Eye Candy: Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”

Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru in Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” (2006)

Aside from the fact that this 2006 masterpiece from director Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror, The Cell) is a visual triumph, it also stars Julliard grad, Lee Pace (TV’s Pushing Daisies,  Spielberg’s Lincoln) in one of his first major film roles. Not only is this film visually stunning, the story and the methods used to direct the actors (especially the young girl) are especially interesting. Tarsem has not been receiving the recognition for his work that he should. According to IMDB, this movie took four years to shoot in 28 countries, using locations themselves instead of special effects. In compliance with the trivia, the DVD features several behind-the-scenes segments that validate these claims. The featurettes are equally as interesting as the film itself. As an audience member, an actor and an avid movie buff, I am surprised that this film, no pun intended, fell under the radar.

Take a look at the fantastic trailer:

Although it won several awards at film festivals for cinematography and even as a film as a whole, it hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition it should be getting even currently. The wins for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi have rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not saying that the film is not valid within the industry, or that the efforts of the effects engineers are unwarranted. I’m simply saying that if you put it up against a film like The Fall which was filmed in the early part of the past decade, you can’t hold a candle to it.

The Fall, through utilizing the beauty of its natural environment, the simplicity of storytelling, and incredible actors, has become one of the best films of the past 20 years. And much like The Fall, this  year’s underdog film Beasts of the Southern Wild shares elements of a young girl and older man (in the case of BOSW it’s Hushpuppy and her father) as well as seeds of fantasy seen through the little girl’s eyes.  Then comes the issue of the acting. While Catinca Untaru had virtually no training and didn’t even speak English when filming began, I think she does a better job in the child actor category than Quvenzhané Wallis simply due to the fact that she learned from her fellow actors about the craft and it shows. Her emotions are varied and dynamic, honest and heart-felt, all while being unforced. At times, Wallis’ “Hushpuppy” seems to be struggling with giving a wide range of emotions. She seems to play “angry” and not actually be angry. Cantinca Untaru, on the other hand, seems to be sad when she is, be angry and frustrated when her character is and all in all, be more honest. But, this is not a comparison of Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Fall. I’m simply illustrating the fact that Untaru’s performance was just as good, if not better, than Quvenzhané Wallis’ at the same age (during filming.) That’s how good this film is. It has an influence over the films that come after it.

In fact, having trained actors alongside Untaru might have helped her performance in more ways than one as evidenced by this tidbit of trivia:

A miscommunication between the casting agent and Catinca Untaru led her to believe that Lee Pace was a real-life paraplegic. Director Tarsem Singh found that this brought an added level of believability to their dialogue, so he decided to keep almost the entire cast and crew under the same impression. Singh had to speak to the actor playing Alexandria’s father and explain that his role was smaller than it appeared, since the script implied that he played the role of the bandit (actually played by Pace) in the fantasy scenes. Apparently it was hard to keep up the lie – a makeup artist walked into a room to find Pace standing and almost passed out from shock.

The behind-the-scenes featurette delves into the trivia by showing the exact moment when Catinca Untaru learned that her co-star was not a paraplegic in actuality, but just a really fantastic actor. It takes an actor with extensive training in both The Method, The Stanislavski System, and even Meisner to pull off something as complex and in-depth as Pace did. It is evident that training does pay off in the end and no matter how natural one’s ability, a class or two in technique always helps.

As far as the visuals in the film, the next clip was shot on location in Taj Lake Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India:

Again, in the behind-the-scenes footage of the film, what I find most interesting is the fact that they are on location.  In subsequent interviews about the movie both the director, Tarsem Singh, and actor, Lee Pace reference what it was like to film on location. Actor, Lee Pace speaking about the film:

Everyone should see this film for the visuals, the acting and the fact that it has been severely over-looked by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as mass audiences as well. Rent it on Netflix and take a journey all over the world. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Two By Two: The Battle of Jen and Jess-Oscar Edition

I’m starting a new new section, especially due to Oscar weekend. It’s something fun called Two By Two. Essentially, it’s comparing performances of actors and actresses and (if it’s awards season) their chances to take home accolades. Welcome to the Oscar edition. According to various other predictions, it’s down to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. I’m not discounting the other three: Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, or Naomi Watts. They all give fantastic  performances. In fact, Emmanuelle Riva could surprise us all and so could the 9 year old dynamo of talent that is Quvenzhané Wallis. Or, the Academy could just give it to Naomi Watts and really shock us. For the sake of comparison however, I am only focusing on Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

First up, Jennifer Lawrence. When the Screen Actor’s Guild nominated both Jennifer and Jessica, I’ll admit, it was a difficult decision. With the exception of Naomi Watts also in the category for Best Actress, the list included two other completely different nominees. Helen Mirren was nominated for Hitchcock and Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os.) Several of my colleagues voted for Marion Cotillard and to be quite honest, voting in the SAG awards, especially in the Best Actress category, was a difficult decision because of the pure strength of performances. What’s even more surprising is the fact that Marion Cotillard didn’t get an Oscar nod.

I voted for Jennifer Lawrence in the SAG awards which was surprising to a few people. Let me explain my reasoning. I thought it was more of a stretch (other than Marion Cotillard) for her to portray her specific character. As an actor, I think it’s more difficult to play older than it is to play younger simply because you can remember what it was like to be younger. However, it takes talent to play older, even if you just have exude “older.” An actor’s power for people watching and research come into play. I thought she had emotional depth that was beyond her years (she’s only 22) and she prevailed. She plays a woman just as broken and fragile as Bradley Cooper’s character Pat (who suffers from bipolar disorder.) Jennifer does it with such poise and maturity it’s easy to forget she’s younger than her character. As of this posting, she has won The Golden Globe (in the Comedy or Musical category),  SAG Award and the Independent Spirit Award for her performance and is on her second Oscar nomination (her first was Winter’s Bone.)

In fact, both Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globes for their performances which is why this race is so tough.

Jessica Chastain won the Golden Globe and the Critics’s Choice for her portrayal of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. The film itself has been the target of extreme controversy ever since it went into production simply due to its subject matter. It chronicles the decade long man-hunt to capture and kill Osama bin Laden and the woman who was in charge. Members of the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have been protesting it from the beginning and especially now that it has actually been receiving praise as some view it as being too violent. Controversy aside, there is no denying that Jessica’s performance is virtually flawless. The Julliard grad, whom I met at an industry event, is a truly talented actor. She may not have had the fancy Southern accent she touted in The Help, but her performance is so understated that it’s hard to tell when she’s acting. As much as Academy voters love physical and vocal transformations, they also love the understated ones as well. There is evidence of Maya simmering with anger and emotion under the surface as well as lack of emotion (which was a clear character choice on her part.) Jessica might take home the Oscar for knowing how to work an understated, subtle performance. And with her second nomination as well, her training has certainly paid off.

I would love both of them to win because both performances were so vastly different. Then again, there are five nominees, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Weep ‘n Win?–Oscar Predictions

It’s Oscar weekend! YAY!! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, especially if you’re in the business or just an avid movie buff. For the sake of time, and so this article doesn’t go on forever, I am only going to focus on the major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay & Best Adapted Screenplay. And for fun…Best Cinematography.

Best Cinematography has always been a bit confusing to those who don’t really understand what it is. Basically, the cinematographer is responsible for the general visual look of the film. According to Wikipedia, they “could also be referred to as the film director’s main visual collaborator.” On a set, the cinematographer is generally known as the “DP” or “Director of Photography.” Essentially, they are the ones that the actor is going to have the most contact with (aside from the director) on the crew side. The DP can make you look amazing or make you look horrid (So don’t piss them off. Hehe.) The nominees this year run the gambit:

Anna Karenina (2012/I): Seamus McGarvey

Django Unchained (2012): Robert Richardson

Life of Pi (2012): Claudio Miranda

Lincoln (2012): Janusz Kaminski

Skyfall (2012): Roger Deakins

My pick for best cinematography this year is Life of Pi. I think in terms of a visual look, Pi has this one locked. It’s a visually stunning piece. However, Skyfall could also be one to watch.

For Best Adapted Screenplay, this year especially, it’s difficult. There was so much great source material that helped make great films.

Argo (2012): Chris Terrio

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Life of Pi (2012): David Magee

Lincoln (2012): Tony Kushner

Silver Linings Playbook (2012): David O. Russell

Argo might win this one because the source material is from a 2007 article in Wired magazine. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (my roommate’s favorite book,) Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick and Lincoln were all adapted from books.

Lincoln, adapted by Kushner from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, poses a issue with me, especially when it comes to the title. I know a lot of people who went into viewing the film thinking it was going to be a genuine bio-pic of Lincoln himself. However, a lot of people I’ve talked to were a tad disappointed because they thought the title was misleading. If one is going to have a film about a specific moment in history such as the passing of the thirteenth amendment, then why not call it “Team of Rivals?” The answer is simple. Daniel Day-Lewis is the star.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was adapted from a one-act play that Lucy Alibar had previously written, so difficulty of adapting it to the screen was rather slim. And Oscar voters seem to go for complexity.

My pick (simply due to difficulty of adaptation and a fantastic script): ARGO.

Best ORIGINAL Screenplay is another story all together.

Amour (2012): Michael Haneke

Django Unchained (2012): Quentin Tarantino

Flight (2012/I): John Gatins

Moonrise Kingdom (2012): Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Mark Boal

Zero Dark Thirty seems to be receiving a really bad reputation at the moment which I think is going to hurt the chances of it winning in both the writing and acting categories. I think it’s a toss up between Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom. Both are so unique and different from your normal cinema fare. But I think Quentin will take home the gold. If he doesn’t, I think the shocker would be if Michael Haneke took it.

Best Supporting Actress: Weep and Win?

Amy Adams for The Master (2012)

Sally Field for Lincoln (2012)

Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables (2012)

Helen Hunt for The Sessions (2012)

Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Oscar voters and viewers love the “Give me my Oscar” moments. The only one who has been consistently winning throughout awards season in every major category is Anne Hathaway (and maybe DDL, but we’ll get to him in a few.) This brings me to a question that I am asking of all of the acting nominees (whether current or past): Do you need to weep to win? Crying, weeping, sobbing, hyperventilating…they all seem like viable things to do within a role to win an Oscar. Helen Hunt did it in 1998 with As Good As It Gets. And Sally Field won 2 Oscars for playing down on her luck characters. Now, enter Anne Hathaway…playing a down on her luck single mother. AND she does it within the first 30 minutes of the film. She cries, hyperventilates, acts AND LIVE SINGS her way to an Oscar nom…and to be honest, yeah, she’ll win. I didn’t really see any other actress in that category have a “GIVE ME MY OSCAR” moment…other than Sally Field playing well, every character she’s ever played. Ever. Only with a big poofy dress. Oh, and Helen Hunt spends 90% of her movie naked, Jacki Weaver plays a supportive mother, and Amy Adams helps Philip Seymour Hoffman jack off in the bathroom. I love Amy Adams, I’m a huge fan, but an Oscar nom for that role is kind of a joke.

My Pick: Anne Hathaway. Plus, I’m a little biased because I know the back story and actually met her. Whatever. She deserves it.

Best Supporting Actor: They’ve ALL WON BEFORE!

Alan Arkin for Argo (2012)

Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (2012)

Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln (2012)

Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained (2012)

Alan Arkin does what he always does but his schtick got him an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, so he’s not all bad. However, if anyone in that movie should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, it should have been Bryan Cranston or John Goodman. I doubt the voters will give him an Oscar for doing the same work he’s always done.

Robert DeNiro steps out of his normal tough guy persona and plays a dad who just wants to help his son get back on his feet and delivers one of the best monologues I’ve ever heard. He truly had a “Give my my Oscar” moment. And I hope for his sake, it pays off.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors. We studied at the same school with the same coaches. I love his work. But much like Amy Adams, I don’t really think he’ll win. Not because his acting was terrible, but because I honestly forgot he was nominated.

Tommy Lee Jones…you’ll probably win. If not you, then it’ll be Christoph Waltz.

Again, I’m pulling for Robert De Niro. I really want to see him win.

Now for the toughest categories (in my opinion.)

Best Actress:

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva for Amour (2012)

Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Naomi Watts for The Impossible (2012)

First off, you have the oldest nominee ever (Emmanuelle Riva) and the youngest nominee ever (Quvenzhane Wallis) in the same category…in the same year… Then, you have nominees who won the Golden Globes in each of the lead actress (Drama & Comedy) categories: Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Although it seems like the battle of Jess & Jen, I wouldn’t discount Naomi Watts. She was nominated in 2004 for 21 Grams which is an amazing film. If you haven’t seen it, put it in your Netflix queue. Now. Part of me feels like The Impossible should be subtitled The Impossible: Desperately Seeking Oscar. I felt like the whole film was Naomi Watts screaming for an Oscar. I have to say, this category is anyone’s game.

I voted for Jennifer Lawrence in the SAG awards. I think she might just take home that Oscar.

Best Actor:

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (2012)

Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables (2012)

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master (2012)

Denzel Washington for Flight (2012/I)

Come on, even the nominees know they’re going to lose to Daniel Day-Lewis. But if anyone can beat him, it might be Hugh Jackman or Joaquin Phoenix. But seriously…do I even have to predict it?

Daniel Day -Lewis for the win.

And now for the most snubbed category: Best Director:

Michael Haneke for Amour (2012)

Ang Lee for Life of Pi (2012)

David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln (2012)

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

I really hope whoever wins this decides to give it away to Ben Affleck. He got robbed. But if anyone were to win over him, I really want it to be David O. Russell. And as a side note, Spielberg…we know, you’re the best. Ben Affleck still deserved your spot.

Finally: Best Picture:

Amour (2012): Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz

Argo (2012): Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald

Django Unchained (2012): Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone

Les Misérables (2012): Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh

Life of Pi (2012): Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark

Lincoln (2012): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon

Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

My money is on Argo. It’s an amazing film and if Ben Affleck can’t win an Oscar for directing this fantastic film, he better get one for producing it. Again, this category is filled with amazing films, but honestly…Argo for the win. Maybe Les Misérables if the voters are feeling particularly musical. Who knows?