporting actress in Les Miserables turned out to be the most “meh” moment of the night. Yeah, she was good, but she pretty much won for shaving her head and signing one song. I wasn’t anywhere near that bandwagon..
Christoph Waltz has now made it two for two in his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino. I think this is why his win surprised a lot of people, because few expected that he would win the same award for the same director two times in a row. All the nominees were great, but if we were being honest with ourselves we would admit that the guy who truly deserved to win didn’t even get nominated. Waltz won for playing a Nazi, so I don’t get any of this “too controversial” or “to villainous” argument against Leonardo DiCaprio, who absolutely should have taken home the golden statuette this year.
Let’s face it, Leo was robbed
One final comment about the best foreign film category, which to no one’s surprise was captured by Amour this year. I said the same thing a dozen years ago when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won it: how can a film in that category NOT be the best foreign film if it is the ONLY one also nominated for best picture? It may seem unfair to deprive films like Amour and Crouching Tiger of an Oscar win for best foreign film, but it also completely kills any chance the other nominees in the category have.
PS: On a side note, it was kind of ridiculous that last year’s best picture winner, The Artist, did not get a nomination for best foreign film because the award is actually “best foreign language film.” So despite being a French movie made by a French production company, with a French director and French stars, The Artist was ruled ineligible because the few words uttered in the film were, more or less, in English. Another reason for this is because each foreign country can only submit ONE film for consideration to the Academy, which is totally stupid too.
Artwork courtesy of Hubert Widjaya. See below for our discussion on the film.
If you like Quentin Tarantino films, then chances are you’ll love Django Unchained. To me, this film is in his top five all-time. Personally, I’d rank it above both the Kill Bill films and Inglourious Basterds, and I already think those films are freaking awesome.
Tarantino films are a unique experience you just can’t get with any other director out there at the moment. His subjects are imaginative and bold. His characters are captivating. His worlds are seductive. His humour is black and wacky. His violence is ridiculously over-the-top. And his dialogue is simply the best. Sure, his movies can sometimes make no sense and come across as self-indulgent, but you can always be sure that a Tarantino film is never boring.
Django Unchained is Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti western genre. The titular character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx (apparently Will Smith was Tarantino’s first choice) is a negro slave from the antebellum era who becomes a bounty hunter under the guidance of Christoph Waltz (who won his second Oscar for best supporting actor in his second Tarantino film). The dynamic duo go in search of Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and when they track her down, devise a plan to rescue her from a vile slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, no Tarantino film is really complete without Samuel L Jackson, who plays Leo’s loyal senior house slave.
In essence, Django Unchained is a fantasy hero film about a wronged black man who goes on a killing rampage against nasty white guys. There are parts that defy logic and reason, but who cares when you’re having so much fun?
The performances are ridiculous. Jamie Foxx is spectacular as the man who will stop at nothing to get his wife back. Christoph Waltz just beat Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones at the Oscars, so you know he’s good. But damn, it’s a travesty that Leo was not at least nominated for the best supporting actor category this year. It’s one of his best performances ever, and if you gave me a choice between Leo and Christoph I’d probably pick Leo. He was just that good. Heartthrobs just can’t get a fair shake with the Academy.
As expected, the release of Django Unchained polarized viewers for its controversial subject matter and content. Spike Lee, before even seeing the film, declared it disrespectful to his ancestors for making light of slavery. Some complained about the crazy violence, even though most of it was applied in a comical kind of way. But what twisted the most panties was the excessive use of the “N” word. Now I don’t claim to be a historian, but I assume that’s the way they spoke back in those days. (That said, knowing how much Tarantino loves to use that word, I have a feeling that much of it probably was gratuitous.)
Whatever. Django Unchained was hands down one of the most entertaining films of the year. A little overlong as usual at 165 minutes, but all things considered still a near masterpiece.
Conversation with HW:
HW: G’day fellow film geek! In the pantheon of Quentin’s work how did you like his latest mind-blowing mash-up?
PJM: I loved it. It’s not quite at the level of his all-time greats like Pulp Fiction but it’s up there. Just for the fun factor I’d rank it above Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill. That’s how much I enjoyed it. What about you?
HW: In terms of discomfort, i.e. controversy factor, easily number one as it deals with slavery without flinching. Fun factor wise its equal to Inglourious Basterds. It has EASILY by far and away the best Tarantino film performance though in Leo. If not for him playing a racist southerner, he’d be a lock for Oscar nom and win…best villain since the Joker (Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).
PJM: Absolutely. Leo was phenomenal. I actually thought everyone was great, except for Tarantino himself, of course. He still can’t act. I still reckon he made the film just so he and Samuel L Jackson can say the “N” word to their hearts’ content.
HW: Waltz was charming, and Foxx solid but Leo STEALS every scene he’s in…the best dialogue, the best accent and all delivered with a killer southern accent…my other fave Leo role actually uses another accent too — Blood Diamond.
PJM: That’s the thing with Tarantino — he’s like no other filmmaker out there. He excites me more than any director out there right now (cinematically speaking, of course…)
HW: Funny too…hes banking on, and is usually safe, in assuming that 90% oh viewers don’t know the films he’s ripping off…although there is a definite skill in mashing up genres.
PJM: What would you give it out of 5?
HW: If it weren’t for an absolutely pointless conclusion after the conclusion, I’d give it 9 out of 10…the super tense, brilliant, Samuel L Jackson stealing dinner setup, which ends with [spoilers!] would have brilliant conclusion…would have been a tighter film, with no fat…his second act of [spoilers!] adds nothing, and weakens the film.
PJM: I agree it was a little overlong and had some unnecessary fat to trim, much like Tarantino’s body in this film. I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 anyway. This is just the kind of film you don’t see anymore and who better than Tarantino to give it to us. I loved the dialogue, the performances, the action and the humour. Classic Tarantino.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I just want to assure everyone that I am still here with a quick post.
In short, it’s been hectic. All plans and dreams of settling into a routine have been trampled, spat on and stuffed into closet of dirty wet rags. The major culprit is this freelance gig that’s been tearing me apart! It was supposed to be an easy proofread for a government tourism booklet — at most a light copyedit — but instead it has become a full-scale rewrite and retranslation that’s taking me far longer than I could have ever expected. I’m nearly there, but not quite there because there are always potential spanners when it comes to government agencies. You know how it is, and if you don’t, you should.
The other thing was the Oscars on Monday (Taiwan time), for which I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate in a one-day gig helping out as a translation/film consultant for the local TV broadcast. It was a long day but it was fun and exciting, and I got to meet a lot of wonderful people, all of whom I hope to cross paths with again soon. I’m going to write up a post on that experience pretty soon along with my thoughts about the Oscars in general (including host Seth MacFarlane). It’s gotta be done.
Anyway, much of the time before that day was spent trying to catch up on the movies nominated for the Oscars, in particular the best picture titles. I never ended up getting through all of them, but I still intend to do so. There’s only Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild left for best picture, but I’m also hoping to be able to get to The Impossible, The Master, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom and The Sessions as part of my Oscar movie blitz. I’ll be reviewing all of them, along with the other nominees I’ve already seen, such as Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and The Invisible War. I’ll get there…someday.
Work has also been somewhat of a nuisance because I’ll be very busy here for the next couple of weeks. It was unavoidable and certainly foreseeable, but still, it sucks feeling like you’re running on adrenaline most of the time.
That’s all for now, but as a butt-groping, nanny-impregnating governor once said, “I’ll be back.”
I’m not kidding when I say I had been wanting to watch The Lives of Others, the best foreign film Oscar winner of 2007, since the movie was first released in 2006. I blink and it’s 7 years later.
Well, I finally got the chance to catch the movie the other night and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. It is without a doubt a film worthy of its “classic” status.
I’ll admit I don’t know as much about the whole East Germany/West Germany/Berlin Wall thing (even after my visit to Berlin in ’09) as I probably should, but the narrative is so expertly crafted that you don’t really need all the background knowledge to be engrossed by it. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of a Stasi agent who develops a conscience while spying on a famous playright and his actress lover during the height of political tensions between East and West.
The introductory scene, a ruthless interrogation, sets the tone perfectly. The agent, Wiesler, is presented as a loyal Stasi agent dedicated to uncovering enemies of the state. But as time goes on and he becomes immersed in the lives of his subjects, he realises that his task is not is simple as it originally appeared. It’s a tale about the conflict between duties and morals, controlling feelings of sympathy and empathy, and having the courage to do what one feels is right.
The Lives of Others is so good because of its powerful and unassuming subtlety. Nothing is hammered home (like so many Hollywood films we see these days) but the film’s emotional impact is undeniable. When you think about it closely, there’s really nothing mindblowing about the plot, but the story knows exactly where it is going and everything gradually and skillfully falls into place like pieces of a giant puzzle. For a relatively slow film, there’s a surprising amount of tension too, a demonstration of what a filmmaker can do when he or she has a firm grasp of the nuances of pacing and structure.
The performances are impeccable, with Ulrich Mühe a standout as the lonely and conflicted protagonist. He is the heart and soul of the film, but Sebtastian Koch, who plays the playwright Dreyman, and Martina Gedeck, who plays his lover Sieland, are also both excellent as the vulnerable and fragile couple who drive the film’s emotional core.
The best compliment that can probably be paid to The Lives of Others is that it’s film that will resonate with viewers for a very long time. For me, it is the best foreign drama I’ve seen since the 2009 Spanish film The Secret in Their Eyes.