Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reviews of 2012 Best Picture nominees

I haven't seen all nine of them, but here are reviews of the movies up for Best Picture this year that I have seen.

Life of Pi (viewed in theaters December 10, 2012)
Director - Ang Lee

This review does contain spoilers.

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Director - Ang Lee
Best Adapted Screenplay - David Magee
Best Cinematography 
Best Editing
Best Score - Mychael Danna
Best Song - "Pi's Lullaby"
Best Visual Effects 
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Production Design

This is one of my favorite books (I read it in 2006) and Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors - I really love Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and now you can add Life of Pi! I really loved this movie - it's my second favorite movie of the year at the moment. It's about an Indian family who own a zoo and move to Canada for a better life. They take a ship to, ahem, ship all the animals. There's a horrible storm and Pi, the sixteen year old protagonist finds himself alone on a life raft after he's lost his entire family and everyone else who was on the ship. He's not exactly alone, though. A zebra, hyena, and orangutang are also on the boat. And, unbeknownst to Pi for quite a while, the full-grown Siberian tiger named Richard Parker (the tiger's name got confused with the name of the guy who sold it to them) is under the half of the boat that is covered by a tarp. I would have been scared you-know-what-less if I had been in Pi's position. There's a scene where the hyena starts attacking the zebra (who was wounded in the storm) and Pi starts hitting it with an oar. I wouldn't want the zebra to be killed by the hyena (which it was and amazingly the carcass was dumped into the ocean pretty early (not shown) - you think Pi would keep it around so the tiger could eat it instead of thinking about going after him!), but I also would have felt bad if I had to toss the hyena into the ocean (if I could). But let's be honest: if I was in this situation (or anyone, probably), I would be dead within five minutes. It's not long before all the animals are killed by another animal and the tiger and Pi are the only ones left. Pi makes a smaller liferaft that he attaches to the boat and steals the cans of food under the tarp whenever Richard Parker is sleeping and he has the chance. It's been awhile since I've read the book, but I thought the movie did a good job of following the book and I remembered certain things, the island for one. As the movie progresses, Pi is able to get into the boat with Richard Parker. The tiger (not a real one for obvious reasons, but looks very real) becomes an emotional part of the story and you start to root for him to have a happy ending as well as Pi. The movie ends with an interesting question when Pi tells what happened when he is rescued. He tells the authorities what happened and they don't believe he was in a boat with a tiger and the other animals, so he tells them that he was instead with his mother and two other people who we meet on the ship, so it's up to the audience to interpret what really happened. I saw this movie in 2-D because I hate 3-D, but now I kinda wish I had seen it in 3-D. The movie was atheistically stunning and pleasing to the eye. It is by far the most gorgeous movie of this year; it is truly a work of art! 

Les Miserables  (viewed in theaters December 29, 2012)
Director  - Tom Hooper

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actor - Hugh Jackman
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway
Best Costume Design
Best Make -Up
Best Original Song - "Suddenly"
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing

You know when you see a movie that totally moves you, mesmerizes you, and just captures you in awe and it becomes one of your favorite movies for the rest of your life and when it comes up in conversations, you tell everyone how much you love that movie and they need to see it and when they do, they thank you for suggesting that they watch it because it moved and mesmerized them and captured their heart as well? You know what I'm talking about, right? We all have a few movies that do this to us. Les Mis....is not one of those movies! Sorry to get your hopes up if you did like this movie! I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I had never read the book or seen the musical and knew nothing about the story (besides it was obviously depressing), but I was so bored throughout most of it. Everyone did a great job with the singing and the cinematography was gorgeous - I loved when Notre Dame was in the background. The only scenes I really liked were Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen singing "Master of the House" - that was definitely the most liveliest song!; any scene with the little kid - I thought he was a hoot (to bad he died...) and Anne Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream" Dreadfully boring song, but I gotta give her props..she was singing and acting at the same time and she is amazing. She has snot running down her nose, her face is blotched, and she has this hideous short cropped hair, and she brings it! If she wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, I would not be disappointed. If Les Mis won the Best Picture Oscar, I would be very disappointed. With an exception of a couple songs, I found most of the songs to be not that memorable. I knew this was a musical going in (duh), but I thought it was the kind of musical where they talk, sing a song, talk, sing a song - you know, like Chicago. But not in this movie! No, they sing every single line. EVERY SINGLE LINE! EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. LINE. And this movie is two and a half hours. And this movie moves at a S-L-OOOOO-W pace. It was excruciating for me to watch. I haven't seen Lincoln, Amour, or Beasts of the Southern Wild yet (I'll check those out on DVD), but I'm pretty confident when I do see them, Les Mis will be my least favorite Best Picture nominee! 

Django Unchained (viewed in theaters January 14, 2013)
Director - Quentin Tarantino

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor - Christoph Waltz
Best Original Screenplay - Quentin Tarantino
Best Cinematography 
Best Sound Editing

Very slight spoilers! 

If I were to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie without knowing it was a Quentin Tarantino movie, I'm pretty confident I would be able to tell it was directed by him because he has such a distinct way of directing his films. I think that's what makes his films so much fun to watch - they give a little nod and wink to the audience. The way he uses different camera shots, the way he pays homage to other movies, and even the way his credits are - it's all very Tarantino-esque. Oh, and you can always tell by the language and amount of violence! This movie is pretty heavy in both aspects. There is A LOT of blood in this movie. By people getting shot, by people beating the crap out of each other, and one guy gets mauled by dogs, but mostly by people getting shot. It seems Tarantino has lately been interested in playing around with world history. His last movie, Inglorious Basterds, was set during World War II and he sort of changed the way Hitler died - just a tad! This movie is set during pre-Civil War when slavery was abound in the South. Jamie Foxx plays Django (the D is silent!), a slave who is given his freedom with the help of a German dentist/bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (played by Austrian actor, Christoph Waltz). They set out to rescue Django's wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who knows German, so it's easy to track her down since she's the only slave woman who knows German. She works for Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the villain of the film. Samuel L. Jackson rounds out the cast as Calvin Candie's best confident and he plays an older man and he is absolutely great. He provides a lot of humor and yet he's very sinister. Even though I haven't seen all the Best Picture nominees, this movie is most definitely the most violent out of all of them...and probably the funniest! I laughed quite a bit at some scenes. The KKK scene was hilarious. Only Tarantino could make a scene involving the KKK hilarious. I loved the scene where Django and King visit Don Johnson's character, Big Daddy (they call him "Big Daddy" because he's big!) and after he learns that Djanog is a free man, he tells one of his female servants, "Make you you don't treat Django like a slave now!" and she says,"Should I treat him like a white man!" and he goes, "No!" and she says, "Well, how am I suppose to treat him, then?" It was just really funny how it was done and I found myself laughing quite a few times during the film. It's a very gorgeous film as well and I can see why it's nominated for Best Cinematography. The use of the landscape is beautiful, especially when they were on a plantation in Tennessee. I'm not a tree expert, so I don't know what they were, but there were these huge trees with hanging foliage (not weeping willows) that were really pretty. Christoph Waltz steals this movie (and is the best part along with Sam Jackson) and although he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, he was more co-leads with Foxx. He is not in the last third of the movie and I noticed that once he was gone the movie dragged on a bit. Of course, the movie, which is about 2 hours and 40 minutes, could have easily been trimmed down by 30 minutes. There's a scene with Quentin Tarantino and it was just really random. It almost felt like he was filling in for another actor who was suppose to play that part that didn't show up on the set that day - it was just so out of place! Plus he has an Australian accent which makes it even more weird. Quentin Tarantino asked Will Smith to be Django, but he declined and I wish he hadn't because I think he would have made a way better Django than Jamie Foxx, who is fine, but I think Will would have been very dynamic...I would have loved to see what he would do with the role. 

Silver Linings Playbook (viewed in theaters January 21, 2013)
Director - David O. Russell

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Director -  David O. Russell
Best Actor - Bradley Cooper
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor - Robert De Niro
Best Supporting Actress - Jackie Weaver
Best Adapted Screenplay - David O. Russell
Best Editing

This is an unconventional romantic comedy. Bradley Coooper (who would have ever thought that  good ol' Will Tippin would ever be nominated for an Oscar?) is Pat, a guy who has just been released from being in a mental institution for almost a year after he caught his high-school teacher wife with another teacher in the shower and beat him up. His wife divorced him and has put a restraining order on him and has moved and Pat is working to get her back because he wants to prove to her that he's changed. Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany, the sister-in-law of one of Pat's friends. Her husband was killed in an accident and she got fired from her job. Pat and Tiffany meet when they both have dinner at Pat's friend's house and from there they begin an interesting relationship. Since Tiffany's sister knows Pat's ex-wife, she tells him that if she writes a letter, she could find a way to give it to her, but says if she does this, she wants something in return and wants Pat to join a dance competition with her, something she's always wanted to do with her husband. It's a very charming movie and Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver are great as Pat's parents. (And I just realized that this is the second time Cooper and De Niro have worked together - they were also in Limitless). 

Zero Dark Thirty (viewed in theaters January 28, 2013)
Director - Kathryn Bigelow

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actress - Jessica Chastain
Best Original Screenplay - Mark Boal
Best Editing
Best Sound Editing

This is about the search and capture of Osama Bin Laden. The movie starts in 2003 (after a little prologue of 9/11) and ends at his capture which I'm sure we all remember that Sunday night in May of 2011 when Obama came on our TVs for a special report. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, the CIA agent who had a big hand in finding the compound Bin Laden was hiding at in Pakistan. As she told the CIA director (played by James Gandolfini) who asked her who she was, she replied with, "I'm the mother****er who found that place." She's very bad-ass, but not in a Sarah Connor/Lara Croft kind of way. She's badass in a realistic way and I would love to see Chastain win the Oscar. Bigelow was definitely snubbed of a directing Oscar - I liked this movie more than The Hurt Locker, which she won for. It's interesting that this is up for an Original Screenplay when it's based on true events. I guess they didn't use a book to write this, but used other sources? I really liked the guy who played Dan, Maya's partner during the first half of the film. I had never seen him in anything before and it turns out he's Australian in real life. There are a few torture scenes in the movie (being an avid fan of 24, I'm used to watching them - the things they did on 24 were worse than what they do in this movie!) At first Maya is very uncomfortable watching them, but then as the years pass, she is not shy to use it as a tactic to get information. Jennifer Ehle plays another CIA agent who works with Maya and she has found a huge lead with someone she thinks can lead them to Bin Laden. She and some others are supposed to meet him and you just know things are not going to end well. I kept gripping my seat waiting for a bomb to explode. Even though I knew what happens in the end and that they get the bad guy, I still felt a little jumpy when the Seal Team 6 invaded the compound they had reason to believe Bin Laden was at. They had no visual confirmation that he was there, but they strongly believed it could be him because there was a male that never left the compound at all. They had no way to see if it was him because they didn't want to spook him in running to a new location. Chris Pratt plays one of the Seal Team 6 members and it was a bit humorous to think of Andy from Parks and Rec going to kill Osama Bin Laden. The movie is two and a half hours - it's exactly the same length as Les Miserables, 157 minutes. But while Les Mis was excruciatingly long - it felt like it would never end!, Zero Dark Thirty did not feel like that at all - it went by pretty quickly. If you can make a two and a half hour movie and make it not feel long, then more power to you! It does a good job of keeping you interested and has a nice flow.

And here is my review of Argo.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Be aware of bears!

The Edge
Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson, Harold Perrineau, Bart the Bear
Released: September 26, 1997

I've recently realized how much I love survival stories. I don't care if they're based on a true story or fictional (though being based on a true story makes them more interesting). I recently finished reading "Lost in Shangri-La" by Mitchell Zuckoff, a true story about three people who survived a plane crash in the jungles of New Guinea in 1945. One of my favorite books is "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer about an expedition to Mount Everest gone wrong. I both saw the movie and listened to the audio book of 127 Hours. The Grey was one of my favorite movies of this past year. I also am obsessed with the reality show Survivor! Okay, it's not exactly the same thing as those people are never in any real peril, but I still love it. Survival stories, I do love!

Charles Morse (Hopkins) is a billionaire bibliophile who's married to a model half his age (Macpherson). She has invited him to join her on location in Alaska for a photo shoot. Charles suspects there is something going on between her and the photographer, Bob  (Baldwin) because he is always flirting with her and she doesn't seem to mind it. Bob is determined to photograph some real natives and when the owner of the lodge they're staying at tells him about a friend and where to find him, he takes the opportunity to go there. Along with his assistant and the pilot, Charles also joins them after Bob invites him. While in the tiny plane (and those things are never good - whenever you hear about a crash, it's always a tiny plane!), a flock of birds fly right into them and into the windshield causing the plane to go down and crash in a large lake in the middle of the wilderness. The pilot is dead, but the other three manage to get out. There's a shot of a rifle laying on the seat as they are escaping from the plane and I thought this was important, but no, we never see it again. I guess they were just showing us that they would not have a rifle with them.

Bob's assistant is played by Harold Perrineau who is best known for playing Michael (father of Walt, owner of Vincent) on Lost. So Lost is not the first time he played a character who crashed in the middle of nowhere and had to survive in the wilderness! Unlike Michael (he survived in Lost, right?), Perrineau's character in The Edge is not so lucky. First, he stabs himself in the leg and hits an artery when he's making a spear for them to catch fish. Then he gets mauled by a bear! (Because some idiot left his bloody pants hanging out and the bear could smell the scent of the blood.) The shot of the bear ripping him apart is a bit humorous because it's pretty obvious the bear is throwing a dummy around. They probably had fried chicken pieces on the dummy!

That wasn't the first time they had contact with the bear. While hiking in one big circle to see if they could find a way out, the three of them heard the bear and it started chasing them. In a scene similar to The Grey, they're trying to get across a gorge and lift a heavy tree that was already fallen to act as a bridge. Charles is the last to cross the shaky bridge (there's rocks and rushing waterfall below them) and while on the middle of the "bridge" (and they were walking really slowly to get across - I would have gotten on my butt and scooted across!), the bear starts shaking the tree and Charles falls off, but the strap of his knapsack catches a branch and he's holding on to his bag. Um, I'm sorry, but there's no way that bag could have held his weight...that would have snapped in a second! But he manages to hold on for quite awhile. The other two are trying to help him, but he does fall into the water. From one angle, he looks pretty high up, but when we see him falling into the water, it only looks like he's fallen two feet!

I don't know if this was in the script or if it was something Alec Baldwin did to ad-lib, but everytime he talks to Anthony Hopkin's character, he always says his name in the sentence. Like: "What do you think we should do, Charles?" "What are you doing, Charles?" "Charles, are you okay?" "Charles! Where are you going?" It was so annoying! But at least I didn't forget his name!

After the bear shows up for the third time, Charles realizes it's a man-eater and is stalking them. He and Bob create a ring of fire around them to keep the bear out and are discussing how they can kill it. This is where I thought the gun was going to come in...I thought one of them would remember there was a gun in the plane and have to dive down to get it, but nope. They set up a trap to lure the bear and Charles has created a spear out of a long branch which he kills the bear with. The bear has a ferocious roar, but when Charles has the stick in front of him, the bear is just sorta lazily following him around, like he's supposed to do. I'm guessing a non-actor bear would charge at him and rip him to shreds.

The bear is played by Bart the Bear and I love how in the end credits and on the movie's IMDb page, he is listed fourth or fifth. I've never seen an animal credited among the actors (and given his own title card to boot). Bart the Bear must have had one heck of a manager! (He died in 2000 at the age of 23). Of course, he was a big Hollywood (animal) star. He was also in The Bear (I'm assuming he played the titular character!), Legends of the Fall, and The Great Outdoors. The Edge was one of his last starring roles. I guess even bears have to retire! On his IMDb page (yes, he even has his own IMDb page), there are some hilarious message board posts like how he was always typecast. (A bear being typecast?!?! I laughed so hard when I saw that!)

Once the bear is dead, that doesn't mean Charles and Bob are "out of the woods yet", no pun intended (okay, maybe a little!) While in the plane, right before the crash, Charles asks Bob how he plans to kill him. The conversation is brought up again while hiking in the woods and Charles confesses he thinks Bob is having an affair with his wife. Bob laughs it off, but later, after they've killed the bar, they find an abandoned house and Charles, who recently received an engraved watch from his wife, finds out that Bob also received an engraved watch with a message alluding to an affair from his wife. Bob knows that Charles is on to him and with a rifle found in the house, he is about to shoot Charles, but ends up falling in a bear trap. Charles could have easily killed him at this point, but instead helps him out and takes care of his wounds. With a canoe outside the house they row down the river for awhile until Charles sees a helicopter and successfully gets its attention. By this time Bob has died from his injuries. Back at the lodge there are many reporters wanting to know what happened while he was out there and what happened to the other two men which Charles replies with, "They died saving my life." Fade to black.

Even though I had a few minor complaints about how fake things sometimes looked, it was a good movie and I would recommend it. (But then again, I do love my survival stories!) What shocked me the most was that David Mamet wrote the script. It just seems so different from somebody who wrote State and Main and Wag the Dog. It's like when I found out that Ian McEwan, author of "Atonement" wrote the script for The Good Son. 

Bart the Bear should be proud of his final performance!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Circle of Life

The Lion King
Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Voice Talent: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Cheech Marin, Rowan Atkinson
Released: June 24, 1994

Oscar nominations:
Best Score - Hans Zimmer (won)
Best Song - "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" by Elton John and Tim Rice (won)
Best Song - "The Circle of Love" by Elton John and Tim Rice
Best Song - "Hakuna Matata" by Elton John an Tim Rice

I don't remember what movie it was, but I was at the movie theaters (with my mom probably), about a year before The Lion King was released and one of the previews they showed was for it. It wasn't a trailer in the traditional sense, but the opening "Circle of Life" scene where they play that song and all the animals are coming out for Simba's first appearance after being born and bowing to him as Rifiki holds him up. (Have you ever noticed there are no other wild cats besides lions there? I guess the leopards and cheetahs were jealous the lions were getting all the attention!) Then the song ends with a big boom as the screen goes dark and the title shows up in red letters. One of the coolest title cards ever. My mom and I were like, "Whoa, that was cool!" That had definitely got our attention and apparently everybody else's as it is the highest grossing animated Disney movie. I saw it twice in the theaters: the first time with a friend and her brother and the second time with my mom.

The Lion King is a simple story. It starts out happy, becomes sad, and ends triumphant. Young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas who was at the height of his popularity with Home Improvement) is destined to become the next King of Pride Rock. His father, Mufasa (voiced by none other than James Earl Jones) is the current King and teaches his son valuable life lessons. His brother, Simba's Uncle Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons, who shares a birthday with me!) is not fond of Simba because he is jealous he is going to become King. For two lions who are brothers, Mufasa and Scar do not look alike at all. Mufasa has a solid bulk to him and has a healthy and beautiful mane of red hair and golden fur while Scar looks like skin and bones and has a mangy black mane. Maybe they are half-brothers? Well, you know Disney, they have to make the villain as obvious as possible! Simba wants desperately to be brave like his father and grow a mane and roar and almost gets himself and his friend, Nala, killed when they go somewhere they shouldn't.

Scar tells Simba he has a surprise for him, a surprise "to die for". The surprise turns out to be a trap when Simba is in a gorge and a herd of wildebeest are about to trample him. He is saved by his father, but Mufasa is killed by Scar, who tells Simba, who didn't witness Scar pushing his father off the cliff, that it's his fault that Mufasa is dead. Simba, ashamed of what he has done, runs away where he meets Timon, the meerkat (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa, the warthog with gas problems (voiced by Ernie Sabella). Simba grows up with them until he and Nala are reunited and she tells him how Scar has taken over Pride Rock and how awful everything is. Simba refuses to go back and help and acts like a selfish brat (kinda like he was when he was a cub and disobeyed his father about not going to the elephant graveyard). Eventually he gets some sense knocked into him - literally - by the baboon, Rifiki (voiced by Robert Guillaume - Benson!) He defeats Scar and Pride Rock becomes his kingdom.

I think this movie did very well because it appealed to both boys and girls. Usually Disney movies seem like they're more targeted toward girls like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, with their main characters being a female. That said, The Lion King is not my favorite animated Disney movie. That honor would go to Beauty and the  Beast. It's not even my second favorite. That goes to another movie I have not reviewed yet, so I will reveal what it is when I do! It's probably my third favorite - I keep going back and forth on whether The Lion King or The Little Mermaid should get that spot.

The music is very solid. Usually in Disney movies, there might be one - maybe two -  songs that I don't particularly care for and they're just like, meh, but all five songs in The Lion King - "The Circle of Life", "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", "Hakuna Matata", and "Be Prepared" are all really good, solid songs. Elton John did his own renditions of the first three songs. Usually only one song from a Disney movie is covered by a famous artist, but The Lion King had three, two of which were on the radio.  "Be Prepared" is my favorite villain song from any Disney movie. I also really like the villain song from Anastasia, but that's not a Disney movie! "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" is a really cute song and I like the African-style music in the background. My favorite part is when Simba sings, "Everybody look left, everybody look right. Everywhere you look, I'm standing in the spotlight!"

And with the success of the movie, which turned into a successful Broadway play he really is!

Even my own cat has a connection to The Lion King!