FilmSnork is on Twitter

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Sopranos Finale Interpreted - My Minute With David Chase

Attended First and Last: An Evening With David Chase. It was a screening of the pilot and finale of The Sopranos then a Q&A with the creator, David Chase.  Knowing that I may never get the chance to speak directly with him again, I made sure I was selected to ask him a question.  He responded with a very insightful answer that reassured my interpretation of the infamous ending.  A great night for a huge fan.

Most people ask David Chase, "Is Tony dead?"  (including the event curator.)  That may be why he never clearly answers the question.  He has stated in the past that alive/dead is not the point.  But, he also has said that all you need to know is on the screen.  Those two comments, in my eyes, are, in a way, contradictory.  Chase is coyly saying that the series is much more than just did he live or did he die, but there IS an answer.

I can understand his frustration.  As an artist I am often frustrated when people do not recognize the thought and effort I put into my work.  My feeling is he is too, especially that the an entire decade of his career has become focused on about ten seconds of black on screen.

As a way to get him to open up more about the final scene, my plan was to discuss the ending by approaching it from a art/film perspective.  Which is why, out of EVERY response he has given about the end of the show that I have read (and I have read a ton) the answer he gave me was the most insightful.  I believe he finally gave fans of the show the answer they have wanted, but he was able to do so in the context of the thought process behind editing the final scene, not a yes or no answer.

As I said, I almost did not ask my question - then I thought, I have a hundred questions for him.  I would love to breakdown the final scene shot by shot, but I only have one chance and I knew the question.  My question was about the use of three individual shots of the family eating onion rings in a fashion very similar to taking communion (watch it again, it is VERY obvious.)  My interpretation, it was symbolic of the Last Rites (the sacrament performed before death.)  He said something along the lines of "that's it."  I said back, "that's all I need to know."  He quickly responded, "I didn't say he's dead."  Then the magic - he continued speaking to me, expanding on his answer.  The funny thing was he brought more into it than I had been able to ask about.  To me, it felt like he was finally getting a question that respected his work and he wanted to take the opportunity to reveal more.

Here is a write-up discussing the response to my question.

Chase seemed to confirm one of the key points of those who believe that the ending does depict Tony getting whacked, namely, a pattern identified in which a bell rings, signaling the diner’s door is being opened; then the camera shows Tony looking up; and then the camera assumes Tony’s point-of-view. The fade-to-black comes right when we would have assumed Tony’s point-of-view. The bell, Chase explained, is an allusion to a scene between Tony and Bobby Baccala on a lake, in which a bell also rings. (He didn’t mention that this is the same scene in which Bobby says, “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens,” a line Tony remembers in the penultimate episode and which is basically Exhibit A for those who believe that Tony gets killed.) “I had read that very often in Zen ceremonies they ring a bell like that, and what it’s supposed to do is bring you to the present, to keep bringing you to the now—the right now,” Chase said. And he went on to explain the camera-shooting structure: “It would come somewhere, see the person he was going to talk to, cut back to him, and then cut to him walking into his own point of view.”

Another article, in the New York Observer, mentions my onion ring question: A quiet question from the back cut in. “In your mind, do you know if Tony lives or dies?” (not me) “Maybe he choked on an onion ring,” Mr. Chase said. Which brings us to the most novel observation of the evening: the onion ring sequence. Each member of the Soprano family places one on their tongue in succession. “The last rites?” one gentleman wondered aloud. Mr. Chase froze. “Good,” he said.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Beat FilmSnork: 2014 Oscar Edition

Think you can beat me, make your picks in the comments section.
If you beat me there is no prize besides bragging rights for the rest of your life.  
Give is a shot.   

And the nominees are

BEST PICTURE
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"Captain Phillips"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Gravity"
"Her"
"Nebraska"
"Philomena"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave."
Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"
David O. Russell, "American Hustle"
Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale, "American Hustle"
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Jonah Hill, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"The Croods"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"Frozen"
"The Wind Rises"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"The Grandmaster," Philippe Le Sourd
"Gravity," Emmanuel Lubezki
"Inside Llewyn Davis," Bruno Delbonnel
"Nebraska," Phedon Papamichael
"Prisoners," Roger A. Deakins

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"American Hustle," Michael Wilkinson
"The Grandmaster," William Chang Suk Ping
"The Great Gatsby," Catherine Martin
"The Invisible Woman," Michael O'Connor
"12 Years a Slave," Patricia Norris

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"The Act of Killing"
"Cutie and the Boxer"
"Dirty Wars"
"The Square"
"20 Feet from Stardom"

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
"CaveDigger"
"Facing Fear"
"Karama Has No Walls"
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"

BEST FILM EDITING
"American Hustle," Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
"Captain Phillips," Christopher Rouse
"Dallas Buyers Club," John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger
"12 Years a Slave," Joe Walker

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM 
"The Broken Circle Breakdown," Belgium
"The Great Beauty," Italy
"The Hunt," Denmark
"The Missing Picture," Cambodia
"Omar," Palestine

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
"Dallas Buyers Club," Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," Stephen Prouty
"The Lone Ranger," Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
"The Book Thief," John Williams
"Gravity," Steven Price
"Her," William Butler and Owen Pallett
"Philomena," Alexandre Desplat
"Saving Mr. Banks," Thomas Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Happy" from "Despicable Me 2"
"Let It Go" from "Frozen"
"The Moon Song" from "Her"
"Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
"American Hustle," Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
"Gravity," Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
"The Great Gatsby," Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
"Her," Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
"12 Years a Slave," Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Feral"
"Get a Horse!"
"Mr. Hublot"
"Possessions"
"Room on the Broom"

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)"
"Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)"
"Helium"
"Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)"
"The Voorman Problem"

BEST SOUND EDITING
"All Is Lost," Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
"Captain Phillips," Oliver Tarney
"Gravity," Glenn Freemantle
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Brent Burge
"Lone Survivor," Wylie Stateman

BEST SOUND MIXING
"Captain Phillips," Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
"Gravity," Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
"Inside Llewyn Davis," Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
"Lone Survivor," Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
"Gravity," Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
"Iron Man 3," Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
"The Lone Ranger," Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
"Star Trek Into Darkness," Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"Before Midnight," written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
"Captain Phillips," screenplay by Billy Ray
"Philomena," screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
"12 Years a Slave," screenplay by John Ridley
"The Wolf of Wall Street," screenplay by Terence Winter

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"American Hustle," written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
"Blue Jasmine," written by Woody Allen
"Dallas Buyers Club," written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
"Her," written by Spike Jonze
"Nebraska," written by Bob Nelson


My official Oscar picks:
BEST PICTURE
"Gravity" (will probably lose, but it is my favorite and I am picking it.)

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"

BEST ACTOR
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"Frozen"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"Gravity," Emmanuel Lubezki

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"The Great Gatsby," Catherine Martin

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"20 Feet from Stardom"

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"

BEST FILM EDITING
"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
"The Great Beauty," Italy

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
"Dallas Buyers Club," Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
"Gravity," Steven Price

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Let It Go" from "Frozen"

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
"The Great Gatsby," Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Get a Horse!"

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
"The Voorman Problem"

BEST SOUND EDITING
"Gravity," Glenn Freemantle

BEST SOUND MIXING
"Gravity," Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
"Gravity," Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"12 Years a Slave," screenplay by John Ridley

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"Her," written by Spike Jonze



Good luck.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prisoners (2013) - review

A Thanksgiving get together for a pair of families takes a sudden turn for the worst when their two young daughters disappear without a trace.  It is a uncomfortable premise and from that point onward the film only gets more grueling and dark, raising moral questions that are uncomfortable even considering.  The stellar cast lead by Hugh Jackman, who plays against character, as a father ofone of the missing girls that will do anything he can find his daughter.   The ever surprising, Jake Gyllenhaal, delivering one of his best performances, plays a young detective that is determined to solve the mystery by the book.

The film is full of intrigue and mystery that will keep you engaged as you try to piece it all together.  But, be warned it is a very tough film to sit through at times.  It sets a dark tone and you are not given a hint of a break- there is no humor, no light scenes, just grimness straight through.  The film delves into numerous religious themes that add even more weight to an already draining story.  This is masterfully handled in one scene that turns a recital of Our Father into an powerful moment of doubt and self-evaluation.  It is just one of many scenes that will have you trying to determine which way your moral compass would point in the face for such a horrific situation.

Although it is a great film full of stellar performances I recommend you proceed with caution before watching, it may be too much for some to handle.  Especially if you are a parent, it is may be too emotionally gut-wrenching for you to appreciate it.  Go hug your kids and watch something lighter instead.

8.5 out of 10
 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014) - Review

When I first read about the plans for turning the classic building blocks toy into a feature film I suffered flashbacks of other such attempts to convert kids toys into movies.  G.I. Joe, Battleship, Transformers 1, 2, 3…. I shudder.   Before I could finish reading the headline I had written it off as another ill-conceived money grab.  12 month later, I saw the film's first trailer.   Not only was it not off-putting, it looked, uh, good.  How could this be?  After about five minutes into the film, I got the answer to that question.  The reason the movies is not just another toy based feature film bust is, actual writing.  Unlike so many films before it, this film has something to say.  Actually, it has a lot to say - perhaps too much to say for just one viewing.  And although the story is nothing groundbreaking, the way it is told is.  The film is a not only a tolerable 90-minute surprise, it is much more.  It is a clever, smart and hilarious - even touching at times.  This satisfying romp may even play better to adults than to the kids that dragged them to go see it.

The story focuses on Emmitt, an average yellow, plastic joe, that goes to works, buys overpriced coffee and does what any good person is supposed to do, fit in.  In order to not make waves he follows the instructions he was provided.  Until one day he breaks away from the routine and unexpectedly ends up in the middle of a rebellion to stop the Lord Business who plans to use his ultimate weapon, Kragle to take control of the universe.  The Emmitt is determined to be The Special - the supreme master builder that will find a way to save everyone.  Unfortunately, Emmit knows he is nothing more than ordinary.

The story is somewhat formulaic, but the surrounding madness is fresh enough to compensate for that.  Like most films, to get the most of the film, it is better to come into it with as little knowledge as possible and experience it organically.  For this reason I will reveal as little as possible.  There are some surprises though out, never-ending sight gags and wonderful cameos.  Some of the said surprises add a satisfying fullness to the film, preventing it from wearing out its welcome.

As I write this, so many of the clever moments pop up in my head - they are numerous - and I would love to discuss them, but would rather you enjoy them for yourselves and discuss them in the comments section.  As I previously stated, the film will probably take several viewings to catch all the jokes and pointed satire crammed into the 90 minutes.   The film is certainly not without fault - when I say crammed, it is like a suitcase that you have to sit on to zipper and after you get it shut you realize you still need fit your deodorant inside.   What feels like effortless humor comes so fast and furiously that before you can finish enjoying one laugh the next one may have already passed.  That is not to say this is a film of loosely strung together jokes - it is not.  This is not rambling buts of humor - the jokes serve a purpose.  I just wish they had more time to breath.

If you need another reason to see the film, here are two.  1) the visuals - simply amazing.  It looks so photo realistic that you will believe it actually shot with real Legos (maybe it was.)  Just incredible.  2) The acting - a great cast including Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett and about a dozen more, bring with them great comic timing that ties it all together.

Oh yeah, be prepared to being singing "Everything is Awesome" for at least a few days.

If you have seen this, please feel free to list some of the funniest moments in the comments.

8 out of 10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Conjuring (2013) - Review

Have you ever been woken up by a dream that scared the living heck out of you?  You know, one of those dreams that no matter how old you are or how illogical it was, still scared you enough to prevent you from leaving the safe confines of your bed?  This film treads in that territory.  It sneaks past the adult defenses you gathered through the years and goes straight for those fears you thought you left behind with your youth.

Wether it is a doll that is not in the same position it was last time you saw it, a noise coming from what you thought was an empty room or a door that seems to shut on its own - an adult should be able to easily dismiss such things.  It is not that easy.  For some reason these things resurface the scared little kid inside all of us.  Director, James Wan, does not invent many new scares, he embraces old scare techniques and craftily uses them to do what they have done in the past, scare you.

The story is classic haunted horror tale - a family moves into a new house are realizes they may not be alone.  After a series of unexplained events they bring in paranormal experts to help determine just what is going on.  Thankfully, it avoids a major storytelling pitfall of so many recent films by forgoing CGI effects.  Sometimes a whisper in a dark room is much more effective than all the CGI in the world - this film proves that.

The film also benefits its surprisingly strong cast consisting of Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lilly Taylor and Patrick Wilson.  Honestly, off the top of my head, I can't think of a more skilled horror cast.  Combine their work with the atmospheric CGIless setting and you are already well ahead of the game.

Horror is very subjective.  I still get the chills just talking about the end of The Blair Witch Project.  Other people find it a complete waste of time.  Hopefully, you are like me and find this to be a chilliest.

8 out of 10

Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2012) - Review


I was captivated by this film from minute one. The editing was extremely done, teasing questions to answers we were not given privy to. As more pieces of the puzzles were revealed, there were just so many unsettling, uncomfortable and warped moments that I could not focus on determining what it was all leading to. Typically, I see how a film is going to conclude fairly early on, but in this situation I was so involved that it blindsided me.

Tilda Swinton is one of my favorite actresses (if you have missed it, like so many have, see her in the terribly underrated "Julia.) For me great acting is often what you do between your lines rather than how you deliver them. Swinton's work here exemplified mastery of just that. She often sat in silence, but you knew what she was thinking or at the very least could feel the grief, confusion and pain just with a glance.

As a whole, the movie was messed up. I will never watch it again based solely on how effective it was. A very unique film that proves terror does not need to be blood and ogre, true terror, like good acting can be found not only in the actions, but ofte in a simple glance.

The more I think about it, the more it turns my stomach.


8 out of 10

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Christmas with the Kranks (2004) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #4

Plot: After their daughter announces she will not be coming home for Christmas the Kranks (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to forgo Christmas for a cruise, much to the chagrin of their neighbors.

Review:  Christmas movies are supposed to provide a little bit of hope, that the world is not the ugly place we all suspect it to be - that underneath it all, there is good in the world.  This film seems to preach a different message.  It is an uneven holiday farce that has the Kranks taking on an entire town that has nothing better to do than to berate a family for going on holiday rather than celebrating one.  Things get even zanier when they find out that their daughter is actually coming home and they need to stage the massive Christmas party they just cancelled. 

Based in a reality that I have never know, the majority of the film feels false.  The characters never feel like real people, most the time acting in a way that people simply do not act.  Whether it is the intrusive carolers that are so desperate to have their song heard they peer into windows of the home or two women rolling across the aisles of the supermarket in a fight for the last honey baked ham - almost every character and every scenario feel off.  The ineffectiveness of the phony characters and the paper thin plot are only multiplied by the addition of some poorly fitting slapstick humor.  Maybe the odd mix of humor is there to distract you from the senseless plot.  There is not a conflict in the film that could not be resolved with a 30 second, truthful conversation. The results are a predictable, unauthentic, holiday film that is difficult to relate.  I understand it is a comedy and you are supposed to suspend disbelief, but it is tough when the entire film is comprised of awkward, forced scenarios including a not so unexpected Santa cameo.  

With all that said, the film still does provide some softer, saccharine sweet moments that too feel false, but do counter some of the ugliness that takes place.  If you are looking for a holiday film to watch with the kids, this is probably not it - the message is all wrong and poorly told.  If you are downing some egg nog (you know, the good kind) and you want something Christmas-ish on the TV while you do so, you can do worse.
4.5 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:  I can't really say that is message of conformity is very joyful or that the bullish way the neighbors treat each ot
her is an example of "do on to other as you would like done to you," or that the focus on the materialistic aspects of the holiday are anything but of putting, but when the neighborhood works together to provide Claire with an old-fashioned Krank Christmas, it kind of works... that is until the next in a long line of awkward, forced moment derails any true feeling of Christmas joy.  D+

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  Not much here to stir up any real emotion besides one scene at the end that surprisingly works even while surrounded by so much other things that don't.  B-

Memorable Lines:

Marty:  I really think you need an umbrella!
(That's the best I could do.)


Did You Know?:
The film has several appearances by former classic sitcom actors including Tom Poston (Newhart)  and David Lander (Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley.) 

The films is based on a book by John Grisham, the author of The Firm, The Client and A Time to Kill.