Oscar Results 2013

Argo (3): Best Picture, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay

Life of Pi (4): Best Director Ang Lee, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects

Les Misérables (3): Best Actress in a Supporting Role Anne Hathaway, Makeup & Hairstyling (hair’s new this year), Sound Mixing

Lincoln (2): Best Actor in a Leading Role Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Production Design

Silver Linings Playbook (1): Best Actress in a Leading Role Jennifer Lawrence

Django Unchained (2): Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz, Original Screenplay Quentin Tarantino.

Skyfall (2): Best Original Song Adele, Best Sound Editing (draw with ZDT)

Zero Dark Thirty (1): Best Sound Editing

Anna Karenina (1): Costume Design

Amour (1): Best Foreign Language Film

The above is a list of the major winners. For a full list, CLICK HERE.

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The film winning Best Picture is always considered the major winner. So Argo it is. Interesting that the director of a Best Picture is not even nominated. No matter, the 1979 Iran hostage crisis came to a glorious end for Ben Affleck. “… it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.” Glad he thanked Canada in his acceptance speech, along with Iran. Equal opportunity thanker he is.

Life of Pi has the most Oscars. I’m excited for them. Canadian composer Mychael Danna wins with his Indian-influenced score. Director Ang Lee gave a gracious acceptance speech thanking Taiwan, where he filmed the majority of the movie, all the 3,000 people involved in the production, and yes, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel, Canadian writer Yann Martel. For those who are book lovers and don’t want to spoil their good memory of their reading experience, I say, go see the film. It’s worthy of its literary source.

Glad to see Les Miz being honored with three awards. The dream came true for Anne Hathaway, winning her first Oscar, as expected. Deservedly, the Make-up and Hairstyling people won as well, with hairstyling being the first time recognized at the Oscars. Just look at Hugh Jackman at the opening scenes you’d appreciate their effort. That he didn’t eat or drink for over 13 hrs to shoot those scenes helped too. The highlight of last night’s Awards Show for me was the whole Les Miz cast singing on stage.

While I’m at that, get the orchestra back in the Theatre where the action is next time. You can hear the discrepancy in timing with the singing at certain points. And please, don’t rush people off stage by playing all those irrelevant (or maybe tackily relevant) old movie themes. So rude to the present winners and disrespectful to those past productions. Here are some I remember… Jaws, The Magnificent Seven, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind (that’s when Quentin Tarantino was speaking).

Why, with all the technical talents around, the tribute to fifty years of James Bond was done with such a lack-lustre montage? To help us forget it, Shirley Bassey came on stage to sing Goldfinger after that. In my opinion, Goldfinger is probably the best James Bond song. And Bassey just showed, at 76, the unfading colours of a great voice. So’s Barbra Streisand, at 70, delivered a moving The Way We Were after the Memoriam clip, paying tribute to Marvin Hamlisch who wrote the Oscar winning song (1974). Memories flooded back as she sang at the Oscars the first time last night after 36 years. With all due respect to Adele and her Skyfall win, these two veteran singers made a sharp contrast to her shaky performance.

Now, Lincoln‘s disappointing results baffled me. Coming into the Awards Season, it was the strongest contender, with 12 nominations. The only major win was Daniel Day-Lewis who was almost locked-in for Best Actor, and deservedly so. He is now the only actor winning three Oscar Best Actor awards. I’ve seen all his winning films. While his Lincoln portrayal is impressive, I remember being captivated by his first Oscar winning role in My Left Foot (1989) as Irish writer Christy Brown who was afflicted with cerebral palsy and could only use his left foot to write.

And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence, what a good sport. It’s embarrassing falling on the steps going up the stage, but getting an Oscar way over compensates for it. Her performance in Silver Linings Playbook confirms her position as a leading female character actor at 22. I’ve seen her much younger performances before all the Hunger Games hype, and knew that she would be a rising star. The two films I’m thinking of are The Burning Plain (2008) and Winter’s Bone (2010).

As for the film and the actress I’ve been silently rooting for, Zero Dark Thirty and Jessica Chastain, well, at least it has one Oscar. I’m not too disappointed though for I trust Kathryn Bigelow‘s talent and skill can only create more strong productions, and hopefully not being marred by unnecessary controversies like she has with ZDT. As for Jessica Chastain, I know she will deliver in whatever film she’s in… given a good role and in the hands of a capable director. I wish her all the best.

As for next year’s Oscars? Captain Kirk is right… you’d want to honour the film industry, not to spite it with a bad host and degrading jokes, no matter how entertaining the singing and dancing are. Yes, I’m referring to the opening number, plus some other ones that left us with a bad aftertaste. So please, bring on a different perspective, one that represents the other half of the human race. Let’s have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to co-host next year’s Oscars.

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CLICK ON the following links to my review of:

Life of Pi the movie

Life of Pi the book

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo

Lincoln

Les Miserables

Anna Karenina the movie

Anna Karenina the book

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Life of Pi (2012): The Magical 3D Experience

Movies this fall is a bumper crop of film adaptations from literary sources. Two belong to the same genre of magic realism. While Midnight’s Children is more akin to realism, Life of Pi is pure magic.

Ang Lee has done it, filming what is considered the ‘unfilmable’. Canadian author Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi is an existential fantasy, a story that challenges the limitations of human reasoning and opens the door to the imaginary and the quest for the Transcendent. What Martel has succeeded in literary form, Lee has realized in this visually stunning cinematic offering. While I know book and film are two very different art forms, I am glad that screenwriter David Magee has stayed true to the spirit of the novel, which I think is crucial in this case. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda’s creative camera work is also essential in turning Martel’s imaginary world into mesmerizing visuals on screen.

The difficulties are not just transposing the philosophical ruminations from book to screen, but to keep the audience’s attention and interest for two hours when the bulk of the story is about a 16 year-old boy adrift at sea for 227 days in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Kudos to Lee for taking up this daunting task, a project of which several other directors had bowed out, including Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), and Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

The production has taken Lee years to complete. He had to build the world’s largest self-generating water tank of its kind in Taiwan to shoot his film, utilize 3D technology and CGI to overcome many obstacles, do extensive research, and above all, find an actor who is capable to be Pi.

Ultimately Lee found 17 year-old Suraj Sharma in Delhi, India, from 3,000 candidates. Fate has it that Sharma was just accompanying his younger brother to the audition. The next set of challenges for Lee soon follows: directing Sharma who has never acted before, and, coaching him to imagine there is a fierce tiger present at the scenes, for Richard Parker is a virtual reality.

As I watched the film, I could see Lee’s own tenacity reflected in the character of Pi. In fact, the whole process of the production parallels the thematic significance of the story: the essence of reality, the nature of storytelling, the role of the imagination and faith in survival and in life.

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The film begins with Pi as a boy (Gautam Belur at 5, Ayush Tandom at 12) growing up in Pondicherry, India. His father (Adil Hussain, English Vinglish) owns the Pondicherry Zoo. The most impressionable lesson he learns from his father is, the tiger is not his friend.

Pi has a loving mother (Tabu, The Namesake), and an older brother Ravi (Ayan Khan 7, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli 14, Vibish Sivakumar 19), a typical older sibling who teases and dares. This first act of family life is a delight, and the 3D effect in the opening sequence is wonderful to watch. The original score composed by Mychael Danna matches well with the exotic context.

We soon realize the story we are watching actually is the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan, Slumdog Millionaire) telling what had happened to him as a boy to a Canadian writer (Rafe Spall, A Room With A View), a story, Pi claims, that will make him believe in God.

Pi is short for Piscine. After the boy is constantly teased by his schoolmates with the pun of the name, he begins to introduce himself as Pi. He just might not have known how prophetic his name is. Precocious and earnest by nature, Pi embraces Hinduism, Christianity and Islam in his search for the divine. The value of Pi, the mathematical symbol, is 3.14, a number that goes on to infinity, which aptly reflects the boy’s heart for the Eternal.

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When he is 16 (Suraj Sharma), Pi’s family emigrates to Canada. They set sail on the Japanese cargo ship Tsimtsum, bringing on board the zoo animals. One stormy night, tragedy strikes. A shipwreck sends Tsimtsum to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Pi alone is saved as some sailors throw him overboard onto a lifeboat. Thus begins the magical journey of life in an open boat. Pi soon finds out he is not alone, for there in the boat is a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan called Orange Juice, and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. Soon there remain only two survivors, a 16 year-old Indian boy and a hungry tiger.

Lee demonstrates his technical and directorial prowess in this major second act of the film. He has aptly chosen to use the 3D camera. I’m not a fan of 3D, nor animal movies, but Lee’s usage of it makes what could have been an uneventful drifting at sea into an extraordinary movie experience.

What I read in the book jump out alive in magnificent visuals: the squall of flying fish, the gigantic whale shooting up from the ocean deep, the cosmic showcase of thunder and lightning, and the island overrun by meerkats. Magical realism in 3D, pure cinematic fantasy.

Lee’s style is minimalist: a life boat, a makeshift raft, a boy, a tiger, the open sea. Its simplicity exudes immense beauty; its stillness evokes quiet ruminations. This is not just a castaway, survival story. It depicts a close encounter of a soul experiencing nature and its maker. It also portrays an unlikely companionship between a boy and a tiger. Despite the loss of his family and the perils thrown at him, Pi clings to life with bare faith and the companionship he finds in Richard Parker.

The last part comes as a twist. Two employees of the ship’s insurance company interview the sole survivor of the shipwreck after Pi is rescued. Upon hearing Pi tell his ordeal, their rationale overrides any acceptance of the improbable. Here we see the thematic elements of fantasy versus reality, faith versus plausibility cleverly laid out. Like Martel’s novel, it poses a question that is open-ended, more for the viewer to resolve than for Pi to prove. A most thought-provoking end to a magical journey.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

This review has been published in the Asian American Press print version, Nov. 30, 2012 issue. Online edition here. (Hint: There you’ll find Arti morphing from virtual reality into real life… take whatever is real for you.)

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CLICK HERE to read my Book Review of Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

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Photos posted here are stills from movie trailer.

A NOTE ABOUT MOVIE PHOTOS: These images are used according to the Fair Use guidelines for criticism, comment and educational purposes. CLICK HERE for more information. CLICK HERE to read the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society For Cinema Studies, “Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills” by Kristin Thompson.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Take the Literary Journey before the 3D Experience

CLICK HERE to read my review of Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi in 3D

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“I have a story that will make you believe in God.” — Life of Pi

I usually like to read the book first before seeing the film. I know full well that the two are different forms of artistic medium, but I’m intrigued by the adaptation process of transposing the literary into the visual. So, before Ang Lee’s 3D production comes out in the fall, I’ve recently reread Life of Pi, the 2002 Man Booker Prize winner by Canadian author Yann Martel.

After finishing Midnight’s Children a couple of months ago, also in preparation for the upcoming film version, I feel like I am all toned-up for magic realism.  Life of Pi leads me to retake a magical journey. This time around, I am much fonder of the delightful tale, deceptively simple and yet full of insights. The reader might first find the tidbits of animal facts and behavior amusing, only to resonate with their parallels in the human society.

Martel’s allegory is at times humorous, at times poetic and poignant, and throughout, engaging storytelling with heart and soul.

Pondicherry entered the Union of India on November 1, 1954. The Pondicherry zoo is in the Pondicherry Botanical Gardens. It is founded, owned and operated by Santosh Patel, father of Piscine Molitor Patel, more succinctly, Pi, the protagonist of our story.

Pi grows up in the zoo, animal lover by nature, animal keeper by nurture, and God seeker by creation. So when his father decides to sell the zoo, due to a lack of interest from the public, Pi, though young, understands it is only a sign of the times. The zoo and religion, both are misconstrued as confinement:

I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.

Pi’s father plans to leave India and start a new life in Canada. Other than the lack of prospect in the zoo business, Mrs. Ghandi’s government measures also play a part in his decision. In June, 1977, the Patel family steps on board the Japanese cargo ship Tsimtsum and set sail for Canada, with them are the animals sold to various zoos in North America.

Here begins the adventure of Pi. Unable to sleep one night, Pi walks out of his cabin only to hear an explosion moment later. Thus his life is spared as he is thrown into a lifeboat while his family is still trapped below deck. All alone, 16 year-old Pi looks back from the lifeboat in horror and watches helplessly as the ship carrying his family quickly sinks into the dark, oblivious ocean.

For 227 days, Pi drifts in the vast open sea in a 26-foot lifeboat. Not quite alone, for there with him are a zebra, an orangutan named Orange Juice, a spotted hyena, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Soon, there remain only two of them, Richard Parker by his mere physical might, and Pi, by his intelligence and resourcefulness.

Suddenly his brute strength meant only moral weakness. It was nothing compared to the strength in my mind.

Wise beyond his years, Pi has to use available resources to get food and water, set up routines, defend himself from predators, assert his spacial and social dominance, and above all, conquer loneliness and despair. Ironically, in the minimal existence on the 26- foot lifeboat, Pi finds motivation to live in the company of the hungry Bengal tiger Richard Parker. He has successfully turned a threat into comradeship.

After many days, they drift towards an island of meerkats. There Pi finds an abundance of algae and meerkats as food. Complacency begins to set in until the chilling discovery of human teeth drives him out to sea again.

What sets this book apart from just another survival, castaway story is its spiritual quest lyrically expressed. Pi is a deeply religious soul. While he has embraced various paths in his search, his ultimate goal is to find God. It is in his tumultuous ordeal, a tiny speck in the vast ocean, tossed and thrown by unconquerable elements that Pi experiences the presence of God. The author’s seemingly straight forward adventure embeds a magical, existential allegory.

In bare existence, Pi can still find exhiliaration in the smallest of blessings:

… You get your happiness where you can. You reach a point where you’re at the bottom of hell, yet you have your arms crossed and a smile on your face, and you feel you’re the luckiest person on earth. Why? Because at your feet you have a tiny dead fish.

And in the midst of utter despair, the spiritual faculty can still respond. Amidst turmoils and rough seas, Pi rejoices as he beholds the wonders of creation, the inexhaustible menagerie of life, and nature displayed, raw and uncensored. One time, a magnificent bolt of lightning arouses a thunderous cosmic effect without and within, striking him speechless:

This is miracle. This is an outbreak of divinity. .. this thing so vast and fantastic. I was breathless and wordless. I lay back on the tarpaulin, arms and legs spread wide. The rain chillded me to the bone. But I was smiling… I felt genuine happiness.

That momentary happiness is finally realized in true salvation. Pi and Richard Parker are saved as their boat drifts near the shore of Mexico where they are rescued. Richard Parker quickly disappears into the jungle. But the story doesn’t end there. It’s the last bit that makes Life of Pi even more thought-provoking.

Two Japanese employees of the shipping company come to interview Pi in order to find out the cause of the shipwreck. As they question the lone survivor of the Tsimtsum in a Mexican hospital, they respond to Pi’s retelling of his ordeal with polite skepticism and denial. The magical is not easily accepted by realists.

Author Yann Martel tells us a compelling survival story only to have it negated by two people convinced of its implausibility, rationalists bent on seeking evidence based only on reasoning. Fantasy and imagination are often readily presumed to be falsehood.

With Pi’s tale being dismissed by the interviewers, Martel has ingeniously crafted an allegory showing us the value of stories, teasing us with the definition of truth and reality, while transporting us to a realm beyond the limits of the intellect… maybe on that level, somehow, like Pi, we can get a glimpse of God.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Vintage Canada Edition, 2002, 354 pages.

The three cover images on this post: Vintage Canada edition, U.S. Mariner Books edition, and movie-tie-in edition coming out October, 2012, also from Mariner Books.

This review has been published in the August 31, 2012 print issue of Asian American Press. Online edition here. For those curious about what Arti is like, the mystery is revealed there.

CLICK HERE to watch the TRAILER of the film, opener of the 50th New York Film Festival on Sept. 28th, 2012.

CLICK HERE for a list of highly anticipated film adaptations from literary sources coming out this fall.

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Coda

I had the pleasure to meet author Yann Martel in a reading two years ago. He was very friendly and affable, took time to chat with me, signed my copy of the book and another one I’d intended for my son. Not a tale, here are the photos:

In the title page of my son’s copy, he wrote:

“To ___,

May you reach the coast of Mexico.”

Don’t we all need to find shore to land?

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