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Judge Sides With Swift Over ‘Unoriginal’ Lyrics

The Free Press WV

Taylor Swift counted another courtroom win Tuesday, though the reason revolved around lyrics deemed by a judge to be “unoriginal” and “uncreative.“ Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued Swift for copyright infringement last year, arguing that Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” borrowed heavily from their 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play,“ performed by girl group 3LW, per the Washington Post. That song goes, “Playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate,“ while “Shake It Off” goes, “Players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,“ reports Variety. In a rather amusing verdict, federal court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald dismissed the case, declaring that the lyrics were too commonplace to warrant protection. Swift’s legal team made a similar argument, pointing to songs before 2001 with the same theme.

Explaining that “American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters” by the time “Playas Gon’ Play” was written, Fitzgerald said “the concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.“ He concluded “the lyrics at issue ... are too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act.“ The case remains open for amendment in case some other similarities between the songs are uncovered. But a lawyer says Hall and Butler will instead appeal the ruling on the basis that Fitzgerald made the “embarrassing” mistake of interpreting the originality of the lyrics himself, rather than seeking the opinion of a music expert, per the BBC.

Movie Review: ‘Early Man’

The kooky caveman characters that come to life in “Early Man ” have been kicking around in Nick Park’s imagination for decades.

Long before he created Wallace and Gromit, Park was taken with Ray Harryhousen’s animated dinosaurs in the 1966 Raquel Welch movie “One Million Years B.C.”

“I just couldn’t believe real dinosaurs moving around with people,” Park said, recalling the film he saw as an 11-year-old that would inspire his love of animation. “So I guess that sort of thing has been in the back of my mind for many years.”

“Early Man” translates Park’s vision into an epic claymation adventure about a tribe of colorful cave people who stake the future of their homeland on a soccer showdown, despite not knowing how to play. An ambitious young caveman, Dug, and his loyal pet warthog, Hognob, believe the plucky tribe can prevail.

“I’ve never seen a prehistoric underdog sports movie before,” Park mused.


U.K.-based Aardman Studios tapped its largest production team yet — with nearly 40 animators and sets working at once — to make “Early Man,” which uses stop-motion animation techniques essentially unchanged since Harryhousen’s day.

It’s a slow and painstaking process to bring clay characters to life.

“We’ve used some of the most advanced filmmaking techniques in post-production, together with stop-motion, which is as old as cinema itself,” said animation director Merlin Crossingham.

Stop-motion animation (or “stop-frame,” as Park calls it) creates the illusion of movement through a series of still images. For “Early Man,” Aardman’s team of artists built a cast of puppets based on Park’s sketches that serve as the film’s actors. Each seven-inch-tall silicone puppet has a jointed metal skeleton inside so it can move.

“They’re like expensive action figures,” Crossingham said.

The faces are made of modeling clay — except for the noses and eyes, which are hard plastic and serve as “grab points” for animators while changing the puppet’s expression. Moldable brows and more than two dozen removable and interchangeable mouths allow for a variety of looks.

Animators pose the puppets for each frame — every movement, every gesture — with 24 frames in each second of film. Mouth movements are synched to pre-recorded vocal performances. (Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams lend their talents here.) For every shot, the puppets are bolted into place on exquisitely detailed sets that stand about two feet high.

Capturing just a few frames could be a full day’s work.

“Getting about five seconds of finished film is a really good week,” said animation director Will Becher.

Because the process is so time-consuming, artists make duplicates of every set and puppet so multiple animators can work on various shots simultaneously.

“The art department has to be really on their game keeping the continuity,” Crossingham said. “Because of that, we use technical drawings for everything — the puppets, the locations. Everything is documented so that we can reproduce it, and that gives us flexibility in working.”

To show the disparate team of animators just what they’re looking for, Park, Crossingham and Becher act out each scene on video, highlighting comic timing and behavioral specifics. Park confessed that sometimes he can see reflections of himself in the characters’ movements.

As director, he was involved with every aspect of “Early Man,” from character and story development to finding just the right color for the soccer field’s grass. Park also personally worked with the vocal performers, something he wasn’t always comfortable doing.

“I used to find it quite nerve-wracking working with actors, especially if they were quite famous actors,” he said. “I find it much easier to manipulate a puppet or a clay character, because they do as they’re told. And if they don’t, you can squish their head in or whatever you want. With actors, you have to be a little bit more tactful.”

Park voiced Hognob himself.

While the techniques of stop-motion animation haven’t changed much since their inception, the technology around them has. The puppets are now made of a state-of-the art plasticine material, and most sketches and renderings are done in the computer.

As for the film itself, Park said he tried to use as little digital intervention as possible: “It’s always lovely to keep the sense of it’s all been done in front of camera and not an effect.” Background characters in stadium scenes were computer-generated, he said, while other scenes called for the puppets to be filmed against green screens.

Park may have been dreaming about “Early Man”-type characters since he was 11, but his first sketches for the film date back to 2010. Still, that’s nearly eight years spent bringing these bobbling clay cave people to the screen. Park said imagining the audience’s eventual reaction is what sustains him through the sometimes tedious work of stop-motion animation.

“For me, it’s never really been a choice between stop-frame and any other medium,” the four-time Oscar winner said. “I love the way it’s so expressive — even going back to Gromit, he was born out of clay.

“It’s the fact that the animator has to do the brow or whatever it is, just to tease out the character frame by frame. There’s a certain quality to do with nuance and acute human observation,” Park said. “It’s often the very small things that really win the audience over, because they see somehow themselves or their friends in that character. I love the way you have a real puppet and you can light it with dramatic lighting, just like any movie. It just feels very real and very special.”

Berlin Film Fest kicks off in the shadow of #MeToo

The Free Press WV

The curtain went up Thursday at the annual Berlin International Film Festival with the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s new animated film, “Isle of Dogs.”

The first of the major European film festivals this year is overshadowed by the sexual abuse scandal that has hit the film industry in the United States and spread to other countries across the globe. It unfolded after actresses came out with allegations of rape and sexual harassment against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“The international resonance that #MeToo has been met with has quickly made it obvious that the problem is not confined to Hollywood,” the festival organizers said in a statement. “Across the world, the individuals affected by such abuse have found the courage to go public with their stories.”

The organizers said they had created a special counseling center at the festival where both audience and participants of the festival could go if they experience or witness discrimination, harassment or abuse.

Germany has its own scandal: Dieter Wedel, a prolific director of German television dramas, resigned last month as head of a theater festival following allegations of sexual misconduct. Several women claimed that he pressured them for sex. Wedel has denied the claims.

Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Gruetters announced Thursday on the sidelines of the festival that her ministry will give 100,000 euros (124,000 dollars) for a permanent counseling center for victims of abuse in the media and film scene in Germany that will start its work in March, the German news agency dpa reported.

On the cinematic level, German director Tom Tykwer will head the jury at the event’s 68th edition, which will run through Feb. 25.

Some 19 films are taking part in the competition for the coveted Golden Bear award which will be announced on Feb. 24.

The festival’s opening movie, “Isle of Dogs,” is set for release in U.S. movie theaters in March and internationally in April. It will be the first animated film to open the Berlin festival, and the fourth movie Anderson has presented in the event’s competition. Most recently he brought “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to Berlin in 2014.

Anderson’s movie features the voices of Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, among others.

Movie Review: ‘Nostalgia’

One of the first images in the film “Nostalgia” is of an heirloom necklace dangling on the neck of a diner waitress. One of the last images is of a massive puffy cloud, ever shifting in the wide sky.

Between these symbols of permanence and flux is a deeply meditative movie about time, loss and the stuff we fiercely hold onto along the way. “Nostalgia” is thoughtful and lyrical, an unrushed poem with a first-rate cast.

Directed by Mark Pellington with a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry, the film is a mosaic of interconnected stories, linking a grizzled grandfather (Bruce Dern), an insurance assessor (John Ortiz,) a widow (Ellen Burstyn), a memorabilia dealer (Jon Hamm) and his family (including Catherine Keener as his sister).

Ortiz’s patient, empathetic assessor is the glue that connects the first two characters we meet, the first of which is the grandfather, whose home is filled with personal mementos that are priceless to him but junk to anyone else.

His pregnant granddaughter — the second pregnant woman we see, stressing history and lineage — wants to know everything’s value. But what is the price of memories, of old love letters, of a life lived? When the assessor wants to take a picture of the grandfather, he shoots back, “I’m not a relic.”


The assessor next visits the widow, whose house has burned down and whom he meets in the sooty remains of the place she’s called home for decades. She had a split second during the fire to save as much as she could and, after grabbing jewelry, snatched her husband’s prized baseball.

That ball leads Burstyn to Hamm as she debates what to do with an object that meant so much to her husband but so little to her. It’s just a thing, so why does it have such a gravitational pull? If she sells it, her future is secure but her family’s connection to it is severed. “You won’t remember me,” she tells the collector.

Hamm’s character, as you might guess, is not wistful when it comes to things. He buys and sells artifacts for a living, after all, and is unsentimental, even when he goes to help his sister clean out his childhood home. When she complains there are so many memories attached to the home, he curtly responds: “Make new ones.”

It’s at this point — roughly halfway through “Nostalgia ” — when things take a tragic turn and the memorabilia dealer must soon confront his own callous views of mementos. This painful detour into profound grief threatens to warp the film, unbalance it — but stick with it. Hamm’s character is redeemed in a dumpster.

In terms of acting, the fact that Burstyn once more offers a complex, haunted heroine is no surprise. But everyone here is excellent. Ortiz delivers a slightly magical paper-pusher, Keener is a woman broken by sadness as we watch helplessly, and Hamm is as stoic outside as he is broken inside. Some tiny roles are made to sparkle in the hands of Nick Offerman, Patton Oswalt, James Le Gros, Annalise Basso and Mikey Madison.

Much of “Nostalgia” is shot as in a quiet dream, often lingering in the dark shadows. The camera never captures key dramatic events — that house fire, for example — but rather the immediate aftereffects. It never flashes back, as you might expect in a film about memories, but instead lingers on the faces of actors as they process emotions or focuses on simple items that hold intense meaning, like keychains.

It sometimes takes on the quality of a play, especially in several thought-provoking monologues. But there are also cinematic touches, like a gauzy trip to Las Vegas. “Nostalgia” is not a perfect film but it is moving and sensitive. You leave with your head in the clouds and a new view of your precious stuff.

“Nostalgia,” a Bleecker Street release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some language.” Running time: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.

___

MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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