Oscar Weekend

Oscar Statues on display at the Time War

The Oscars are this Sunday, February 26 at 7:30 CST. I’ve had the chance to see more of the films since the nominees were announced and, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the categories where I have thoughts worth sharing:

Note: Starred items * mark the ones I have watched.

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated *
OJ: Made in America *
13th *

Fire at Sea, about desperate migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, looks interesting and Life, Animated about a fun-loving Autistic young man, was very nice, but I think this award is going to go to one of the three docs dealing with race in America. I wish I had seen I Am Not Your Negro, which looks at American History through the words of writer James Baldwin. In some ways it seems similar to 13th, which looks at the continued oppression of African Americans since the end of slavery. I think 13th is well done and something everyone should see but, judging just from my impression of the trailer, I feel like I Am Not Your Negro looks more personal and heartfelt.

OJ: Made in America is a very interesting look at the life of OJ Simpson and the wider context of the times in which he rose and fell in the public’s eye. Personally, however, I don’t feel like a five part, “film,” that is more than seven and a half hours in total running time, constitutes a, “feature.” I think it’s a TV series that was played in a few theaters to meet the technical qualifications for the Oscars but it should not be in the running here. That said, I would also encourage people to watch it.

BEST PICTURE

Arrival *
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures *
Fences
Hell or High Water
La La Land *
Lion *
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight *

I’m betting on Hidden Figures and I think it deserves to win. It’s a feel good movie that highlights an overlooked part of our history and makes you think about racism and sexism. Personally, however, I also think that it looks a lot like other feel good movies I have seen. Not that this is a bad thing, I’m just saying that part of me would like to see a more outside the box winner and the one that felt the most original to me was Moonlight. This story, of a young gay black man with a drug-addicted mother, and the way in which it is told seem very fresh to me; though not very happy.

My fear (or “worry” might be a better word?) is that La La Land will have a wide appear to the Hollywood crowd and revive the hashtag #oscarsowhite. It’s a movie about the movie business and a throwback to classic musicals, which is bound to check a lot of boxes for many members of the Academy, but there are certainly far better films about the film business and far better musicals out there that never got fourteen nominations.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land *
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

From what I have read and heard, I’m guessing this one will go to Denzel, with Casey Affleck as a possible alternative. I certainly don’t see why Ryan Gosling is on this list. Not that he did a bad job in La La Land – he was good – I just don’t see it as award worthy or particularly special in any way. I’d say take Gosling off and add in Joel Edgerton for Loving.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving *
Natalie Portman, Jackie *
Emma Stone, La La Land *
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

I have the same feeling about Emma Stone’s La La Land performance as Gosling’s; it’s fine but it’s not all that. Loving was an good, interesting and touching story about the end of miscegenation laws in America but Ruth Negga’s part almost felt like a supporting role to me. By far, I think Natalie Portman deserves to be recognized for her very believable impression of Jackie-O. Overall the film is a reasonable portrait of that tragic weekend in which President Kennedy was murdered and buried, and the way in which his widow helped to solidify his legacy, but Portman’s efforts to imitate Jackie’s distinctive manner without crossing the line into comedy was the best thing about it.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival *
La La Land *
Lion *
Moonlight *
Silence *

I don’t have any strong feelings about the editing or cinematography for any of this year’s films but I would like to see Silence win something and this is the only category it is nominated in. This passion project from Martin Scorsese follows two 17th century Jesuit priests on a mission to Japan to spread the Gospel and find their old mentor, a priest who has apparently renounced his faith after Japanese authorities cracked down on Christianity and tried to stump it out completely from their empire. The film is a very interesting study in faith that raises questions about why people believe and how far they should go to spread, propagate, or defend their vision of what is true.

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings *
Moana *
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle *
Zootopia *

Zootopia and Moana were good but standard fare, while The Red Turtle, with its lack of dialogue was nice but too Arthouse. My Life as a Zucchini looks good in terms of the visuals and the story – I hope to see it sometime – but Kubo and the Two Strings was so different from anything I have seen before and I really enjoyed it. It’s a must see and I hope it wins.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book *
Kubo and the Two Strings *
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story *

Just to reinforce that fact that Kubo and the Two Strings is unlike anything I have seen before, I’d like to see it take home this award as well. It’s one of those rare animated features that I wish would be considered for Best Picture, overall, and not just as a work of animation.

 

 

 

TorrentFreak reports on my YouTube battle

TorrentFreak, “a publication dedicated to bringing the latest news about copyright, privacy, and everything related to filesharing,” (and one of my favorite sites, it should be noted) has written an article about my current struggle with the German National Library and BR Enter Music on YouTube.

torrentfreak-news

I hope this will help draw more attention to the matter and get my documentary, You don’t know Hitler (2006), reinstated to my YouTube channel. I also hope that this will help lead to a more fair and rational system for resolving disputes on YouTube, and more respect for fair use, even if that is wishful thinking.

Please like and share their article on Facebook and Twitter. I also recommend following TF on both Facebook and Twitter, if you have any interest in the changing and challenging legal landscape of the Digital Age. BTW, it happens to be TorrentFreaks’s 10th Anniversary today, so why not congratulate them and wish them well when you visit?

If you know any other news outlets who might be interested in this story, please let them know about it!

Thank you,
JKL

Stand up for Fair Use!

As I discussed the other day, the German National Library [Deutsche Nationalbibliothek or DNB], acting through BR Enter Music, is trying to remove my documentary, You don’t know Hitler (2006) from YouTube. They claim to own the recording rights to a song in the film. I completely disagree with this assertion and do not believe that any piece of Nazi propaganda is entitled to copyright protection by anyone. Even if you accept their argument, however, my work is clearly a textbook example of fair use and I want your help to defend my rights.

Some people have already emailed the DNB, BR Enter, and YouTube about this matter but others have asked me give them a template for what to say. Here are some suggestions:

To: info-l@dnb.de and info-f@dnb.de

Subject: You don’t know Hitler (2006)

Dear DNB,

I have learned that you are attempting to remove the documentary You don’t know Hitler from YouTube over a copyright issue. Please reconsider this action. Filmmakers have the right to use historical material to educate and inform the public. They have the right to play clips from any source when directly discussing that source and its significance to our shared history. As an educational institution you should be upholding these rights and not violating them.

I hope you will contact your agent, BR Enter Music, and tell them to end this matter today.

Thank you,

————

To: BRentermusic@gmail.com

Subject: You don’t know Hitler (2006)

Dear BR Enter Music,

I have learned that you are attempting to remove the documentary You don’t know Hitler from YouTube over a copyright issue. Please reconsider this action. Filmmakers have the right to use historical material to educate and inform the public. They have the right to play clips from any source when directly discussing that source and its significance to our shared history.

Thank you,

————

To: copyright@youtube.com

Subject: You don’t know Hitler (2006)

Dear YouTube,

I have learned that the documentary You don’t know Hitler is going to be removed from YouTube over a copyright issue. Please stand up for the rights of filmmakers. Please stand up for fair use. Please revise your processes to evaluate claims and counterclaims so that the rights of creators are respected. Please do not let this film be taken down.

Thank you,

————

Those are some ideas of what to say. Feel free to put in your own ideas and feelings. The important thing is that we speak out against actions like this. We can’t have faceless bureaucrats and byzantine processes cutting us off from our rights.

I appreciate any time and effort you can give to this matter,
JKL

RIP Prince

Prince RIP

I became a Prince fan in the early 80s with the 1999 album. I use to love bouncing around incessantly like a crazy person – dancing of a sort – to “Delirious” in my preteen years. I wanted to see Purple Rain (1984) when it came out in theaters but had to wait for the magic of VHS and kind friends whose parents weren’t as strict or watchful. I got to see Prince live only once, in my teens, but I can still honestly say it was an impressive show. The man could play every instrument with easy and the best part was just him at the piano.

Like most people I know, I became less and less interested in his new stuff, as time went on, and I spent many years making jokes about, “sign man,” but I never lost any admiration for his talent. As I have grown older and worked with musicians and behind the scene personnel who knew Prince well, I have heard some unflattering stories of his ego and odd behavior, but even the most critical voices always have something good to say about him as an artist. When I edited the concert documentary, First Avenue: Hayday (2006), consisting of lost footage from 1985-1992, we badly wanted to include Prince but his performances were not to be found in the night club’s basement; they had been taken by him years earlier. When our director, Rick Fuller, attempted to talk to Prince’s people about letting us have a song for the film it seemed like it just might happen, but then Prince filed for divorce and didn’t want to deal with anything. Not having him in that artifact of Minneapolis History is one of my great disappointments.

There have been a lot of tributes paid to Prince and his influence today, as there should be, but I’d like to highlight a lesser known, largely forgotten (it seems) tale, that didn’t make the local or national TV news I was watching tonight. Did you know that it was Prince who inadvertently inspired the creation of warning labels on albums? His song, “Darling Nikki,” off the Purple Rain album, was the trigger that set off Tipper Gore to get her husband, Senator Al Gore, and his buddies, to hold hearings about the music industry (why she was buying her eleven year old daughter the soundtrack to a rated R movie was something I don’t think anyone asked at the time). The Gores and their friends were unsuccessful in their efforts to completely trample on the First Amendment but the cowardly record labels did agree to put parental advisory stickers on questionable content, which in turn stopped large retailers from caring those products and prevented many people, especially in rural areas, from getting easy access to the music they wanted. Sad but true, and worth noting.

To end this on a lighter note, did you see the photo @acgoodyear took of a rainbow over Paisley Park this evening? RIP Prince.

Paisley Park rainbow

 

That video game that’s not, “a game”

Sometimes artwork is plagued by its genre classification. Most adults continue to refuse reading, “comic books,” even when they are relabeled as, “graphic novels.” “Cartoons,” and, “Animated” features suffer the same stigma. They’re, “for kids.” Comedies have a similar cloud hanging over them – the Golden Globes lump them in with Musicals, as if neither can deal with serious subjects, the ways Dramas do – and the only way a comedic actor can typically have a shot at winning any of the prestigious awards is by doing a, “serious,” film.

I must confess to my own bias here. Having grown up with the first consumer, “video games,” (e.g. Pong and then Atari’s home console) I tend to have a limited view of what this medium is. Despite the fantastic artwork and complex stories that are going into more and more games these days, I typically think of these productions as, “just games.” The other day I listened to an episode of Radiolab that challenged me to wake up to a new reality. A Christian couple, whose youngest child was suffering greatly from cancer for four years, decided to make a video game that would share their experience, and their faith, with others. It seemed weird and somehow inappropriate when I first heard the idea, as if video games cannot do what novels, movies, plays, painting, sculptures, and epic poems have been doing since civilization began. All art is an artificial interpretation of the world, which can be merely for entertainment or passing the time, but it can also be used to help us understand the human condition, the human spirit, and the world beyond ourselves. Why should video games not be seen as art, on par with the other genres, and capable to dealing with more than shooting things or jumping over them?

If you remain doubtful that, “a game,” can reach into the depths of humanity, as other art does, then you should take a look at That Dragon, Cancer (2016).

Beside the game itself, there is also a documentary coming out that tells the behind the scenes story of what this family went through and how this game came about. Thank You for Playing (2015) is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to get the film in theaters and private screenings across the country. I put down my $25 for a downloadable copy, which should comes out in April, and I hope you will consider doing the same, or more, if you can afford it.

I was feeling rather cynical about technology and the future of humanity, after posting about Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short, World of Tomorrow (2015), but this game and the accompanying documentary have tempered those sentiments. Yes, we can create a lonely and dehumanizing world if we spend too much of our time interacting with screens and virtual things, but the same could be said of books or other physical objects, that nevertheless have the power to speak to us and enrich our lives. I hope That Dragon, Cancer marks the widening point in our perceptions of what, “games,” are and not just a blip on a largely static trajectory.