On Friday, December 8, 2017, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” to discuss the following topicsL the ongoing revelations of sexual predation and harassment in both Hollywood and the political realm; what’s currently getting Oscar buzz; what is currently out in cinemas that we recommend (including Coco, The Disaster Artist, Lady Bird and the upcoming The Shape of Water); and highlights from the careers of actor Claude Rains (1889-1976) and film composer Ennio Morricone (1928 – ), both of whose birthdays are on November 10, when we originally planned to celebrate them (a podcast we had to cancel for various reasons). Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!
Yesterday, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed this year’s Oscar Nominations.
Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!
Welcome to the fourth episode of the 2015-2016 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed . My guest this time was Max Weiss, film critic for Baltimore Magazine and WBAL-TV. We reviewed the 2016 Oscars (the ceremony, itself, and the winners), plus two recent films: Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool. We also discussed the role of the film critic, in general, and whether it is ever acceptable to leave a screening before the end. In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere. You can also still catch the first episode, second episode and third episode of this season, as well.
As always, the amazing Dragon Digital Media team did a fantastic job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney. Our next episode will premiere in May of this year (not sure what we’ll review yet, but I promise that the discussion will be great!). Until then, if you want to watch more of our work, you can check out last year’s episodes in full – Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6 – or watch the various segments from each episode on our YouTube channel. Enjoy! And we’ll see you at the movies!
I have a piece up at Hammer to Nail on the 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Those 5 films set the bar very high, and were I part of the Academy, I would have hard time determining the winner. Unfortunately, the other two categories of short films – animated and live-action – are not nearly as consistently strong. Here are my thoughts, in order by my preference, on the live-action category, which is, as a collection, slightly better than the animated films:
Everything Will Be Okay (“Alles Wird Gut”) (Patrick Vollrath, 30min.)
Wow! I’m not even sure if I like this taut German film, but it is a tour-de-force family drama with such strong performances by the two main actors that I almost don’t care. This is the story of Michael (Simon Schwarz, terrific), a divorced father who, when we first meet him, is pacing nervously outside the house of his ex-wife. We soon discover that today is his visitation day, and it is clear from the lack of words exchanged between the former spouses that the separation was not amicable. But joy of joys, he gets to see Lea (Julia Pointner, born in 2005 and utterly amazing), his young daughter, and as they drive away, we think we’re watching one kind of film, only to then discover that, no, this is something much more brutal. For Michael has plans, which we suspect early on without fully knowing for certain, and then watch in horror as he puts those plans into action. Don’t worry, he is a loving father, but a father with a desperate idea of how to keep Lea all to himself. Beautifully executed, with a sustained tense atmosphere throughout, Everything Will Be Okay is the clear standout, for me, among these five short films.
Stutterer (Benjamin Cleary, 12min.)
Next up, we have the British Stutterer, which feels very slight compared to Everything Will Be Okay, but is exquisitely shot and edited, with a fine central performance. Greenwood (Matthew Needham, very strong) is a man with a serious stuttering problem who is about to face a major crisis when Ellie, the woman with whom he has been communicating online for 6 months, announces (via text) that she is coming to London. To be honest, it strains credulity that someone would be this ashamed of such a disability in 2015, but perhaps the truth is more complicated. Which it is. We keep hoping that Greenwood will overcome his shyness and agree to a meeting, and if we don’t quite believe in that reticence, at 12 minutes the film does not overstay its welcome. It’s funny and sweet, and devoid of false sentimentality. Kudos to that.
Day One (Henry Hughes, 25min.)
Here’s another brutal movie. It has excellent intentions, but somehow ends up feeling more manipulative than genuine. Feda (a superlative Layla Alizada) is a divorced young Afghan woman on the first day of her new job as an interpreter for the United States military. Game, but totally unprepared for the realities of war, she heads off into the mountains with her assigned unit. Right away, things go very wrong, and she must test her mettle in a crucible of blood and terror. The film is based on director Henry Hughes’ actual experiences in combat, and I admire his resolve not to shrink from the unpleasant details of battle. Still, the situation, as it plays out here, has an element of transparent calculation – of continual raising of the stakes – that ultimately detracts from the sincerity of the narrative. See it for Alizada, but expect to be (a little) disappointed. I look forward to Hughes’ sophomore effort, however.
Shok (Jamie Donoughue, 21min.)
Shok offers another take on the horrors of war, this time in Kosovo in the late 1990s. Two Albanian boys, best friends, find themselves caught in the middle of the crisis, as Serbian militias begin a process of ethnic cleansing. The ups and downs of the boys’ relationship – one wants to deal with the Serbs, while the other hates them – are set against the increasingly violent actions of the occupying troops. It’s a nice technique that disarms us by hiding the director’s true intentions, not revealed until the end, but the film is hampered by the less-than-stellar performances of all involved. It feels as if everyone could have used an additional take (or two) to remove the last vestige of artifice from their on-screen behavior. As it is, what could have been truly moving ends up being, instead, a blueprint for a better movie, to be directed and acted by others.
Ave Maria (Basil Khalil, 15min.)
The only outright comedy of the lot (albeit a bitter one), Ave Maria is set in the present-day West Bank of Israel, where a dysfunctional family, on their way home from a far-flung Jewish settlement, crashes their car into the side of a Palestinian convent (run by the “Sisters of Mercy”). More specifically, they smash up a statue of the Virgin Mary, beheading her, leading to the two best gags in the film, one visual, the other spoken: when we first see the statue, the severed head lies on the ground, oil from the car seeping from behind, like blood; when the youngest nun runs inside to explain the noise to her fellow sisters, she screams, “Jews have violated the Virgin Mary.” Ha ha! Positioned as one of those stories of culture clashes where all must learn to get along, the film is marred by uneven performances and clumsy pacing. Most of the jokes – as well as the entire situation – feel forced, and the Jewish family is so caricatured that it’s hard not to read some not-so-latent anti-Semitism into their portrayal, acknowledged or not (the director is, himself, Palestinian). Leaving that aside, in terms of purely cinematic concerns, this is the most amateurish movie among the nominees.
I have a piece up at Hammer to Nail on the 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Those 5 films set the bar very high, and were I part of the Academy, I would have a hard time determining the winner. Unfortunately, the other two categories of short films – animated and live-action – are not nearly as consistently strong. Here are my thoughts on the animation category, in order by my preference:
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (“Мы не можем жить без космоса”) (Konstantin Bronzit, 16min.)
By far my favorite, this beautiful Russian movie, from animator Konstantin Bronzit (Lavatory Lovestory, also Oscar-nominated, back in 2009), tells the story of two childhood friends training for their first space flight. Always at the top of their class, they dream of nothing but traveling into the cosmos. As expected, they are both chosen, as #1 and #2, for the next mission. Unfortunately, #2 is a reserves-only position, but he watches good-naturedly as his lifelong pal suits up and blasts off. What happens next is both moving and memorable. Animated in a 2D style that reminds one of the great Tintin comics of yore, especially the 1953 and 1954 albums Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos is as funny as it is profound. And lucky you, dear reader, it is available on YouTube. I highly recommend.
World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 17min.)
In many ways, this is the most original of the bunch. Animated in a deceptively child-like drawing style (director Don Hertzfeld is known for his stick figures), World of Tomorrow tackles issues of identity, technology and the intersection of both in a metaphysical mix that is as amusing as it is thoughtful. We follow young “Emily-prime” – the first in a series of clones – on a journey through time that unsettles even as it entertains. A future descendent of hers has invited her forward to her own era to discuss the present, past and future of their shared existence. That future Emily is lonely, and we get the sense that life for an eternally returning consciousness is not, perhaps, something to be coveted. She utters this great sentence to her originator: “You can only appreciate the present once it becomes the past” (or something like that). At times, though, the movie descends into tangents that are a little too silly, and the sound mix is not always perfect (the dialogue is overrun by the music and effects), which is why it is not, ultimately, as artistically successful as my first choice, above. Still, it’s an ambitious effort that rewards careful viewing, and since it’s now on Netflix, you can (and should) watch it there.
Bear Story (“Historia de un oso”) (Gabriel Osorio Vargas, 11min.)
From an animation standpoint, this movie is beautiful. First-time movie director Gabriel Osorio Vargas clearly has talent. The story, however, while incredibly imaginative, is also a bit too nonsensical for my taste. In a world of bears, our main character’s odyssey is told through a mechanically animated device that is half-player piano/half-organ grinder, cranked by one such bear whose backstory is in some way linked to that of the bear inside his device … maybe. In other words, there is a movie within the movie, itself animated within the world of the movie. That primary bear’s story is set in a circus, where evil bosses force him to perform his act. The fact that the motivations of both our protagonist and his foes are never fully explained proved too distracting to me for the gorgeous images to completely win me over, but if narrative coherence is less important to you, then this film has much to offer.
Prologue (Richard Williams, 6min.)
This film comes with a disclaimer (at least it does when part of the packaged pre-Oscar roadshow), warning of intense violence and nudity within. Yes, there is gore, and yes, we see male genitalia, but by 21st-century standards these images are relatively mild. I suspect that were this film not animated, no such warning would be deemed necessary; however, since we (erroneously) assume that animated films are made with children in mind, someone felt it imperative to include the warning. Perhaps, also, since there is an actual child within the story, who witnesses the on-screen violence, that same someone may have found the film especially brutal. That’s all fine, but I wish the film were stronger. There is no real story, just a battle – taking place in some undefined ancient past – in which all four men involved do serious damage with swords, arrows and spears. It’s the shortest film of the lot – expressively drawn, like a shimmering charcoal sketch, by veteran animator Richard Williams (Oscar-winner for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) – and so perhaps its lack of a defined narrative may not matter to some. Still, it feels too easy. Cue violence, cut to child, and voilà, we have a moving story. I beg to differ.
Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel, 7min.)
Finally, we have this well-intentioned story of a young boy learning to be proud of his culture. All Sanjay wants to do is play with his (white) action figures while watching his (white) superhero show on TV. When his father forces him to pray alongside him to his Hindu deities, Sanjay sulks. But then, all of a sudden, he finds himself imagining a world where these gods are just like the cartoon heroes he worships. When he emerges from his daydream, Sanjay decides to draw his own comic strip, in which these Indian characters are now the stars. I approve of the sentiments. But not of the treacle, which is layered on thick. Nor of the derivate visuals (flying martial-arts fighters), stolen directly from more original movies like the Kung Fu Panda series. Sanjay’s Super Team played, this past fall, before screenings of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (another film I did not like). Like that movie, it is cute enough, harmless, and utterly mediocre.
Today, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed the just-announced 2016 Oscar nominations, giving our opinion on what we agreed with and what we didn’t (here are my own lists of the best films, the best acting, and the best artistic and technical work of 2015). We also talked about the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, once again, mostly ignored people of color in its choices.
The third episode of Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, on HCC-TV, is now available. My third guest was Max Weiss, Managing Editor of Baltimore Magazine and movie critic for WBAL-TV in Baltimore. We started off the show with reviews of Selma and Unbroken, before then moving on to our favorite films of 2014 (you can see my own “best of” list here, and Max’s here). In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere. Enjoy!
The amazing HCC-TV team did a wonderful job, as always, putting this together. The next episode (#4) will air at the start of March. If you want to watch the second episode, click here, and if you want to watch the first episode, click here.