VES Award Nominations 2016

The VES Awards are again right around the corner and, as I did last year, I have listed my picks in each category and my thoughts on the visual effects of the different films, tv episodes, games, and commercials.awardslogo_14_fnl_shps_blk
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2015 Oscar Picks

Once again the Academy Awards are around the corner, so here I am presenting my picks of who will win tomorrow. As listing all the categories here would make this post much too lengthy, I will restrict myself to just those areas that I am most familiar with. So to start off with, here is my pick for Best Visual Effects.
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New Animated Film by Studio Ghibli

Yesterday, Studio Ghibli in Japan officially anounced their new animated film Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty). I believe that this is something to get excited about, especially following the release of this year’s US release of Ghibli’s and director Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo.

The film will be based on Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers. It is an award-winning book and also the basis for the film The Borrowers with John Goodman, which is what peaked my interest in the current title. The story concerns tiny people known as “borrowers” who exist in the nooks and crannies of the everyday world and borrow things from humans. Originally, the setting for the story was in 1950’s England, but for the Ghibli version the events will take place in modern-day Tokyo.¹

The theme song for the movie has also been announced and is performed by Cecile Corbel, a French harpist/singer. The song, “Arrietty’s Song” or “Song of Arrietty,” will be distributed locally online on Dec. 19. The movie itself will be released Summer 2009. ¹

See also:

1. "Ghibli Announces Borrower Arrietty Film." AnimeNation 16 Dec 2009: Web. 16 Dec 2009. <;.

Movie Review: Bolt

I have found few movies that could provide a truly moving experience. The Disney animated film Bolt is one of them. This movie excels at story, voice talent, characters, and animation.

One of the truly great elements of the movie is its thoroughly engaging story line. Bolt features a dog named Bolt (played by John Travolta) who thinks his made-for-TV superpowers are real. So when Bolt thinks that his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus), has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Calico, he sets off to find her only to fall into a packing crate and be shipped off to New York.

Once there, he sets out on a mission to return to Hollywood and “rescue” Penny. Aiding him on his quest is Mittens (Susie Essman), a tough-luck alley cat who Bolt believes to be one of Calico’s evil minions. The duo is soon joined by Rhino (Mark Walton), an excitable hamster who is one of Bolt’s greatest fans.

Along the way, there are several heartfelt moments when Bolt sheds his macho image and learns what it’s like to be an “regular dog.” Mittens also changes as she lets go of her tough attitude, and both animals are able to have fun on the journey. It almost feels like the plot takes a break and is replaced by some light-hearted humor and scripting that sometimes borders on “cutesy.”

The movie also features some highly capable acting. The character of Bolt is voiced by John Travolta who delivers a flawless performance and gives feeling to Bolt’s many moods. Susie Essman gives a sassy yet endearing character to the streetwise cat. Mark Walton also played the character of Rhino admirably, infusing the nutty, overly-dramatic rodent with a sense of believability and off-the-wall charm. Miley Cyrus, however, seemed, merely passable, never quite making the character of Penny her own.

The characters of Bolt are rich and full of emotion and character. Bolt acts boldly and initially behaves much like a regal knight. He believes fully in his role as a “superdog” fighting evil and protecting Penny from all harm. Mittens, however, is everything Bolt is not. A down-to-earth cynic with a penchant for extortion and no love of adventure she constantly fights against Bolt’s staunch desire to return home. The most over-the-top nutcase in this movie, though, is Rhino. Throughout much of the film, he provides comic relief with his outlandish voices and antics. This film is truly a melding of Disney magic and Pixar imagination.

I am hardly an expert on what constitutes good animation, but I found the animation in Bolt to be first-class. The expressions and emotions of the characters rival the work done by Pixar for Wall•E. I found myself captivated watching Mittens teach Bolt the “puppy-dog look.” The visual effects work was also excellent, especially in 3-D. The animals in Bolt were so expressive and believable that this movie does for quadrupeds what Wall•E  did for robots.

I would highly recommend this movie to anyone that enjoys good family films. If you’re unable to see it in theaters, then it is worth the wait to see it on video.


National Treasure 2.0

I recently watched the newest chapter of the National Treasure series. I began watching with the apprehension of being greeted with a simple sequel. Rather, I discovered a powerful story with mind-blowing twists and deep, intriguing adventure covering areas as exotic as Paris, France and Mount Rushmore.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets parallels its prequel by revealing some of the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination. Two of John Booth’s henchmen approach Thomas Gates (Benjamin Gates great-great granddaddy) and request his help to decipher a coded message. When Thomas discovers that the men belong to a secret Southern society, he brands them as "traitors" and almost destroys the message by throwing it into the fire. In return, he is shot by the conspirators who retrieve the blackened piece of paper.

The story then returns to the present where Thomas Gates is publicly accused of the assassination of Lincoln when the missing page from Booth’s diary is revealed. This prompts Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) to find the lost treasure and restore his ancestor’s good name.

Opposing him is Jeb Wilkinson (Ed Harris), the descendant of a Confederate general, who is also seeking the treasure. Wilkinson appears as an atypical villain who pursues Gates before realizing that they should work together. Eventually, Wilkinson shows that he is capable of doing good and even risks everything in the face of danger.

Apart from the villain, there are many ways that this movie not only reflects but also builds upon its predecessor.  The major characters from the previous movie return for equally stellar performances. Gates again makes his mark as a puzzle-solver and historical extraordinaire.

Gates’ audacity continues to be a source of bold action and intrigue. In attempting to find the lost treasure, he again finds himself a wanted man with the FBI desperately attempting to capture him (and only waiting until the end of the film to do it).

Comic relief plays a large role in this film. The action scenes are often punctuated when Ben’s sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) makes a funny remark or gets into an odd situation. There is one scene where security men barge into a bathroom looking for Riley and find another man instead. Also, look for a scene where Ben sticks his hand into a rock crevice and feigns injury.

National Treasure 2 contains many positive elements, which make the film even more exceptional. The theme of family values is strong in this movie as the family members must depend on each other and have faith in each other’s abilities. This theme is especially brought to light as Ben’s father and mother are forced to reconcile their differences. Self-sacrifice is also an important aspect of this film, appearing when one member of the expedition stays behind to allow the others to escape from an underground chamber.

In addition to these positive themes, the movie is not without negative elements. In the early parts of the film, there is the revelation Ben and Abigail (his girlfriend from the previous movie) have been living together. Also, the character of Ben’s mother appears, and it is revealed that she and Ben’s father are divorced. In addition, there are some intense scenes that may be inappropriate for not-intense people.

Overall, I would heartily recommend this film to anyone looking for relaxing entertainment. It is, in my opinion, a family film, although some caution should be exercised regarding young children.

Click here for the National Treasure 2 website.

Click here for the National Treasure 2 page on IMDb.

Looking Back – A Cookie, a Swordsman, And a Whack Job

One year ago, an auspicious undertaking took place: the making of a short film. While not particularly noteworthy or glamorous, it was nonetheless a great experience for all those involved.

Last May one of my friends presented me with a script, titled A Cookie, a Swordsman, And a Whack Job. I looked through it and decided that it was perfect for a short film project.

The next few months were spent deciding on the crew, revising the script, getting software and equipment, and making other preparations. My "co-conspirator" Megan suggested asking our mutual friend Will to be the camera operator, which turned out to be an excellent decision. Meanwhile, I began reading up on filmmaking and gaining experience at a nearby chapel.

Finally, we were ready and the first shoot date was set for Monday, August 14, 2006. That afternoon we began shooting the first three scenes and worked against time as the sun moved away from the east-facing windows. Even though I was directing, Megan showed ample ability to lay out the action in the script. By the end of that day, we only had 11 1/2 minutes of recorded tape to show for about 2 hours.

After the shooting was over, the long editing process began. Everything came along well, but some of the crew members had regular jobs, and it was difficult to arrange a time to finish the project. However, on October 29, the second shoot date was set. I moved the process along quickly because of the difficulty involved in arranging meetings and all the thought that went into the video since August.

Several revisions later, the final cut came into being. I had already gotten into other interests and the date of the premiere was set for January 21, 2007. Unfortunately, that day was also Super Bowl Sunday, and not everyone was willing to watch Muppet Treasure Island while the DVD finished burning. Also, Megan was off with her family out of town that day and thus not present.

My advice to aspiring filmmakers? Always prepare. Know every detail about all the scenes. Know the camera(s) used. Know if you need any other equipment. Know how competent your cast and crew is. Sometimes you just need a planning session or a walkthrough of the technical aspects of the production.


Script (requires Adobe Reader)

CSWJ video