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My (Instant) Reactions to the 2016 Academy Awards

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The monologue: Chris Rock did a great job. So many laughs. So many things to think about. For the second year in a row, race joke to kick it off.

Screenplay: It’s difficult to follow up the host, whether it’s a good or a bad. Good job from Theron and Blunt. Spotlight won (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer). McCarthy has written/directed some good movies like Win Win and The Visitor. So I should probably watch Spotlight.

Adapted Screenplay: What a cute exchange from Crowe and Gosling. They both have bird names, I wonder if that is why they were paired together. The Big Short won (Adam McKay & Charles Randolph). An interesting thing that they worked together, much less that they now share an Oscar. McKay makes silly movies and Randolph makes bad ones. So yeah, like every year, I now admit that I should probably watch The Big Short. It is not my #1 movie to go see. Also, best tweet re: from Ben Schwartz (@rejectedjokes), “They choose which lines to show on screen for the best writing awards by closing their eyes and pointing to a random line in each script.”

No black actors skit. So funny. They got some great actors in there. And was that really Stacy Dash? Best tweet: from Timothey Burke for noticing the KRS1 reference in the Black Astronaut part.

Ooooooh! Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s On The Wall”! And Sarah Silverman crushed it too. Been a fan of her since “Mr. Show.” I feel like if best song were decided at the Oscars, this performance would have clinched it.

I’m not sure why I haven’t seen The Martian yet. Great cast. Great director. Were received source novel.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander won, but she cheated. That’s not fair, whoever or whatever owns the rights to The Danish Girl advertised her as a supporting actress despite being FIRST BILLED in the credits. She was on screen for 61% of the movie.

Costume Design: Oof, that was an awkward skit they did behind Cate Blanchett. If it is awkward with someone as wonderful as she, then, imagine how bad it would have been with anyone else. Jenny Beavan won for Mad Max: Fury Road, I am still waiting for Megan to watch the first three so we can see it together. Note: WOW, director, cutting off a winner because she said she had something serious to say after 20 seconds. Pathetic and cowardly.

Production Design: I should have waited and done the Costume/Production Design combo. I know it’s different people, but so often the voters conflate the two and the same movie wins too.

Makeup & Hairstyling: Jared Leto said “merkin.” That is always good for a laugh. Wow that clip of the Revenant makes me not want to see it! Mad Max won again. Sounds like it was an amazing team making this movie. Just goes to show you how the people who choose what movies to make have no idea what they’re doing since it took 30 years to get the funding to make this. But hey, at least no Mel Gibson.

No comment on that Suge Knight joke.

Cinematography: This is one of my favorite categories, but I never remember the name of cinematographers. Some day though I just might thanks to putting up my pretty pictures posts. Emmanuel Lubezki won for Revenant. I did recognize his name, but perhaps that’s because he has won three times in a row.

At this point I want to point out that I have picked up on the use of Bond themes (Live and Let Die and Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger)! I wonder if they are voting with their soundtrack for Writing’s on the Wall!

Film Editing: Mad Max again (Margaret Sixel). Beating Star Wars in the one category for which it was nominated has made me turn on it. Maybe I will wait for Megan to watch the first three.

Sound Editing: Bad joke to start and then a really disappointing montage. Also, da Academy likes guns and explosions. Oh Star Wars had two nominations! I will not boo Mad Max this time because one of the winners was nominated for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Good to see that it too had at least one nomination.

Sound Mixing: Mad Max wins again. (I didn’t even wait for the nominees to type this one). Oh Star Wars had three nominations…kinda.

Visual Effects: Andy Serkis montage?  I do love him. Yay and he is getting a big pop from the crowd. Okay, a fourth Star Trek nom! On the bright side, I have now seen over 30 minutes of clips from Mad Max, so I think I will not need to go watch it. Ex Machina won!  Well now it is on my list of movies to see now. Best tweet comes from Kumail Nanjiani,
Did they add a beard to Matt Damon in The Martian?!?!?? I know a cheaper way to do that.

No comment on the droids showing up. Same for the girl scout cookies.

Animated Short: Bear Story. Having the Minions present this late in the show indicates that they expect a large west coast audience. Also, please go away Minions. Cool that Chileans won.

Animated: Inside Out won. I guess that should be my new number one to watch because everyone loves it unironically.

The Weeknd sang “Earned It” from 50 Shades of Gray. Gray? or Grey? I think Grey. Whatever, the song was not very good and the dancers seemed sexist to me.

Bridge of Spies looks so good! It’s in a 3 way tie for movie I most need to see.

Spotlight has a dream team cast.

That Compton movie theater interview segment was pretty good. Funnier and more insightful than it was awkward.

Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies. What?! Okay, now it is my number one movie to see. The other nominees were Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hardy, Christian Bale and Sylvester Stallone! Great acceptance speech.

Documentary Short: A Girl in the River won and listening to the director say how it has convinced the president of Pakistan to change the law about honor killings made me tear up. And then Kumail Nanjiani made me laugh with his tweet, “The director of “A Girl in the River” went to high school with me in Karachi! She won an Oscar! This is not gonna help w my parents. #Oscars” And I went to college with Kumail Nanjiani, who only has approx 500k more twitter followers than I do!

Documentary Feature: Amy (Winehouse) won. I did not see it, but did read some of the hubbub about it.

Now I see why Spike Lee boycotting the Oscars mattered this year! He won an honorary award.

Louis Gosset, Jr. still wears an earring. When I heard his name I thought, oh, I hope he stopped wearing that earring. He was introducing Dave Grohl for In Memoriam:

I forgot that Wes Craven died, he had a nice cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  Miroslav Ondrícek is best known for being the cinematographer on Amadeus. Christopher Lee—I am surprised to find that I did not write an essay about his passing, he was a treasure for a nerd like me. Theordore Bikel looked very familiar, because he played Worf’s father in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Alan Rickman’s passing has gotten such a large response I never said anything, but from Die Hard to Dogma to the Harry Potter films I was always a fan. I have a giant book of movie reviews by Richard Corliss. Douglas Slocombe did the Indiana Jones Trilogy! And of course Leonard Nimoy, about whom I did write.

Live Action Short: I missed it. Cute height jokes though.

Foreign Language: Re: the presenters, Sophia Vergara looked so amazing that I did not recognize Byung-Hun Lee! Byung-Hun was amazing in I Saw the Devil and The Good, The Bad and the Weird. He was also in Red 2, but no-one came out looking particularly good in that crap. Also, Son of Saul won.

Powerful appearance by VP Joe Biden talking about sexual assault (ItsOnUs.org) and a moving performance from Lady Gaga (Til It Happens To You).  I don’t have the words. Brave is all that comes to mind.

Score: Nominees are some of the usual suspect: Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Johann Johannson, Ennio Morricone, and John Williams. John Williams deserved to win because he made ANOTHER Star Wars soundtrack. Morricone got a lifetime Oscar in 2007, but I do not begrudge him this as the second greatest score composer of all-time. He was not nominated for any of his Westerns before this one, which means that there must not have been an Oscar for Best Score before 1969. (It did exist and even with 10!! nominees in 1968, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly did not get a nomination. Shame on you Academy! Shame.)

Song: Writing’s On The Wall! Yay! I used to hate Sam Smith!

Da Ali G! Booyakasha! I can’t spell that word but he was my favorite character of Sacha Baron Cohen’s from Da Ali G Show.

Director: Revenant won. Ugg, I have to go to copy and paste Alejandro González Iñarritu’s name again this year. Also, I am glad he got cut off by the music since this is his fourth speech. Although fighting through it to talk about racism makes me glad that he stuck to his guns and talked through it.

Actress: Brie Larson won for Room. What a nice outcome. I need to see Room but it is not as much to watch so I think I will wait a bit longer. Just three years ago she made my list of Under Appreciated Supporting Actors. And look at her now! I hope she gets on the Jennifer Lawrence career path now. This makes me want to make an updated list!

Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio for Revenant. Good speech. I’m sure it felt better saying it to millions of people this time instead of his bathroom mirror. Looks like a two horse race for best picture. But one has horses and the other has cars. Best tweet comes from Dan Van Kirk (@danielvankirk), “Leo’s win is a victory for the whole cast of Growing Pains. #Oscars”

Picture: Spotlight won. Wow! Did not see that one coming. I guess the moral is that you need an older Michael Keaton to win best picture henceforth.

All told, it was another excellent year for the Academy Awards.

 

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30 for 30: Four Falls of Buffalo

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****

We want Scott! We want Scott!

Ken Rogers of NFL Films directed this piece of apparently revisionist history. Instead of casting the Buffalo Bills as frustrating losers—which was contemporaneously considered accurate—it shows them for the football winners they were.  The context for the film are the 1990 to 1993 NFL seasons where the Buffalo Bills did the unthinkable and made it to four consecutive Super Bowls. By losing those four Super Bowls they should have broken Buffalo’s heart and its spirit, but they did not.

Just seeing the stars of Bills living well is nice. Jim Kelly has had an incredibly challenging post football career that featured a disabled child who died before the age of 9 and then at least one bout of Cancer. Much of the narrative comes from the players being interviewed, including Thurman Thomas (running back, 1991 MVP) and Bruce Smith (defensive end, defensive player of the year 1990 & 1996) watching the games together.

I called this revisionist history because history is written by the winners and with some distance the truth has snuck out—the Buffalo Bills were the most dominant football team of the early 1990s. Did the underperform in the Super Bowl? Yes. That led to people ignoring that facts that were contrary to the narrative of Bills as losers. The one that jumps out was how the AFC was considered so much weaker than the NFC, with the Bills as the poster child. But they were a poster child who lost only 2 of 16 games in those 4 years against their NFC opponents.

In 1990 the Bills lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl on a 50/50 shot field goal. However, the Bills went into Giants Stadium and beat them 17-13. That was on the road and it was week 14.

In 1991 the Bills lost the Redskins in the Super Bowl—Andre Reed called them the greatest team he’d ever seen.

In 1992 and 1993 the Bills lost to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, but beat the Cowboys in Dallas during that 1993 season…and led at halftime.

The logic that calls the Bills losers means that every other team were even bigger losers. Even the Super Bowl winners. They all lost to the Bills. And if they did not play the Bills (to lose to them) it was because they did not even make it far enough into the playoffs to lose to them. The people who know this are the people of Buffalo. People who cheered for Scott Norwood after he missed that field goal. People who rallied behind their team, and continued to do so when things went South. They may have deserved a win, but it is just a game.

Oh, and watching Don Beebe run down Leon Lett brought tears to my eyes again. I think it brought tears to lots of eyes.

 

Yeah, but…The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition)

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I gave the theatrical version an above average grade of ***½. Now I tackle the extended edition. As for the original trilogy¹, Fellowship went from an amazing movie a full 5 stars; Two Towers went from crappy and arbitrary to quite good; and Return of the King held steady with some improvements and some worse dialog. Without further ado…

Hobbiton gets a little more time and that is a true delight. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) spends so much time defying the stereotypes of Hobbits that it is pleasant to see him indulging in his natural ways, at least for a little bit longer. The pre-cap of events leading to Smaug’s conquest of the Dwarf mountain kingdom of Erebor adds little bits that add depth to the characters. A mere 15 second extension showing King Thranduil being taunted with diamonds by King Thror helps explain how they went from allies to ones who might not aid each other in dragon attack. I am really trying not to go full-blown dork here, but that might be a futile endeavor.

From a visual standpoint the image quality on my tv is vastly inferior to the big screen experiences, regardless of the frame rate and number of dimensions. The audio may not surround me, but I do appreciate having control over its volume. Aurally the biggest disappointment for me was the limited number of songs—which comes crashing down on me whenever I hear “Misty Mountains Cold”. It might sound melodramatic, but part of me hurts inside when I do not get more of them. So when Bofur hopped up on a table in Rivendell I loved it. The song, The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late, was written by Bilbo Baggins, and premiered in “The Lord of the Rings”, but conceivably he could have taught it to Thorin’s Company before arriving in Rivendell. The full version of “Down in Goblin Town” is in this version too!

Something that has bothered me forever is how Stone Giants seem unreasonably overpowered in Middle Earth. They are definitely the “eh, kids will like this stuff and it’s not like there will be many more books so who cares about potential continuity issues” factor in The Hobbit. I have thought about this phenomenon in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but that is a post for another time and perhaps on another blog.

Freeman, Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher and Graham McTavish as Bilbo, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur and Dwalin, in Rivendell in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012.

Freeman, Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher and Graham McTavish as Bilbo, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur and Dwalin, in Rivendell in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012.

Bofur is my favorite dwarf. James Nesbitt plays him with wit and feeling. If it were not for John Rhys-Davies and his defining performance as Gimli, he might be my favorite dwarf ever.² The whole Company of Thorin is great, and quite the mishmash of actors, but I am most grateful for Nesbitt’s Bofur. His character also comes with the mining ax in Lego: The Hobbit, so that helped me figure out which one was Bofur.

In conclusion, compared to the theatrical release the added material helps tie the story together better while providing more wonderful songs. I am upgrading the film to ****. As with Fellowship and Two Towers I will only watch the extended edition of this film henceforth.

 

¹ I own three copies of the Star Wars trilogy, so I can refer to LOTR as the trilogy without blaspheming, nerds, or my name is not Dash Thrawn.
² Except for my late pet rabbit Vivace, who was a Netherlander Dwarf.

The Beauty of Film: Exit Through the Gift Shop

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Exit Through the Gift Shop — Banksy (director). No director of photography or cinematographer is credited with the film, but if you have seen it, that makes some sense as much of the footage is shot by the subjects themselves, filming each other. As Banksy, or someone claiming to be Banksy, or acting as Banksy, is in frame someone else deserves some credit for this image. If you want to be more confused, watch the film and believe it. Then read the controversy surrounding it that made its Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature come into question.

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Stalking in Film: Romcom or Horror

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A friend of mine¹ posted an article from the Guardian titled Study finds romcoms teach female filmgoers to tolerate ‘stalking myths’. The article is interesting from a practical standpoint but fails to address its powerful implications on the world of cinema. What resonated with me was when Ben Child referenced a major theme in film, to wit the “love conquers all myth”.  I think this can be put another way philosophically—the ends justify the means. We are so trained as an American audience to expect that final connection/resolution that there are only two possible outcomes: A. Happily Ever After, or the indie At-Least-They-Can-Suffer-Together Ever After; or B. Almost Getting Murdered By the Stalker/Suitor. These two are by no means exclusive of each other, particularly in the thriller genre, where the leading lady and the leading man may celebrate their survival with a smooch.

As tired and predictable as those outcomes are, they are also satisfying because they conform to our expectations. Many people complained about how Star Wars: The Force Awakens stuck too close to the original Star Wars, but consider how many more people complained that the prequels were not close enough to what they expected from a Star Wars movie. Film noir is one of my favorite genres, but thanks partially to the Hays Code it meant that the villain’s ending would certainly be an unprofitable one. As a literary genre crime noir has a world with right and mostly wrong, where one man abides by his code and gets the world back on track—except Chinatown, but forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown. Chinatown is the exception, since it is a masterpiece, but it is a deeply unsettling masterpiece, in part because the ending does not conform to rules of its genre. So when the audience leaves The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon they feel like their value system has been reaffirmed. For instance, imagine how upset an audience would be if all the toys die in a Toy Story movie.

Briefly, in a romantic comedy the structure is Act 1, Man meets Woman, but there is an obstacle. Act 2, Man and Woman start to fall in love. Act 3, new obstacle that challenges the budding relationship. Act 4, Man and Woman become a couple. For horror the structure is prelude, tangential character dies, then Act 1, meet group of characters, Act 2, characters are threatened by villain, Act 3, villain kills several characters, Act 4, the survivors survive and the villain dies (or does s/he…). A (romantic) thriller is basically a mishmash of romcom-horror. Any deviation from these formulae is naturally unsettling to the viewer, which often elicits a negative response, leading to fewer ticket sales and focus groups objecting to the differences. Thus the studios are financially incentivized to stick with their tropes.

I acknowledge that the good feeling that familiarity and satisfaction presents is pleasant, but there are certain detriments to these tropes. Much has been made of the moralizing in horror films where sexually open women get killed while the virgin survives.² In the horror/thriller dynamic one outcome of stalking is death, or at least having one’s life threatened. While that is pleasantly anti-stalking, think about what the villains look like. When the movie has a handsome stalker, like last year’s The Perfect Guy with Michael Ealy—the detective in Underworld: Awakeningthen it at least warns viewers (mostly women) to avoid stalkers. But that is in thrillers. In horror the stalker tends to be ugly.  The message from horror is often a puritanical one that both sexualizes women to the audience and condemns them for being sexual creatures, which reinforces the sexism and double standards in our society.

As for romcoms, there are various paths to the anticipated union at the end, and most of them provide similarly damaging messages. Option A is that the man wears down the woman so that she acquiesces to the man, shifting the power dynamic from her having the power of saying no, to him having conquered. Option B is that the man overcomes obstacles to win the woman, which generally devalues her relationship with everyone else. Option C is that the woman learns her lesson, which usually presents the working woman whose life is unsatisfying because she does not have a man, which in turn tells women that their value in society and their happiness derives from their relationship to men (and children). Option D is that the guy (repeatedly) saves the woman, who functionally has no agency. And those do not even address the ends justifying the means of true love validating the inevitable unions. The article provided some excellent examples, like hiring a private investigator, dumping your feelings out in an inappropriate situation, and “hounding…an ex-partner”. Other means are purchasing her through gifts and a lack of respect for her work, toying with someone’s emotions because of a bet, peeping into windows, interrupting weddings³, discounting the emotions of current unsuitable partners, cheating, and lying. The end message is that if characters A & B become AB, then whatever happened before AB was at least acceptable, if not necessary.

Take The Avengers‘ Black Widow and Hawkeye. In the movie they acknowledge that they have killed lots of people. Now they work for the protagonists and as an audience we root for protagonists. They probably committed lots of murders! Like James Bond level murders, but do we seek justice for them through prison? No, and that is kind of messed up.

Throughout this essay I have used both pronouns or the one associated with the gender that predominantly plays a certain role. That is where much of the sexism and stalker acceptance comes from—women are the ones who are the victims in thrillers/horror movies and the targets of affectionate stalking in romcoms. There are exceptions to every rule, but I am confident that my archetypes are accurate.4

This leaves us with a final question, is there another way? Of course there is, but I hold out little hope that they will overtake the massive genre film industry in Hollywood. Some examples come to mind, Dumb and Dumber is more comedy than romance, but it manages to have neither protagonist wind up with a woman. Notting Hill does not have any real negatives like I have discussed above, thus a predictable romcom can be done without feeding the kindly stalker narrative. Maybe the key is to have a non-threatening leading man. Really the only one that branched off was Dumb and Dumber because there was no joyous union, no happy ending. So it can be done in a fun, profitable way. Cinema should show a broad swath of values, not just the 19th century puritanical ones. So long as Hollywood insists on offering very limited roles for actresses I do not see the glamorization of stalking in romantic comedies to end.

 

¹ Margaret Weirich
² Read any review of It Follows, which does not punish the characters for having sex.
³ Marrying the “wrong person” as a theme is both condescending to the bride(groom) and disrespectful to her/his choices.
4 As a counterpoint, horror films also tend to be the most progressive in terms of female autonomy and survival. But generally those films have one strong female character, not many.

Training Day

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Every review of this movie focuses on Denzel Washington’s heel turn into an Academy Award for best actor. Well this review will not comment on that.

****½

It is a good sign when the movie begins with Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt saying, “Uh, yes sir. And that’s exactly why I signed up, and I just wanted to thank you for the op…” Then Detective Alonzo Harris–Denzel Washington–hangs up on him. What Hawke does not say, what director Antoine Fuqua does not have him say is, “portunity”. In a cheesy movie when someone gets hung up, he or she will finish the word/sentence for laughs. Then there is the requisite pause for the anticipated laughter. That sets the tone for a movie whose characters and issues do not take the easy way out.

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Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) looking ill at ease in a bad house in a bad neighborhood in bad L.A., in the not bad movie Training Day (1999).

The locations in this movie were excellent. Fuqua makes Los Angeles a character in and of itself. While Hoyt tries to survive this day of training, it seems like LA would rather have him dead. Maybe it is because Hoyt is white, suburban, and naîve that I found him easy to identify with. Or maybe Fuqua just did a great job, or the screenwriter, David Ayer–The Fast and The Furious–wrote a universally relatable character¹. I will say this for Ayer, his writing credits suggest he had a fully formed world of cops and robbers set in late 1990s LA in his head for years and years. Ignoring that his first film credit is U-571, he starts Fast; then gets to Training Day, which went darker and more realistic; he makes S.W.A.T. and it must have chafed at him to take 1970s schlock and having to put it into his LA; then come(s) Harsh Times, probably the darkest of the lot. Finally Ayer is seemingly done. Seven years pass and he returns with End of the Watch which again has cops and drug dealers, morality and survival and you know where it takes place; he follows this up by finally leaving LA to do a Schwarzenegger version of End of Watch called Sabotage. He is like the J.R.R. Tolkien, but instead of Middle Earth he has South Central L.A. Perhaps Woody Allen’s New York word be more appropriate, but the LA death count probably falls in the middle.

Moving into the realm of secondary characters, Scott Glenn—Capt. Bart Mancuso of the U.S.S. Dallas in The Hunt for Red October—plays Roger, the guy who has been there and done that. I am a mark² for Glenn, although I did not sing his praises in the 250 best underrated actors article I occasionally link to. Tom Berenger though? His best work can be found either as the star of Major League or in the epic Gettysburg. Giving bit parts to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dré was kind of jarring, especially since I had forgotten about their presence in the movie. Young Eva Mendes—The Other Guys—was really good too. Young Terry Crews had no lines but he looks so similar 14 years later.

Cle Sloan (as Bone) and Terry Crews, plus Hawkes, in Training Day. I wanted to use a photo of Eva Mendes, but I do not think that I have posted particularly revealing photos before on here.

Cle Sloan (as Bone) and Terry Crews, plus Hawkes, in Training Day. I wanted to use a photo of Eva Mendes, but every one online looked too hot for this post.

This cautionary tale is actually a cautionary tale disguised as a cautionary tale. If that sounds confusing, think of it as a movie that says karma is a bitch, but also an elephant, since elephants seemingly never forget. To paraphrase Yoda, to learn, sometimes, you have to forget what you already know. Simultaneously, you have to hold onto the truth inside yourself, even as you are told that your truth is a fiction, or that it will become fiction soon enough. Because if you do not choose wisely, you will wind up beaten or dead…at least in David Ayers’s LA.

 

¹ I cannot remove my bias. Even when I strive for objectivity my concept of objectivity is impacted by my personal bias.

² A mark is a term for a fan, particularly in pro wrestling. It also can mean a sucker, in both wrestling, confidence schemes and gambling. Used in a sentence, “Or thought I was a mark [be]cause I used to hang with Eazy [E].” – Dr. Dré, Fuck Wit Dré Day from the album “The Chronic”.

 

The Beauty of Film: Lincoln

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Lincoln — Janusz Kaminski (cinematographer) & Steven Spielberg (director). I love the lighting and the color in this shot. I should list Amy Andrews as the key costumer too for this one. Notice how the audience for President Lincoln is entirely Black, while his own whiteness gets obscured by the angle, costume and lighting. This Spielberg guy might have a career in the movies some day.

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