06 3 / 2014
Retina Macbook Pro Late 2013 Review
I’ve been using the 13 inch Retina Macbook Pro (Late 2013) for weeks now and it has been ample time to cobble up a short review. I’ve previously posted an unboxing of this device with some initial impressions and I still maintain a positive reception for this laptop (exceedingly so, I might add). This is my first laptop from Apple and also my first time using Mac OS X. I’ve been a lifelong Windows desktop user and the transition hasn’t been exactly the smoothest. I’ll explain some more about what I like and what I don’t like in this post.
As for the specs (and what they mean for the end user experience):
- 13-inch 2560×1600 screen (that Retina screen resolution is so good — this is the first time I don’t see any pixels on my laptop!)
- Intel Core i5 Haswell 2.4GHz dual-core processor (super fast processor that can handle everything I can throw at it, epic battery life that lasts 9+ hours on a single charge)
- Intel Iris 5100 GPU (the best possible integrated GPU means I can play high end games with mid-high settings)
- 8GB DDR3 RAM (I can switch between many applications and browsers with many open tabs without any hint of lag)
- 256GB SSD (Ditto — my boot time is around 10 seconds, and waking it up from sleep takes 1 second)
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports (Super fast transfer speeds)
- Thunderbolt (I haven’t seen the value of this port yet)
- 1080p Facetime camera (Really clear webcam chats even in low light)
- WiFi 802.11 a/c (Faster wifi)
- Bluetooth 4.0 (Faster Bluetooth)
- Mac OS X Mavericks (Free OS updates)
- Everything about this laptop screams quality. From the build quality, to the performance, to the screen, to the keyboard, to the trackpad — it’s really hard to find any faults.
- The main highlight of this laptop is the wonderful screen. It’s even in the name. The really high resolution packed into the 13 inch display is so dense that seeing individual pixels is almost impossible at normal viewing angles. The brightness is wonderful and I have no trouble seeing it in direct sunlight.
- I really like how thin and light this laptop is. With a thickness of less than 1 inch (0.7 to be exact) and weighing less than 2 KG (1.5 to be exact), you’ll hardly feel it if you decide to travel with it. Sore backs and shoulders should now be a thing of the past.
- Performance is excellent. I’ve never encountered any slowdown or lag at all. Rebooting takes almost 10 seconds and it even wakes up from sleep, just the way it was, before I even finish opening the lid! Hell, Adobe Photoshop CS6 opens completely in three seconds! That’s how fast this laptop is.
- The keyboard and trackpad are so good, especially the trackpad. I’ve been using the mouse for so very long that the innovation and progress the trackpad has experienced completely flew by me, but this trackpad is amazing. The gestures always work and the user experience is so nice.
- The battery life on this is insane. Of course, coming from laptops that barely reach the three hour mark, I’m easily impressed. Still, I estimate that with my regular usage (80% brightness, wifi, Chrome browser with many tabs open, iTunes music, some Photoshop and the occasional game from Steam), I get around 7+ hours of battery life. If I strip it down to the bare minimum like light browsing, it shoots up to 10+ hours. Either way, I reach for the charger only every other day or so.
- Mac OS X is a polished OS and is a very capable replacement for Windows. I’ve never felt like I needed to switch back to Windows at all! The free bundled iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand) and iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) software is a deal-sweetener too.
- The laptop never gets extremely hot, nor do the fans get extremely noisy. Not when rendering 1080p video in Adobe Premiere, not even while playing Dota 2 on Steam on high settings. I’ve yet to encounter any unsettling heat or noise from this device. Of course, I’m not an extreme power user so I dont really cover that many use cases.
- Everything is just so pretty. From the aluminum that feels so nice to the touch, to the impressively sturdy hinge, to the clean and precise lines, everything looks and feels so fancy.
- As always with Apple products, you feel safe purchasing them due to the good reputation of their after sales service. Every Macbook gets a one year warranty period that is honoured internationally.
- The most annoying thing about this is the flimsy white Magsafe 2 power adaptor. While the magnet attaches to the laptop firmly, the white thin wire seems so fragile in contrast. This wire feels the same as the white lightning connectors that are bundled with Apple’s iPhones and iPods, and I’ve seen to many of those things with bent and broken ends. Not to mention the white color gets some discoloration after months of use. I’m not a fan.
- One of the biggest things holding me back from purchasing this was its lack of upgradeability. DIY upgrades for RAM, battery or SSD storage voids the warranty and aren’t officially supported by service centers. This is the reason why the model I bought was the better version of the base model – I figured that this configuration should last me a long time.
- Mac OS X and Windows 8 are very different systems and there is some learning curve involved. There are some things that OS X does better, and there are some things that Windows does better, but overall I don’t feel that there is any major deal-breaker in between the two OSes (aside from application and game availability). The learning curve is probably different for each use though, so some people may quickly pick up on it, but others may struggle.
- Some of the peculiarities Windows switchers may encounter are mostly in the keyboard. The Windows key is gone, naturally, but so are the home and end buttons as well as page up and page down. The purpose of the ctrl, alt and fn buttons have also been made more confusing by the introduction of the Mac-only option and command buttons.
- While the high resolution screen is a huge plus, it only ever looks good if the content or graphics are optimized for it. Otherwise, everything looks fuzzy or blurred. This will definitely spoil you – once you go retina, you can’t go back.
- While the two USB 3.0 ports do seem conservative, the biggest omission for me is the lack of an Ethernet plug. Connecting to the internet is Wi-Fi only. This is a shame since Ethernet technology is still very relevant up to today.
- Finally, the most glaring negative about this device is the very expensive price. Although, the phrase ‘You get what you pay for’ is very applicable.
Would I recommend this laptop to others? Definitely. The biggest concern is the sky-high price though. Either way, Apple has many customers and fans so most people should already know that with the high price comes high quality. Although DIY PC evangelists would scoff at such a high price for a relatively middling machine, the retina Macbook Pro achieves the perfect balance of portability, performance, features and aesthetics.
04 3 / 2014
Beyond the Box - #BeyondTheBag Contest Submission
Local Apple store Beyond the Box recently held a competition titled Beyond the Bag. Applicants were encouraged to send in a design for a paper bag with the following theme, “We provide amazing gadgets, you create amazing things.” Even though I’m not a designer by trade, I thought it would be a fun project to try, and so I went and created a really meta depiction of the theme.
In the first panel, we see a man walking into a Beyond the Box store in the second panel. In the next panel, the BTB store has provided him with amazing gadgets, and what he does in the next panel is creating amazing things. I thought it was cute and very literal interpretation of the theme. Here is a mockup of how it would have looked like.
Unfortunately, my entry didn’t get picked. Here are the winners as shown on their Instagram account.
All the winning designs look very nice and are very well-made, but I do have one observation though. The first and third place entries are illustrations of amazing things within the box, not beyond.
02 3 / 2014
My Ballot for the 2014 Academy Awards
After months of waiting, the 2014 Academy Awards are upon us. It’s actually scheduled to go on later tonight. Since it seems that my official ballot from the Academy has gotten lost in the mail, I’ll just share my votes here. This isn’t a prediction post — there’s already a lot of that online. This is just my personal opinion on the deserving recipients for the awards for their respective categories.
Click here for a recap of my 2014 Oscars coverage.
My movie of the year for 2013 is also my choice for the Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards. Gravity is a step forward for cinema due to its technical superiority. Visually, aurally and artistically, this movie blows my mind every time. I said it before but it bears repeating: Every now and then, a movie comes along that reminds me why I am a huge fan of films and filmmaking. Gravity is one of those films.
Runnerup: 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron’s challenges in directing Gravity and how he overcame them all is astounding. Some of these challenges include making the movie look like it was shot in zero gravity in space, ensuring the authenticity of astronaut’s daily lives, directing two of the most human characters on screen played by two huge Hollywood stars and so much more with regards to the technicalities of making this film. The whole result is a film with so many achievements in the craft of film-making.
Runner-up: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Only Cate Blanchett can make it look effortless portraying a character on the verge of a mental breakdown. Played with equal parts sincerity and delusions of grandeur, Cate Blanchett’s role as Jasmine may be a riff of the masterful acting by A Streetcar Named Desire’s Vivien Leigh, but with her performance, she was still able to make this insufferable character someone to root for.
Runner-up: Sandra Bullock, Gravity
What a career Matther McConaughey has had since the turn of the decade! Previously relegated as rom-com detritus, his movie roles as of late have been on fire. As the high point of this era dubbed as the “McCoinassance,” Matthew McConaughey’s transformative role is certainly the number one reason to watch this movie. His dedication and determination for this role as an AIDS patient is admirable and the way he depicts hope for his character’s insurmountable odds is remarkable.
Runner-up: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Supporting Actor
Another surprise is the number two reason to watch this film, Jared Leto’s scene-stealing role as an HIV-positive transgender woman. As another transformative role, we don’t see anything of Jared Leto at all; he disappears into this role completely. After many years of setting aside doing movies to live his double life as a rockstar, his performance in this movie is a complete career-changer for him and he deserves all the accolades he gets.
Runner-up: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Best Supporting Actress
Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o endures so much pain in this movie, physically and emotionally, that the injustice she suffers really stick with you. Even after watching this film, I still can’t get over how terrible her, and so many others’ slave lives were. It really is impressive how she was able to turn her role into the face of suffering for all the slaves in the movie, especially with how apparent it is that the script has a more minor role for her than what she delivered. With this heartfelt and devastating performance, I don’t see how anyone else could win this award.
Runner-up: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Best Writing, Original Screenplay
Her’s screenplay is the very definition of original. From the fully realized setting, to the outlandish and innovative concepts, to the really sharp script, this is really one of the most creative and inventive screenplays in recent years. Unexpectedly, Her is also a compelling commentary on non-traditional relationships — very relevant in today’s world.
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
While I may not have read the book from which this screenplay is adapted, I feel that the writers and director of this movie had a vision that they fulfilled completely. With scarce dialogue and a silent lead character, the screenplay relied heavily on imagery that is both unforgiving and necessary. No moment is wasted on this film.
Best Animated Film
Is there even any contest?
Runner-up: The Wind Rises
Best Original Song
Runner-up: The Moon Song, Her
Best Production Design
Visually, The Great Gatsby is one of the prettiest of the year and this is mostly due to the amazingly creative and beautiful sets they used. Every inch of high society New York in the 1920s has been enhanced and exaggerated and the result is this beautiful visual of fetishistic nostalgia and modern glamour combined. Everything looks so fancy and polished. This is a world you want to live in.
Best Costume Design
The level of detail dedicated to the lavish production design is also replicated in the amout of beautiful costuming the movie has. Everyone looked stunning, down to the most inconspicuous extra. It’s a shame that there weren’t any fantasy movies nominated for costuming this year though. I was definitely impressed with the ones from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Runner-up: American Hustle
And if any more doubt is in your mind why I chose Gravity as the Best Picture for this year, this should assuage that.
Best Original Score
I’m actually conflicted with this category as I love the musical scores for both Gravity and Her, but ultimately I chose Gravity. While both of them are beautiful on their own, the way the music for Gravity seamlessly integrates with the visuals really elevate the movie, especially with all the things happening on screen. The music sets the tone for each scene so well.
Best Sound Editing
The sound design for this movie is nuts. Due to the fact that sound doesn’t travel in space, the sounds made for this movie were specifically made the way Sandra Bullock’s astronaut character would hear things through her suit. This specific angle amplified the intensity as it made the film much more personal. It’s easier to root for the lead character when you understand what they are feeling (or in this case, hearing).
Runner-up: Captain Phillips
Best Sound Mixing
Another achievement in sound for Gravity is in sound mixing. Since the movie really strived for authenticity, it was a challenge to depict what things would sound like in space where sound doesn’t travel. The minimalist approach actually worked wonders — silence is something that could be terrifying when used right. In Gravity’s case, silence is just as important as explosions.
Runner-up: Captain Phillips
Best Film Editing
The long takes (scenes without any cuts) in this film are beautiful. I am glad that they went with the decision to do these kinds of takes as you really get a glimpse of how beautiful the Earth is and how astronauts see this beauty everyday while they are stationed in orbit. It also gives the impression of intimacy as we see the spatial difference between various points of interest in the scene. This is something that helps when you are depicting how vast outer space is.
Runner-up: Captain Phillips
Every scene, every still, every frame of this movie could be made into a computer or phone wallpaper. It’s that beautiful. Gravity is one of the most aesthetically stunning movies EVER and a large part of this is due to the cinematography. This is one of its greatest achievements.
Best Visual Effects
Is there even any contest?
Runner-up: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I chose to abstain in some of the categories as I haven’t had the chance to watch all the nominees to make an informed decision.
And with that, we can officially say that the #Oscars2014MovieMarathon is now over.
28 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Nebraska
Every year, there is a noticeable pattern in the way the Academy nominates the list of Best Picture contenders. Some types of movies that are always favoured yearly are heavy, period dramas, contemporary rom-coms, the token British film and more often than not, there is always a film about old people. This year, Nebraska fills the latter niche. This is also the exact niche that many mainstream moviegoers skip, and in Nebraska’s case it is certainly their loss.
The story is about a father and son bonding on a road trip to Nebraska to redeem one million dollars that the father has claimed he won, even though it is obvious that it is a sweepstakes scam. Although charming and endearing, the tightly-written script isn’t the most notable aspect of this film. That goes to the fact that this film is intentionally shot in black and white. At first, I was dubious with the concept as I thought that what could that accomplish as opposed to shooting in color? As the movie progressed, so did my opinion about it. The black and white palette gives it a really classic and timeless feel; this is a movie that you could watch 50 years from now and not feel dated because of its classic quality. The cinematography is gorgeous as well. The US state Nebraska isn’t really known for stunning sights but the movie still gave justice to its quiet beauty. Small-town USA looks so cozy and intimate.
The cast is delightful. Best Actor Oscar nominee Bruce Dern gives a quiet but stern performance as an old, senile man suffering from dementia. While the script doesn’t really give him much in the way of speaking lines, he was still able to convey so much emotion and passion in his silence. Less low-key is fellow nominee June Squibb as his tolerant wife. She is a firecracker and steals every scene she’s in — I’ve never seen a grandma as funny as her in a movie in such a long time. Considering her age, it’s doubly impressive. Surprising in his dramatic role is former SNL comedian Will Forte. As the son of the elderly couple, he is the image of tolerance and love. No family is perfect but these three actors bring some much needed warmth and chemistry into their roles to show a family with flawed relationships that feel so authentic.
Nebraska is a film that shows us our lives’ beautiful complexity in its simplicity.
Will Bruce Dern win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the really stubborn father in Nebraska?
Unfortunately for Bruce Dern, I think most voters choose performances with the most amount of acting. That is, winners are usually the ones with the showy and unforgettable roles. Although Bruce gave a masterclass in control and subtlety in this role, it’s quite sad he’ll be overshadowed by outrageous frontrunners like Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Will June Squibb win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the trash-talking, potty-mouthed mother in Nebraska?
One of the best things about this movie is the hilarious June Squibb. As the sharp-tongued matriarch of the family, she takes command of the role and her scenes were always the most entertaining to watch. There is a great tenderness and sincerity in her performance than no amount of cursing could mask. But ultimately, her nomination is the reward. She isn’t getting any buzz at all for a win on Oscar night so that decreases her chances a lot.
In the famous words of Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds, THATS A BINGO!
26 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Philomena
As the most low-key nominee for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, I didn’t really expect much out of Philomena. The marketing, the poster and the overall vibe of the movie was that it was a sweet but light drama with some comedic elements. Little did I know that Philomena would wind up as one of my favorites for this year’s batch. Much of the credit goes to the sweet and heartwarming script. Set in the mid-2000s, Philomena is about the quest of an elderly mother searching for her long lost son after they were forcedly separated by the Irish Catholic convent when the child (a result of teenage pregnancy) was put up for adoption many decades ago. Aided by an investigative reporter, the movie is essentially a road trip style story between two unlikely friends. Don’t be deceived by the seemingly heavy topic. While it’s true that the characters have suffered some cruel injustice, the movie is still tonally light and warm. Every interaction between Judi Dench’s Philomena and Steve Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith is so cute and charming and I couldn’t keep count of all the times I laughed out loud due to the situations they’ve put themselves in.
But the number one reason why Philomena is as good as it is is because of the cast. Judi Dench is a gem. Her years of experience in front of the camera has given her a tremendous amount of range — from playing James Bond’s cold and calculated M to the warm and motherly Philomena Lee. Her chemistry with co-star Steve Coogan is also really good, and this is made more apparent since their characters are total opposites.
Philomena may have been so low on people’s radars this year, but sometimes it is the quietest and most unassuming movies that have the biggest impact.
Will Judi Dench win the award for Best Actress?
Judi Dench is one of those well-respected veterans who get nominations just for doing a good performance in any movie they’re in. On its own, Judi’s command of this role is impressive, but when stacked up against the competition, I think this is one of the cases where the nomination is already the award.
Will Philomena win the award for Best Adapted Screenplay?
I think 12 Years a Slave has this award on lock. With that being said, Philomena’s script is actually really nice. It’s just that I think voters would most likely pass on a light and fluffy screenplay such as this and opt for the heavier and more serious ones (like they always do).
8 down, 1 to go!
25 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Her
Her is the most charming movie out of all this year’s nominees for Best Picture. Everything about it is so fresh and refreshing and you just can’t help but fall in love with the movie’s rich world and characters. Set in Los Angeles in the near future, Her is so beautiful to look at. From the wonderful cinematography to the excellent production design, to the lush and overwhelmingly warm color palette, every inch of the movie’s presentation is so polished and detailed. Aside from the wonderful setting, the story is also one of the most original screenplays I have ever watched. It is about a man who falls in love with a Siri-like OS/artificial intelligence and everything about their relationship feels so real and authentic.
The cast is top-notch. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (in a voice-only role) bring to life a relationship that is so human and so relatable that we could feel the roller coaster of emotions they are feeling as their love unravels. It sounds really weird, but that is also one of its strengths — what could have been a traditional, albeit excellent romance story turned out to be one of the most original romance/scifi movies ever. I just love everything about this movie; stories as original as this only come once every few years, and for that we should be grateful.
Will Her win the award for Best Original Screenplay?
It had better! The screenplay, full of wit and charm, is the very definition of original. If there is any justice in the world, this film should be a lock for this category.
Will Her win the Academy Award for Best Picture?
I’m so sad to say it won’t. The best thing it had going for it - originality and edginess - is also its biggest detriment with regards to the ultimate award. The Oscars are very traditional and conservative. Voters rarely choose quirky and innovative movies. As we had seen with Inception when it was nominated for Best Picture. Or The Social Network. Or even Citizen Kane decades ago. It has been like this for decades now and I doubt it would change anytime soon.
7 down, 2 to go!
24 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Dallas Buyers Club
As the high point of Matthew McConaughey’s recent career resurgence dubbed the ‘McConaissance' (a portmantaeu of his last name and the word renaissance), the majority of the buzz for Dallas Buyers Club has mainly focused on the performances of the actors. After watching this movie, I had come to understood why. This is a film that is almost purely an acting showcase — you get the sense that the screenplay was made with the priority of getting the most out of the character's actors. Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto give the performances of their careers and then some, and it's no wonder both of them have swept the acting awards prior to the Oscars; they're just so good in this movie. Less effective is the third actor in the cast, Jennifer Garner. It may be a combination of playing a non-showy role, or that both Matthew and Jared upstage her every time, or that she's still stuck in her mid-00s rom-com state, but she was ultimately the weak link in the film's casts. Either way, you may be wondering why, outside of the actors' performances, I'm not overly enthusiastic about other aspects of the film. It's because the production is nothing to get too excited over. Some parts worked really well — making the actor's look much frailer than they are and nearing death is the reason why it got nominated for Best Makeup — but overall, it was the actors that made this film.
Will Matthew McConaughey win Best Actor for the role of AIDS patient Ron Woodroof?
I am willing to bet on it. I’ve watched some of his films in the past and I’ve always written him off as this goofy, Hollywood meathead forever typecast in terrible rom-coms, but he has completely blind-sided me and probably a lot of other fans with this role (and the McConnaissance in general). The way his character grows and matures over the course of his disease is truly inspiring and his performance gives it justice. I wasn’t seeing Matthew McConaughey act here, I was seeing someone else.
Will Jared Leto win Best Supporting Actor for the role of HIV-positive transgender woman Rayon?
Yes. Jared Leto is another one who has completely surprised me with how good he was in this film. His overall transformation and emotionally-charged performance really elevated the film, even though he was only playing a supporting character. After such a long time away from films, I thought that he had already retired from acting and became a full-time rockstar instead. Thankfully, he came back to do the best work he has ever done, and that’s saying something. I think that Jared Leto is really underrated as an actor and one look at his filmography will show you that he has been part of some recent classics in modern cinema. Hopefully, this nomination (and eventual win) will convince him to act in more films in the meantime.
4 down, 3 to go!
21 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Captain Phillips
I watched Captain Phillips in the theater last year and I also wrote a post about it back then, so you could check that out for a lengthier writeup. But basically, I think Captain Phillips is an excellent edge-of-your-seat-for-the-full-two-plus-hours thriller that I really enjoyed. It is a well directed, acted, written and edited film. Having said that, this is one of those movies that I am content with watching and enjoying exactly once. I just think it doesn’t have much replay value.
Will Barkhad Abdi (in his first ever role) win the award for Best Supporting Actor?
This is kind of an awkward nomination since I think that Tom Hanks should be up there in the Best Actor nominations list along with his acting partner Barkhad, but he was robbed of his spot by Christian Bale, but I digress. Anyway, Barkhad really does deserve this nomination and it is doubly impressive since it is his first time acting. The way he made his character both ruthless and sympathetic at the same time should put other veterans to shame. He was so good in this movie and so effective as a villain. Ultimately, though, his newbie status kills his chances of winning as the voters will likely vote for more experienced actors in this category.
Will Captain Phillips win any of the technical awards?
From what I could see, the best chance of a non-Gravity technical award winner is in Best Film Editing, which I think this movie has a good chance in. Thrillers usually fare well in this category. Choosing scenes to keep the tension always high is such hard work, and Captain Phillips does this masterfully. The best sequence is in the climactic part of the movie, where there are so many quick cuts between the rescuers and the kidnappers, with the tension never dropping at all.
5 down, 4 to go!
20 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - The Wolf of Wall Street
As the sole laugh-out-loud comedy in this year’s batch of Best Picture hopefuls, The Wolf of Wall Street stands out like a sore thumb due to its unconventional and un-Oscar like qualities. I say that in a good way, though — a very good way. With an overly long running time of three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is an engaging and hilarious ride all throughout. I never got bored and was thoroughly entertained the whole time. One thing that this movie lacked, though, is depth. This is an outrageous film, full of obnoxious and shallow characters and it is hard to relate to. It is like a 90s version of The Great Gatsby (also starring Leonardo, coincidentally) with more sex, drugs and featuring characters ten times more depraved than the aforementioned film. The Wolf of Wall Street is far from perfect, but it gets its message across loud and clear: Come for the masterful directing, acting plus the sharp and witty script, and stay to watch for the magnificent train wreck that is the lives of the characters unfold for three, long, entertaining hours.
Will Leonardo DiCaprio (finally) win the Best Actor Oscar?
Leo has been doing an awful lot of dramatic roles and with this film, he has made a 360 turn and he may even have found his calling as a comedian. This is something I really didn’t expect from him and he delivered so much. He was so committed to this role and I could see that he gave it his all. I could also tell that he was having a blast playing the corrupt drug addict and part-time stockbroker Jordan Belfort — perhaps he can diversify his filmography a bit now since this role was such a revelation for him? Anyway, this won’t be his year. Although his role is very showy and his performance over-the-top good, it was all very shallow. It is an uphill battle.
Will Jonah Hill win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in his second[!] Oscar nominated role?
I am as shocked as anyone that Jonah Hill got through to the nominations list this time around for this role, especially when more deserving actors such as Daniel Bruhl in Rush fell to the wayside in favor of him. Either way, I really don’t see a win for him this year. I don’t even see why he was nominated!
4 down, 5 to go!
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18 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - American Hustle
After back-to-back critical acclaim with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell’s next work was receiving a tremendous amount of hype. This, coupled with the wonderful cast of A-List, award-winning actors, set an unrealistically high bar for American Hustle and it would have taken a perfect movie for it to meet the expectations. Although the majority of the critics disagree, I was disappointed by this film. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, but taken as a whole, it is the weakest of the three critically acclaimed Russell-directed movies from the past 4 years. The worst offender is the story. For a high-stakes heist movie, there is so little suspense and you never really get a sense of danger. The comedic parts are excellent though, and that is due to the sharp script and the (obvious) improvisation by the actors who gave their all. If I had to sum up this movie in one line, I would say that it was a 3-star movie with 5-star actors.
Will American Hustle win Best Picture?
It will be the biggest scam in Hollywood history if it does.
Will any of the actors take home an award?
American Hustle has the prestigious claim of being one of the rare movies in Oscar history that has a nomination in all four acting categories. You would think that based on statistics alone, at least one of the actors nominated would win a prize. Out of the four of them, Jennifer Lawrence is the one who is most likely to win in the Best Supporting Actress category, but, really, I don’t think she deserves to. All four of them did good work, and they made the movie much better than it actually was, but ultimately, their competition is so much better.
I wouldn’t be surprised if American Hustle won zero out of their ten Academy Award nominations.
3 down, 7 to go!
17 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - 12 Years a Slave
This year’s frontrunner among all Best Picture Oscar nominees is 12 Years a Slave. It is a well-acted, well-directed and well-written film in which I do not find much flaws. All the characters are fleshed out, the screenplay is fairly straightforward and easy to understand and the way the film looks and sounds is very competent. Those are all wonderful things, but some of you may be surprised why I don’t sound very enthusiastic when I say those things. That is because the film excels for a different reason. In my opinion, the reason why this film has near-unanimous acclaim and adulation is because of the way the very heavy subject matter was dealt. Slavery has been a popular subject in mainstream cinema since last year’s Lincoln and Django Unchained, but those two films only tackled the subject in the background. 12 Years a Slave doesn’t pull any punches in directly addressing the atrocities that slavery inflicted upon American society. It’s real and it’s raw and it is heartbreaking.
Will 12 Years a Slave win the Best Picture award?
Although I have much faith in Gravity, I think overall, 12 Years a Slave has the best chance of winning. As I already said, it is a wonderful piece of art that masterfully deals with such a heavy subject matter. If it wins, I wouldn’t be surprised and I would actually feel it is a deserved win too.
Will Chiwetel Eijofor win the Best Actor category?
There is a good chance he may. His role as Solomon Northup, the free man that was wrongly kidnapped into slavery, required a huge amount of gravitas and he delivers in spades. We feel every second of his suffering whenever he is on screen and we root for him in his quest for justice. The long stares he gives to the camera filled with so much conflicting emotion pierces straight into the viewer’s soul.
Will newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and rising star Michael Fassbender win the supporting actor categories?
Aside from Brad Pitt who brings his Lt. Aldo Raine from Inglorious Basterds accent, all of the cast bring excellent performances, but the best ones were from Lupita Nyong’o who played a young slave girl named Patsey and Michael Fassbender playing the villainous plantation owner Edwin Epps. In Lupita’s category, she is the frontrunner and I could see why. The amount of emotion and suffering she is able to display in her scenes stay with you. The same could be said for Michael Fassbender — he brought the best portrayal of pure evil outside of a Disney film and in the real world. Unfortunately, I think Michael is only in second place in his category. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club has the Best Supporting Actor award pretty much on lock.
2 down, 6 to go!
14 2 / 2014
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12 2 / 2014
2014 Oscars Movie Marathon Assessment - Gravity
I’m starting off this year’s Oscars 2014 movie marathon assessments with a movie that I’ve already watched during its original theater run (in IMAX even) and wrote about in length: Gravity.
I’ve already sung so many praises about this movie in the past, and after so many months since I’ve seen it, the opinion still holds — I still think Gravity is the best movie of 2013. As for it’s Academy Award chances though…
Will Gravity win Best Picture?
I think there is a good chance it may. The main competition is frontrunner 12 Years A Slave. Gravity has the advantage of being the biggest blockbuster among the Best Picture nominees and it is undoubtedly the most popular of them all. Although popularity doesn’t always guarantee wins, I still think Gravity has a good chance. Just the fact that it got people into watching movies in the theatre the way it was intended should count for something.
Will Sandra Bullock win Best Actress for her role as Dr. Ryan Stone?
The competition is absolutely stacked this year. Unfortunately, Sandra Bullock’s performance in this movie may not be enough to secure her victory. It’s not because her work is lacking or anything, it’s just that Cate Blanchett brought her all in the movie Blue Jasmine, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning here.
Will Alfonso Cuaron win Best Director?
This is also a category that I’m pretty sure Gravity will win. The amount of effort and expertise of the people involved in this production showed through in the final product, and it’s all thanks to master helmer Alfonso Cuaron.
Will Gravity achieve a slam dunk in all the technical categories?
Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects — I think these are all guaranteed. Gravity is the most stunning film of 2013 in both audio and visuals that it’s hard to see it lose in these categories. As for the other two, Best Editing is a bit sketchy since I do feel that there were some scenes in Gravity that needed a bit of a cleanup (like that awkward scene where Sandra Bullock was in the fetal position that went on too long), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it won this one too. For Best Production Design, I do wonder what the chances are for a mostly green-screen production that had minimal sets that didn’t really employ much creative designs. In the technical categories, this category will be the one Gravity is most likely to lose.
1 down, 9 to go!
10 2 / 2014
06 2 / 2014
Four Reasons Why I Will Not Support Flappy Bird’s Plagiarism
Flappy Bird is a very popular mobile game that I am sure I will not support. In an industry full of derivatives, I truly wonder why the most derivative of them all is now the most popular. Plagiarism is a serious accusation but I’ll let you judge for yourself.
1. Flappy Bird’s gameplay is really simple. Tapping your screen makes the bird jump, and releasing it makes the bird fall due to gravity. I’m sure this type of gameplay has been done to death many times in the past, but to me, one of the best ones is the fairly popular Jetpack Joyride. That one was just polished all around. Is the clumsy and scrappy feel of Flappy Bird part of the allure?
2. Yes, Super Mario Bros. does not have a monopoly on green pipes, but could you honestly tell me of any game, cartoon or any other media that features pipes like these prominently? The truth is these pipes are iconic. When you see them, you instantly remember Super Mario Bros. and the fond times of when you were playing them. Flappy Bird infringes on this nostalgia by ripping it off wholesale.
3. Another aspect plucked straight out of Super Mario Bros. is the titular character. Flappy Bird doesn’t actually look like a bird, does it? In fact, the character design reminds me of a lesser known but still recognisable enemy from Super Mario Bros. This one is an antagonist called Cheep Cheep. It’s a fish that terrorises Mario under the water, but some variations have wings they can flap to fly.
4. Less egregious (but still suspect) is the font used throughout the game. While it may not be an exact replica, I had a nagging feeling of familiarity when I saw it. GTA is seriously one of the franchises with the strongest branding in the industry so I was able to make the connection pretty quickly.
So, what am I really getting at here? Character design, stage design, gameplay mechanics and graphic design choices are all very hard work. In the years that the game industry has existed, it is understandable that there is no truly original game anymore. But supporting a game that is truly derivative, and not even executed well? I do not understand it.
Just because something is popular and well-loved doesn’t make it an excuse for plagiarism. This is the exact reason why I will always be a Beyonce anti-fan.