My Thoughts on the Oscars — The Good, The Bad, and the Hair!

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Did you watch the Oscars?  I did, and here’s what I thought.


1. Best Picture: “Argo.”

2. Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln.”

3. Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook.”4. Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained.”

5. Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables.”

6. Directing: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi.”

7. Foreign Language Film: “Amour.”

8. Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo.”

9. Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained.”

10. Animated Feature Film: “Brave.”

11. Production Design: “Lincoln.”

12. Cinematography: “Life of Pi.”

13. Sound Mixing: “Les Miserables.”

14. Sound Editing (tie): “Skyfall,” ‘’Zero Dark Thirty.”

15. Original Score: “Life of Pi,” Mychael Danna.

16. Original Song: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall,” Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.

17. Costume: “Anna Karenina.”

18. Documentary Feature: “Searching for Sugar Man.”

19. Documentary (short subject): “Inocente.”

20. Film Editing: “Argo.”

21. Makeup and Hairstyling: “Les Miserables.”

22. Animated Short Film: “Paperman.”

23. Live Action Short Film: “Curfew.”

24. Visual Effects: “Life of Pi.”

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Contest: Life of Pi Book

Posted on December 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

Have you seen “Life of Pi?”  Would you like to read the book?  I have a copy of the movie tie-in edition of the book by Yann Martel to give away.  Send me an email at with “Pi” in the subject line.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick a winner at random on December 8.  Good luck!

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Interview: Ang Lee and Suraj Sharma of “Life of Pi”

Posted on November 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Director Ang Lee and star Suraj Sharma met with a group of journalists to talk about “Life of Pi.”

Lee said the biggest challenge was to “make a big mainstream movie out of a philosophical book that’s beloved.” And it was a challenge to create an illusion that mixed the action and themes so seamlessly that it wouldn’t take people out of the movie.  “It’s adventure story, and it is a movie about faith and hope, so we keep a balance, but that’s very, very challenging for the film-maker. Of course, there’s a kid, there’s water, there’s a tiger,” not to mention his first time with 3D and all the CGI.

He was asked whether his vision for this film could have been made a few years ago. “No, I don’t think so. My vision? No. some other vision, probably. You can have a lot more restraint. I think, actually, the use of 3D actually helped to set you out by the water, and also the realism of the animal, and the scope of God’s vision and it provides a lot of new visions, so to speak, tools to visions.  I think visual effects-wise, it would be very challenging. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to believe. I’m still a novice in 3D. Very carefully, I learned very diligently, but after all, we’re just discovering another new cinematic language to enhance not only effects but dramatically where you put things and how you take in the images, soak it in, and take that as the new grand illusion…I think five years ago those elements wouldn’t be there for me. We could still make the movie, but it’s different.”

The water is almost a character in the film.  Lee spoke about it.  “On the surface, I think, because this is a movie about faith, a young boy, soaking all his innocence with organized religions and society, that he throws into the ocean. So in some ways, water is like the desert; it’s a test of his faith, of his strength and everything, he goes through the journey. And as a film-maker, I like to see the water that carries life, it’s a representation of nature and emotions, and anything that has with water, even rain or mist or cloud formations, that represents some kind of mood that Pi’s going through, so I’d have liked to us the mood, the transparency or semi-transparency for the blocking and the reflection, this is a nightmare for 3D, (by the way, we overcome that obstacle) we use all of that as a way of explaining life, where he looks at the sky, the air, that’s heaven, God and death (to me.) Sometimes they blur, you don’t see the horizon, they blur together. Sometimes they separate, sometimes they reflect each other. I think it’s just a wonderful tool to externalize, to visualize internal key things. I like to use them to express my internal feeling and Pi’s.

He likes to feel that he is scared by his projects, “doing something that will put me on the edge, it’s like Pi facing the tiger, keeping me alert, putting me in the God-zone I need, I need total attention, focusing, and therefore I get the thrill that I’m living life fully, and that’s how I choose to express myself and be seen by people.”  He sometimes asks himself, “Why am I doing this? Why, why why?” but he loves the challenge.  “I get to learn all these new things about film-making; I’m an avid film-student, I would like to see my career as an extension of film-school. Now I get to learn 3D, how good is that? Somebody’s paying for it….I got these naïve, double-negative thoughts, like ‘if I add one more obstacle, maybe it’s possible,’ and more dimension, maybe I can take that leap of faith. At least, I think, by giving new cinematic language, people might open up, just bring back, just naturally, that innocence of watching a movie, and theatrical experience; maybe that will happen…There’s no way I could do what I did there with 2D. The wave has to be so much bigger, 10 times bigger, to get a feeling. Still, you don’t get that you’re floating there with Pi. I think animal, the animation is more believable, because it has real dimension and depth, and the excitement of finding new ways of expression and putting things in different places, giving the depth and manipulating the depth and your point-of-view, actually that adds a lot to, help you expend a lot of your imagination and exploration, so, all of that is pretty good for the unusual project. You know, I’m a film-maker, I live for that kind of thing.”

Sharma told us about what it was like to make his first film. “I think that if you work with someone as great as , it’s not intimidation, it’s comfort, you know? You feel that if someone can trust you like the way he is, then you just give it everything you have and you trust him back, and in that, everything will be okay. That’s how I saw it, and you know, before we started shooting, there was three months in which I learned a lot of things, there were a lot of things that took place, I met a lot of the crew—and you know, when you get so familiarized with people who are so nice, who become like your family, then you lose that pressure. That pressure is lost, you just become part of the whole process, it becomes something that you do for yourself and you do for everybody who is putting your faith in you for you to do it.  I didn’t know how hard it is to make a movie, ever. I thought it was all, honestly, I thought it was all glitz and glamor and stuff, I didn’t have much of an opinion, but just being on set, in itself, taught me so much. You learn about how there are so many things that go into making movies, so many people with all of these different things from all these different places coming together, all who are different at what they do, at what they specialize in, they’re all kind of working together like a machine, just for even, just for maybe three seconds of film. It’s the most inspirational feeling I get, just being on set, that I don’t know—that intensity with which people work, the passion, the fire, it really gets to me. I start feeling like, maybe starting to work, I want to do this so badly. It makes me feel driven.  There were moments when I thought,’How am I going to survive this?’ there were moments where I was so dire and so exhausted but everything just seemed to come together.  I really like the fact that they put so much faith in me, to make me go on, and that’s what kept me going.

Lee listened and smiled.  He said that Sharma was a spiritual leader for the entire crew “because he didn’t know. If he’d known, we would act differently, and he wouldn’t be a leader. We’ve been in the business for a long time. A lot of us can be jaded, can be cynical, we’re still doing what we do best, with passion and everything, but we can really get cynical, get tired, and then when we see something like that, a person who doesn’t know that he’s leading the thing, he’s carrying everything on his shoulder, he still thinks that everybody tells him what to do…there’s a beauty to that, there’s certainly innocence that remind us why we want to make movie in the first place.  He doesn’t know, he doesn’t have any comparison. He probably didn’t know what bad acting is, it’s just the way you do it. He didn’t realize that’s the best thing you can do for acting. So that’s treasurable. So we don’t tell him until the last day.


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Actors Directors Interview

Life of Pi

Posted on November 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout and some scary action scenes and peril
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine
Violence/ Scariness: Scary shipwreck, frequent peril, deaths of characters and animals, some scary images including dismembered animals
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2012
Date Released to DVD: March 11, 2013 ASIN: B005LAIIHG

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

This classic Breton fisherman’s prayer describes “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee’s exquisitely beautiful fairy tale story of an Indian boy shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger, and their journey home.

The book by Yann Martel is an award-winning national best-seller, filled with meditations on life, faith, and zoos.  Pi, played as an adult by Irrfan Kahn and as a teenager by newcomer Suraj Sharma, was named Piscine Molitor after a swimming pool in France.  He insisted on shortening it to Pi after the kids at school teased him, and showed off by memorizing pi to the hundreds of places.  Pi’s family owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India, or, rather, the community owned the zoo and his family owned the animals.  When they must leave India, his parents sell most of the animals and pack up the rest  with Pi and his older brother to travel to Canada by ship.  On a stormy night, the ship sinks and, according to the story the adult Pi tells to a visitor, the only survivors are Pi, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an orangutang named Orange Juice, and a Bengal tiger improbably named Richard Parker thanks to a clerical error and always referred to by his full name.  Soon, it is just Pi and the tiger.

Pi is an unusually thoughtful boy who considers himself at the same time a Hindu, a Moslem, and a Christian.  (This is described in much more detail in the book, including an amusing encounter between two of his teachers.)  His parents are not religious and his father jokes that if he picks up a few more faiths every day will be a holiday.  He is a thoughtful, observant boy who considers matters deeply and wants to understand.  In the lifeboat, he considers his options carefully, making an inventory of the food and equipment and lashing together a small raft to protect himself from the hungry tiger.  As it becomes clear that they will have to sustain themselves for an indefinite time, Pi uses what he knows about animals to establish his territory and earn the tiger’s trust.  In a sense, his life has been simplified to its essence, as everything — home, family, plans, community, food, water, — is taken from him.  In another sense, these losses open him up to a depth and spiritual richness that would not be possible in a busy world of connections and obligations.

Pi and Richard Parker weather storms.  They share unexpected riches when flying fish literally jump into their laps, and soul-expanding beauty, especially a great luminous leap by a whale the size of a motor home.

When he was a young boy, Pi tried to feed a tiger.  His father arrived just in time to prevent him from being the tiger’s lunch and gave him an unforgettable lesson by making him watch as the tiger attacked a live goat.  Pi insists that he can see the tiger’s soul in his eyes.  His father insists that there is nothing behind his eyes but the law of the jungle.  Pi has a great heart and the gift of faith.  Both are tested.  And it is only when everything he thought he could not live without is taken from him that he realizes how much he has gained, and how it is the troubles he has faced that have kept him alive.

The rapturous visual beauty of the film is itself a spirit-expanding experience.  The lyrical poetry of the images and the skillfully immersive effects surround us with a powerful sense of connection to the divine.

Parents should know that the plot concerns a boy lost at sea with a Bengal tiger and it includes sad deaths of family members and animals, some graphic and disturbing images, and extended danger and peril.

Family discussion:  Why does a character say the story will make you believe in God?  Which story do you prefer?  How did Richard Parker keep Pi alive?  What do we learn about Pi from his questions about the dance?  From his reaction to the island?

If you like this, try: the book by Yann Martel

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Interview: David Magee of “Life of Pi”

Posted on November 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Screenwriter David Magee met with a group of journalists to talk about “Life of Pi.”  He told us that as a not very successful actor, he enjoyed doing audio books.  One day he would do the full book and the next, the abridged version.  “I came in the next day and said, ‘This is terrible. I’m sorry, but it’s really terrible what you’re doing to this author’s book, I feel bad reading this. I mean, I could do better than this,’ and the producer said, ‘Well, would you like to try? I mean, we need abridgers all the time.’ I asked how much it paid, and it was not a lot but it was enough, and so I jumped at the chance to do it because I could abridge books anywhere, any time. I could be in a theater in Utah and abridging in my apartment while I did a show there.  Over the course of about five years I did over 80 novels in non-fiction and all sorts of books, and the process is taking a book that is anywhere from 105,000 to 200,000 words and cutting it down to 29,500 words.  By the time I was done I had gotten very good at selecting the essential things for this story, focusing on the dialogue and the action, pairing away the room description; you know, there are a lot of wonderful scenes in books that describe the paintings on the wall and the feeling when you look out the window—there’s no time for that in an abridgment, and in a film, that’s the set job, it’s not your job. So, it actually was very natural training for me to get into this.”

He spoke about the classical stories of survival at sea.  “I went back and read Moby Dick and I read back and I read the James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is very different, but I was looking for the spiritual journey. So I was trying to find, and in early version that no one saw, I was sticking in lines from Joyce’s stuff and trying them on Ang Lee…I really, very much took those to heart Moby Dick and Ulysses and Noah, obviously, that was very much apart of it. There’s also obviously Job in his trials and ordeals, and ‘God, why hast thou forsaken me’ and all of that, comes into that storm sequence.  When we first started working, we talked big picture. What were we trying to say, how were we trying to combine these characters? And so I spent a lot of the early days just typing up notes about different religious traditions.  We did some research, I tried to listen to some tapes on different religions…a lot of it was absorbing that world. And then when we actually went off and wrote it, you know, it was not so much about making sure that every reference was put in, it was trying to find ways to bring action and bring life to what was happening in the scenes.

I worked very closely with Ang. Once we decided we were going to do this, I would go away for a week or maybe two and I would type up notes on the project ideas, do some research, pull together different things, and then I’d send it over to him, he’d read it, we’d meet for lunch down in China town, I’d eat very well, and we’d start a discussion: ‘Yes, I like this one…but think more about this, David, think more about: what can we do in this scene? Maybe we should try this part of the structure idea that you had, but let’s keep this open for now.’  There was a lot of back and forth, so it became an extended conversation. I’d then go back home, I’d type more notes, I’d send them back, that would get us a little further down the field. So it was continued that way throughout the research period.”  He contacted Stephen Callahan who wrote The Book of Drift, which was about his true-life experience of being adrift at sea for 69 days. “It turned out he lived in Maine. Ang and I went up there and met with him and talked about how that changes the way you feel about life, how that affects you physically, all of those things. Stephen actually became our survival consultant for the film. He ended up being a major part of the film. He took us out on a boat, originally Ang wanted to have him leave us out on the ocean for ‘a few hours,’ he said, so we would experience what it was like–and I’d pull Stephen aside and thank him not to do that. So he went with us, but he did take the sail down and we bounced around in the water for quite a while, it was like being in a washing machine.”  Magee and Lee also went to India together “and at some point while I was on the journey with him in India he said something about this being an adult telling an adventure story that he would tell to kids. And I thought ‘that’s the right tone, that’s kind of what we’re looking for—it’s not a kid’s story, it’s not an adult’s story, but it’s an adult telling a story where he wants you to lean forward and go, And then this happened…’ and that clicked with me. I understood what he meant and I started writing that and went into a draft.”

I asked him about the island, which is one of my favorite scenes in the book and the movie.  “The way I saw the island…first of all, in the whole of the film, you could take things allegorically obviously, but you can also take them as ‘No, it really happened to me, why are you doubting me?’ which is what Pi essentially says at the end. ‘This is just what happened.’ And so I don’t want to take away from the possibility that this was ‘just what happened.’ Our goal in writing the film the way we did was to make sure that you could read the story or stories in any way you wanted to, and it would be more of a reflection on your own belief system at the end. But if you want to talk about the island allegorically, this is my interpretation of the island and I would say this is the film’s interpretation of the island —  it is a place that is nurturing and bountiful by day, it giveth, and at night it’s a place of devouring and consuming and danger, at night, taketh away. Sometimes we call it ‘the Godhead island’ because Pi’s journey, over the course of the film, is to have his presumptions stripped away, his comforts stripped away and ultimately to reach a point where he’s at death, and then he finds himself on that island and comes to know something about the nature of his relationship to God, and that island saves him, and as he says at the end, but that island also pushes him onward on his journey. Rather than resting, which would be essentially death, it forces him to return to society.

He also spoke about the challenge of adapting such an internal book to film.  “Sometimes I think when people talk about this book being difficult to film, they were referring just to the fact that it was tremendously difficult to put a boy and a tiger on a boat together without one of them eating the other, but sometimes I think it has as much to do with the structure of the book and the fact that it moves back and forth in time and that it involves several different Pis along the way.  We had to make a choice early on whether or not we were going to use the older Pi and the writer at all.  We could have framed the film using the story of Pi meeting the investigators in the hospital as the entire frame, and we considered that. Having tried a hundred different ways, because we really did, the reason we ultimately decided to have the writer and Pi as the framing device, this is a story, ultimately,  about story-telling, and we wanted the writer to take the story with him, and that passing on of the story was important to us thematically, not just from a framing-device sense.  Also if you just tell that third act from the boy’s point of few, it’s told in extremis, it’s told emotionally, not as a grand tale, not reflectively; which, we wanted this to be the kind of big story that, you know, I’m passing this onto you…it gives it a larger scope to say ‘I’m reflecting back now, and I’m telling you the way I felt when I was there. This was how I experienced it, this was the journey and then this is what happened.’ There are all sorts of rules for screenwriting, and they’re generally there for good reasons, and those reasons are that people who’ve tried something different and it falls on its face, and so you want to pay very close attention to those rules, but by the same token, the rules didn’t come before the screenplays were first written, the rules came in response to the fact that people had tried things and they hadn’t worked out, so…they’re not like building codes that you have to follow. They’re warnings, that if you don’t follow them, you have to really think hard about how to do it, and that was a choice that we had to make from the moment that we decided to use that as a framing device.”

And he spoke to us about moments of surrender.  “When Pi says, ‘I surrender to you, God, let me know what comes, I want to know what comes,’ he is surrendering on a very surface level but he’s not surrendering his beliefs, he’s not surrendering his belongings…he thinks he’s letting go and he is turning and saying, “What will come, will come,” which is, on a surface level.  If he had not made that, I don’t think he would ever have learned to train the tiger. But having mastered the tiger, he has to make a greater, a deeper kind of surrender, he has to essentially, be stripped of everything and find himself reaching that island. So I think that the ultimate moment of surrender is when just before he reaches that island, when he says, he comes to term with the tigers.”

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