Weekends – My Favorite Oscar-Nominated Animated Short (Which Did Not Win)

A friend invited me to watch a complete showing of the 2019 Oscar-nominated animated short films last Friday night at the beautiful Normal Theater.  I didn’t know anything about the nominees, but I thought it sounded like a fun time so I went.

All of the nominees were very good in their own particular way, but only one of them won me over in all facets.

No, it wasn’t Bao.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Bao.  I’d actually seen it at Disney World last summer.  It’s got a heart-warming story and the animation is wonderful.  I think most people figured it would win the Oscar.  Heck, I figured it would win the Oscar.  It’s hard to compete with Pixar, after all.  Guess what?  It won the Oscar.

But, as much as I liked Bao, it wasn’t my favorite.

No, my top choice was actually an animated short film called Weekends.

Weekends did not have the cleanest animation, nor the finest detail, nor the most inspired texture, but it had heart.  And at its heart, the messy animation actually amplified a messy story.

Weekends is about a young boy being shuffled between his mom’s house and his dad’s house after a divorce.  The boy is loved by both parents, but he’s also–at times–something of a distraction through no fault of his own.  Therefore, the boy spends a lot of time alone while at both houses.

My parents are still married to this day, but Weekends struck me as a very real depiction of what childhood must be like for the children of divorcees.  The mother and the father of the boy are not evil, they are not bad in any way shape or form.  However, both of them are trying to build a new life, both of them are experiencing new lovers, and both of them are trying to figure out how to live without the other.  In the mix of all that, the child, at times, falls to the wayside.  His loneliness during these moments are heart-wrenching.

There’s no dialogue in this short film.  The animation sets the mood just fine on its own.  While Bao is a top-notch, beautiful, well-rendered film that makes us feel squeaky clean,  Weekends is scratchy, a little ugly, and makes us feel off-kilter.  But even though it doesn’t look pretty, Weekends‘ creators absolutely knew what they were doing.  It’s obvious they found a style that best fits the story and the boy’s journey.

In my opinion, Weekends story and design execution resonated most deeply with me on an emotional and technical level, which is what made it my all-around favorite of the nominees.

I’ve embedded it below if you’d like to give it a watch …

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Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer – A Book Review

I did it!  I finally finished this series!

Sorry.

That’s not very eloquent.

You’ll remember that I enjoyed the movie Annihilation, so I read the source material of the same name and found myself … less impressed.  I let a bit of time pass by and then gave the second book–Authority–a chance.  It also failed to win me over.

So you may be wondering why I bothered to read the third book called Acceptance.  I’d like to say I’m a completest, but, if I’m being honest, I just wanted some kind of answers regarding Area X and the Southern Reach.

I’ve got some good news–Acceptance proved more enjoyable than its predecessors.

Everything about Acceptance was superior to the first two installments.  I particularly found the narrative style effective.  VanderMeer elects to alternate chapters between Ghost Bird, the Director, the Lighthouse Keeper, and Control.  By doing this, we are given access to the thoughts of characters we, other than Control, haven’t really before experienced.  The fact that we were just as ignorant as the characters in the first two books regarding the events plaguing them frustrated me to no end.  With Acceptance, we finally experience revelation … sort of.  More on that in a moment.

Now, I’m the first to admit that the main reason I liked Acceptance is because it finally gave me some insight into Ghost Bird, Area X, Southern Reach, the Lighthouse Keeper, and the Director.  Trudging through the first two books should not be a prerequisite to liking the third, however, and I realize this position is a little contradictory.  By the way, the irony of the third book’s title did not escape me.

But, the truth is the truth.  If you read Annihilation and Authority, I guarantee you’ll find Acceptance worth your while.  Be prepared, though.  While it revealed enough to satisfy me, you won’t get much in the way of hard and fast answers.  VanderMeer sets the stage well enough to let your own imagination fill in the gaps, but there is no concrete conclusion to The Southern Reach Trilogy.

I fully accept that.

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The Favourite – A Movie Review

The Favourite has been slowly building acclaim for quite a while, but with it’s recent ten Oscar nominations, it shot up to my “must-view” list.

We were fortunate enough to have it play again at our local theater tonight, so my wife and I made it a date and checked it out.

I can honestly say that if you get a chance to see The Favourite … don’t.

I am clearly missing something with this film.

Look, the actresses were great–no doubt.  Olivia Coleman disappeared into Queen Anne and depicted one of the most wretched characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are also absolutely going for it with this movie.  They were brilliant.

However, the story is just … not that compelling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, it’s about Queen Anne in the early 1700s.  She suffers from gout, as well as a few other infirmities.  Her mental well-being seems questionable at best.  Rachel Weisz plays her cousin, Lady Sarah.  Lady Sarah is Anne’s best friend and pretty much calls England’s shots on Anne’s behalf.  Emma Stone plays Abigail, a former noblewoman who has been stripped of her rank.  Abigail comes to Anne’s palace as a servant, but quickly works her way into Anne’s confidence.  A power struggle ensues between Lady Sarah and Abigail, with Anne loving every minute of it.

However, there’s something about this movie that I did not realize …

SPOILER ALERT …

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Both Lady Sarah and Abigail curry favor with Anne through sexual acts.  Yes, you read that right.  There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments in this film.  A lot.  It’s not overtly graphic or shocking, but I had no idea this aspect of the movie even existed.

Furthermore, most of the movie takes place in Anne’s bedroom.  The costumes are exquisite … at first.  The settings are beautiful … at first.  But this all wears thin when the movie doesn’t go anywhere else.  There is an interesting subplot about a war taking place, but Anne really couldn’t care less about it so we see nothing of it.  We get just a touch of British politics, but not a whole lot on that front either.

It’s mostly Sarah and Abigail vying for position with Anne.  They sabotage each other at every opportunity.

If I’m failing to recognize something that makes this film a masterpiece, please, feel free to educate me.

As far as I’m concerned, The Favourite is the furthest thing from a “must-see” movie.

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Unsane – A Movie Review

I’ve been hearing a lot from critics about Steven Soderbergh lately.  You know Steven Soderbergh even if you don’t know that you know Steven Soderbergh.  He directed the Ocean’s 11 movies, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky (just to name a few).

He has a movie that just released on Netflix called High Flying Bird.  My friends at The Ringer.com were talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing it because they consider Soderbergh a modern-day genius.  They said that though Unsane went largely unnoticed, High Flying Bird owes much to Unsane.  I generally trust the Ringer folks, so I decided I clearly haven’t appreciated Soderbergh enough.  I made the decision to soon watch High Flying Bird, but I figured I’d better watch Unsane first in order to fully experience the director’s repertoire.

I didn’t hear anything about Unsane when it released back in March of 2018, but it’s got Claire Foy in it, so it has to be good, right?  I mean, Claire Foy is pretty much incredible in The Crown.  Plus, I liked the movies that I’ve seen in the above list.  Therefore, I like Soderbergh … right?

I decided to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes before I watched UnsaneLet’s just say reviews are … mixed.  The critics generally like it.  The audience rates it slightly below a D-.  The critics were fixated on calling it Soderbergh’s “B movie” masterpiece.  Is that even possible?  The audience was really obsessed with the fact that it was shot on an iPhone.  Um … okay?

As for my opinion?

Don’t waste your time on this one.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.

Let’s go positive first.

Foy continues to impress me.  I think she’s got incredible range.  She is a bit of an unlikable character in this movie.  Her body language is purposefully rigid.  She’s also surly, terse, and angry.  However, she has good reason to be.  Or does she?

I was led to believe that this would be something of a psychological thriller.

Sorry.  It’s not.

They make the truth of the situation pretty clear early on in the film.

Let me explain.

Foy’s character unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution for short term observation.  According to one of the patients played by Jay Pharoah, it’s a scam by the institution to skim money from the insurance companies.  He tells her she can expect to be released in a few days once they’ve gotten their payment.

I found this entire premise really interesting, but don’t get excited … that’s not what the movie is about.

The movie then makes you think it is about whether or not Sawyer, Foy’s character, is actually being hunted and harassed by a stalker or if it’s all in her head.  Again, this is a really interesting concept.  We want to instantly side with Sawyer because she seems to be a victim.  However, due to her somewhat volatile nature, it’s hard to pin down her mental state.  But, yet again … that’s not really want this movie is about.

Spoilers ahead …

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Unsane quickly confirms that yes, Sawyer’s stalker is now working in the institution; yes, he’s totally messing with her; and no , she’s not suffering any mental issues.  The stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, goes on a killing spree in order to kidnap her from the institution, and that’s when the “B movie” genre goes into full effect.

We are led to believe that Jay Pharoah’s character is an addict in recovery, but, once he’s killed by the stalker for being Sawyer’s friend, it’s briefly revealed that he was actually a reporter under deep cover and investigating the institution’s insurance fraud practices.  Wow.  That alone actually would have been a GREAT movie.

Sawyer loses everyone close to her, eventually gets the upper hand on the stalker, and kills him with a shiv.  Yes, you read that right.

I don’t know why the movie chose the path it did when it initially set up some really interesting ideas.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m failing to see a certain craft or art to the film that others have picked up on.  A lot of people seem to think it’s cool that it was shot on an iPhone, but to me … it looks like it was shot on an iPhone.

For what it’s worth, Foy gives a potent performance.  This is only the second thing I’ve seen her do outside of The Crown–I’ve never seen her quite like this.  If she did Unsane to show her ability to play against type, she made a wise decision.  This is about as far from Queen Elizabeth as one can get.

Do you need to watch Unsane to get a stylistic flavor in order to enjoy High Flying Bird?  I’m going to say “no.”  Should you even watch Unsane at all?  While I enjoyed Claire Foy, I find Unsane largely dispensable.  You’ll perhaps like it, but I wish I’d spent my time watching something else.

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Hanging Around With Neil Gaiman

I took my ten-year-old daughter to the Bloomington, Illinois, Barnes and Noble today so that she could use her hard-earned money to buy a Hermione Granger replica wand.  I live in Bloomington-Normal and actually did a signing at this store recently, so I thought I’d take a look in the science fiction section just to … you know.

First all, imagine my joy when I saw several copies of Andropia sitting on my local Barnes and Noble’s bookshelf.  That was pretty cool.

Then, to make it even better, I saw one of my literary heroes–Neil Gaiman–on the shelf below me.  To see my book in proximity to his work … it gave me chills.

Of course, while Neil Gaiman seems incredibly polite and genuinely kind, I’m sure his excitement regarding this occasion would not match mine.  I’m definitely getting the better deal out of all this.

Take a look at the picture below.  Cool, right?

By the way, my daughter was not impressed by any of this.

Ah, to be humbled.

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