Saturday, March 2, 2013

Double Dare (2003) - 4 stars out of 10

Double Dare (2003) - 4 stars out of 10

"Double Dare" is a documentary about two Hollywood stuntwomen and their journey through a physically demanding industry.  Even though I gave this film a low rating, there isn't anything wrong with it.  I didn't really get into it but it was still interesting and informative.  The main storyline of the documentary follows Zoe Bell as she transforms from Xena into Uma Thurman's double in “Kill Bill.”  I definitely have a greater appreciation for the endurance required by these warriors.  I think that most people can appreciate this film but it because a lot cooler if you are a “Kill Bill” fan, even if the film is only included for 10 minutes.  I enjoyed seeing Quentin Tarantino in this context, getting a glimpse into his world of casting.  While it doesn't hold a ton of entertainment value like the documentaries that don't feel like documentaries, "Double Dare" serves its purpose and opens us up to the world of stuntwomen.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Django Unchained - 9 stars out of 10

Django Unchained - 9 stars out of 10

"Django Unchained" is one of the most surprising films that I have discovered in a long time.  I have always enjoyed Quentin Tarantino's films but the previews for this one made me roll my eyes.  I never thought that he could pull off a spaghetti western, let alone make something great out of it.  I was shocked when I saw that it was nominated for Best Picture but I'm glad that the nomination forced me to give it a chance.  Its Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was absolutely deserved, weaving together an interesting story with well-developed characters.  If you were ever looking for a way to become desensitized to the n-word, this is it.  And yet, its overly-excessive language seems necessary for the events portrayed.  Of course, this strong language is contrasted by lines like "Last chance, fancy pants" that break the tension and bring some modern themes into this old-fashioned film.  The only aspect of the story that I did not care for was the Mandingo fighting.  I feel like the movie strayed too far away from Django's journey in the brutal Mandingo scene, even though it managed to tie into the storyline.  But other than that, this was a really interesting story, especially considering the film's length.  Although Tarantino did a great job writing it, these actors bring life to his words.  Christoph Waltz was absolutely the most deserving of the Oscar for Supporting Actor amidst a field of actors who had already won at least one Oscar in the past.  His accent is brilliant and the tedious attention to each line is evident.  Jamie Foxx may have trumped every character that he has played simply because Django is so cool, even when he's wearing that absurd baby blue outfit.  The raw bitterness toward the oppressive white bigots carries so much energy throughout the film.  I wasn't really digging Leonardo DiCaprio but the most unexpected treat comes from Samuel L. Jackson.  You knew that Tarantino would find a way to work him into the film but his performance may be his finest of all time.  I felt so much anger for his character, Stephen, and you will understand when you see the film.  "Django Unchained" is unlike any other film out there and, in spite of its controversial violence, language, and content, it is worth seeing to experience the great acting, headlined by Christoph Waltz.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook - 10 stars out of 10

Silver Linings Playbook - 10 stars out of 10

"Silver Linings Playbook" is unquestionably the best film of 2012.  This is confirmed by its eight Academy Award nominations in major categories, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay... you get the point.  The depth of characters, quality of acting, and raw reality of the story turn this movie into an "experience."  It is robbery that this film did not win for Best Picture, especially when an inferior film like "Argo" won.  Although it is labeled as a comedy, this film digs deep into the human soul.  There is a love story woven throughout this plot but the film is actually a disturbed man's journey to find life's silver lining.  The interactions of Bradley Cooper with his family, particularly his father, explain why he is the way that he is.  Robert DeNiro plays the selfish father that cares more about his Philadelphia Eagles than he does about his family (except for his eldest son, who receives much favoritism).  He brings that classic DeNiro attitude to the character and he's a pleasure to watch, along with Jacki Weaver who is hilarious as the mother.  She is often the comic relief needed to break the tension that constantly builds throughout the film.  Bradley Cooper legitimized himself as an actor with this performance, bringing two opposing personalities to one character and delivering his lines as if he truly does not have a filter; however, the thing that really sold me on Cooper was his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence.  She was stunning and earned her Oscar, delivering her oft-psychotic monologues with eloquence and portraying her helpless insecurity through her eyes.  Her character is rough around the edges but quickly transforms into a loveable, sensitive woman, and then suddenly back again.  The writers created such great characters, and the actors took them to another level.  Amidst the strong language, there are some beautifully heartfelt monologues.  "Silver Linings Playbook" may seem a bit predictable but the dialogue takes the story in unexpected directions (even it is just by spoiling a romantic moment in lieu of an episode) and the strong acting performances put these characters on a level that few other films will ever reach.

Sunday, February 24, 2013



Disclaimer: These are the films that I personally believe should win in each category, not my prediction of who I believe The Academy will choose.  Also, I did not see Amour, Skyfall, or The Sessions.

Picture – Silver Linings Playbook (but Argo will win)  (2nd Pick:
Les Misérables)
Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”  (2nd Pick: Denzel Washington in “Flight”)
Actress – Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”  (2nd Pick: Emmanuella Riva in “Amour”)
Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained”  (2nd Pick: Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln”)
Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway in "Les Misérables"  (2nd Pick: Sally Field in "Lincoln") 
Directing – Stephen Spielberg for “Lincoln”  (2nd Pick: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi”)
Cinematography – Life of Pi  (2nd Pick: Anna Karenina) 
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – Silver Linings Playbook  (2nd Pick: Lincoln)
Writing (Original Screenplay) - Django Unchained  (2nd Pick: Flight)

Costume Design – Lincoln  (2nd Pick: Mirror Mirror)
Film Editing – Argo  (2nd Pick: Life of Pi)
Animated Feature – Wreck-It Ralph (though Brave will win)  (2nd Pick: Frankenweenie) 
Animated Short Paperman
Foreign Language – Amour
Makeup and Hairstyling – Les Misérables
Music – Dario Marianelli for “Anna Karenina”  (2nd Pick:  Mychael Danna for “Life of Pi”)
Original Song – Skyfall (by Adele) from “Skyfall”  (2nd Pick: Suddenly (by Claude Michel Schönberg) from “Les Misérables”)

Production Design – Life of Pi  (2nd Pick: Les Misérables) 
Sound Editing – Life of Pi  (2nd Pick: Argo)
Sound Mixing – Les Misérables  (2nd Pick: Life of Pi)
Visual Effects – Life of Pi  (2nd Pick: Prometheus)

Movie Reviews for 2013 Oscar Nominees

Anna Karenina -
Argo -
The Avengers -
Beasts of the Southern Wild -
Brave -
Flight -
Frankenweenie -
Les Misérables -
Life of Pi -
Lincoln -
Lo Imposible (The Impossible) -
The Master -
Mirror Mirror -
Moonrise Kingdom -
Paranorman -
The Pirates! Band of Misfits -
Prometheus -
Snow White and the Huntsman -
ted -
Wreck-It Ralph -
Zero Dark Thirty -

Zero Dark Thirty - 7 stars out of 10

Zero Dark Thirty - 7 stars out of 10 
Oscar Week

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a pretty brutal film to watch.  The completely aural introduction that surrounds the audience with 9/11 phone calls is upsetting, only to be trumped by its graphic portrayal of militaristic torture that dominates the first half-hour of the film.  Fortunately, this film finds redemption with the incredible story of the woman whose 8 years of intelligence work led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  As much as I hate to address the elephant in the room, you also have to question how the writers received all of this classified information and whether this film is some sort of government propaganda.  I don't generally subscribe to conspiracy theories or live in a state of paranoia, but the power of this content really made me think.  While I believe that she has received too much praise for her performance, Jessica Chastain has some incredible moments.  There is a nice emotional variation between her timidity at the beginning and her passionate monologues later on, but I just didn't see the transformation.  Jason Clarke is the actor that really stood out to me, emotionally detaching himself as he tortures a detainee.  Although the film focuses on the gathering of intelligence locate bin Laden, it is a bit frustrating that the actual mission does not begin until two hours into the movie.  The film reads more like a documentary than a movie and, although there is some action and some emotion (particularly the Camp Chapman attack), the movie is pretty slow up until the raid.  Perhaps this was director Kathryn Bigelow's way of focusing on historical accuracy more than entertainment, but I wish that the script had been edited to shorten the film and get to the "main event" sooner.  In the end, "Zero Dark Thirty" gives unique insight into military intelligence and builds appreciation for the seemingly impossible task of locating the world's most wanted terrorist, but it just doesn't have the wow-factor necessary to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

Anna Karenina (2012) - 6 stars out of 10

Anna Karenina (2012) - 6 stars out of 10
Oscar Week

All the world’s a stage, especially in Joe Wright’s interpretation of “Anna Karenina.”  This visual masterpiece places Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel onto a cinematic stage, complete with scene changes and a horse race as it would be seen onstage in a theater.  The Oscar nominations are pretty indicative of what you can expect when you see this film - the acting is average, the script can be a bit confusing at times and isn’t incredibly well written, but the sets and costumes are stunning and the interpretation of the story is very creative.  The ballroom scene where the couple dances across a room full of dancers frozen in time is one of those scenes where you’ll have to rewind it and watch it three times.  This certainly is not Wright’s best venture, but how can it be with films like “Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “The Soloist” on his resume?  One of the best aspects of this film is Dario Marianelli’s score which captures the Russian atmosphere and interacts with the action on screen.  Even though I was emotionally detached from the characters because the film was so hard to follow, some of the heart wrenching melodic passages drew me back in.  Keira Knightley has a nice performance but the rest of the actors didn’t leave any sort of impression on me.  I certainly would not consider “Anna Karenina” to be a great film but it is worth seeing for its creative “on-stage” atmosphere and unique interpretation.