4 Stars

Despicable Me 2 (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Despicable Me 2 (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Chris RenaudPierre CoffinChris Meledandri) and Best Original Song (“Happy” by Pharrell Williams).
Watched March 7, 2014.

I liked Despicable Me 2 quite a lot.  It has been a while since I have seen the first film, and as such I possibly had a more positive reaction than true lovers of the original and its main character Gru, but I felt completely satisfied by the end of the animated feature.

 

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a retired villain who is now embracing the home life–raising his three adopted girls and throwing the perfect birthday party.  He has his famous lair full of minions working on a new line of jams and jellies that no one, not even Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) can deny are disgusting.  As a result, it is hard for Gru to turn down the Anti-Villain League when they come to him in need of some assistance.

 

A research facility in the north was stolen–completely disappeared.  They have determined that a shop owner at the local mall is likely the culprit, which means that Gru and his new partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig) must go under cover.

 

For lovers of the original, they may be dissatisfied with Gru and his character arc.  His story is wrapped up very nicely in the first film and there is little left to develop in him.  It is true that he is pretty one note.  His one conundrum is dating, which is humorous but hardly comparative to the life altering changes he encountered previously.  He has funny lines and quirks, but the red headed Lucy tends to upstage him constantly.

 

Despite this huge flaw, the rest of the story is pretty solid.  My favorite aspects of these films has always been the Minions, second only to Agnes, the precious, big eyed little girl who will tug at your heart strings.  The Minions are hilarious, charismatic, and blessedly stupid.  For those who have seen the film, “BAH!” has become my new favorite exclamation, but for everyone else I cannot explain because it would be a huge spoiler!

 

If you are having any doubts as to if you should see this film, let me assure you that the final scene itself is worth the entire film.  Hint: 90s music sang entirely by Minions.  J’adore.  If you like animated films, particularly what usually comes out of Universal and Illumination, you will likely love this film as well.

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Emma Tilinger Koskoff), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter).
Watched January 29, 2014.

  

I normally don’t watch nominated films until after the Oscars, but once I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, I decided pretty quickly that I wasn’t down with watching the film a second time for my blog.  You may think that I am about to flame this movie, but really I thought it was strong, well done, and incredibly risqué.  Believe it or not, an X rated film has been nominated for an Oscar before, and although Wolf is rated R, it sure did not seem like just soft core to me.

 

Based on a true story and adapted from the novel, Wolf is about a stock broker in New York who makes it big.  Jordan Belfort (Leanardo DiCaprio) starts out well at a respectable brokerage with an innocent smile.  His wife rode the bus downtown with him to wish him luck on his first day.  But who should he find himself dining with for lunch?  Mark Hanna, (Matthew McConaughey) whose vulgar philosophy is communicated through what will become an iconic rhythmic drumming on one’s own chest with their fist.  Belfort learns what he needs to, but in a depression he finds himself out of work and in a penny stocks office, somehow making over seventy grand a month.

 

Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), in the second best performance of the film, becomes Belfort’s sudden wingman.  With a huge grin populated by shiny veneers, he embraces and encourages all the dishonest methods Belfort uses because it makes them rich.  They slowly climb their way to the top, teaching their people a carefully constructed sales script that is sure to win every time.  By 26, Belfort has earned 49 million dollars in a year.

 

Through money, they find drugs, strippers, and whores, and walk us through a description of the different levels of hookers.  Belfort’s first wife gets caught in the cross hairs and he finds himself divorced and then remarried to a blonde bombshell.  Although from the outside, Belfort has it all (the car, the house, the wife, the job), the feds are hot on his heels.

  

Like any Martin Scorsese film, nothing is held back.  They go all out.  Although the circumstances are vulgar, they are raw.  Although they may be immoral, they are also authentic.  Belfort, with all of his money and the ideal American lifestyle, is unhappy and unsatisfied.  The imagery is perfect.  Nothing is ever enough and they always have to go bigger.

 

The cinematography, colors, editing–everything comes together perfectly.  It is not pristine.  Although it is rich, there is a certain gaudiness along with it, as if the pride and bragging cannot hide what is missing.  Belfort cannot stop chasing and even in the death of a family member he can only think about the money.  It takes something huge to bring him back to reality.

 

I understand why The Wolf of Wall Street did not win any awards, particularly because of the films it was stacked up against.  However, I think that DiCaprio deserved the Oscar.  I have yet to see McConaughey’s performance is Dallas Buyer’s Club, and as such do not want to belittle it or say that he did not deserve or earn the Oscar, but even disregarding Leo’s body of work, he did a particularly spectacular job with Jordan Belfort.

 

I recommend this film lightly.  As much I don’t ever want to watch it again, there are more than a few scenes that positively inhabit my memory.  I loved the lunch between Belfort and Hanna.  I loved when Donnie quit his job to work for Jordan.  I loved when he spoke to inspire his sales floor.  The run time of this film is long because they pulled out all the stops.

 

Be aware, there is a lot of drugs, sex, nudity, and swearing.  If you can handle it, go for it, but you might need to shower off the filth after viewing it.

Django Unchained (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Django Unchained (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman), and Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson).
Won Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino).
Watched February 12, 2014.

  

Back in the day (and by that I mean the distant four years ago of my university days), I was a huge Quentin Tarantino fan.  I was studying film, screenplays, editing, and acting.  Tarantino is an original, extremist, mainstream director who combines old-school techniques (especially typography) with new age music to create an irony that is amusing and jarring.  Tarantino loves reminding his audience that they are watching a movie.  While most directors and editors want everything seamless and invisible, specifically in editing, Tarantino does the exact opposite.  Even in his period films, he uses current societal trends to create humor because the audience recognizes that it is misplaced.

 

Django Unchained, while it is no Kill Bill, is no different.  The setting is a couple years before slaves become free, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who was recently sold at auction.  He crosses paths with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who purchases him and promises him his freedom if he helps him find three very valuable wanted men.  Django’s main mission is to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and after obtaining his freedom he continues to work with Schultz in order to find her.  She was sold to one of the biggest plantations in the south, Candieland, where the crazed owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is protected by family and slaves alike.

The film is no less brutal than Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds and he pulls no punches.  In fact, the blood and gore is to such a ridiculous point that it is morbidly humorous.  Candieland is horrible and Candie himself is both puppet and puppeteer.  His right hand man is Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) who hates the fact that Django rides a horse as much as any white man would.  Eventually guns are pulled and shots fired and the death toll becomes so impressive you would think it a battlefield.

 

The story is extreme and the circumstances follow suit.  Broomhilda is probably the weakest character, and yet her terrified silence is the most realistic of the entire film.  Each character is distinctly different and loud in its traits.  Django has a steel and a smoldering anger that only Broomhilda can solve.  Schultz is a chatty German who hates the KKK and doesn’t mind shooting a felon in front of his kid son.  Each performance is a knockout, but it is certainly no surprise that Christoph waltzed (get it?) away with the Oscar.

 

This is one of the few films that DiCaprio has starred in where he is not the main character.  His character is distinctly darker and more sinister than he usually plays.  He participates in an underground fighting ring involving slaves fighting to the death.  In order to get in his good graces, Django and Schultz put on an elaborate charade to convince Candie they want to buy one of his fighters, when in fact they only want to purchase Broomhilda.

Django Unchained is no picnic.  While it is staged during the years of slavery, it was not created to make a statement about the practice.  It is as much a character study as it is a comedy and a gruesome action film.  Each plantation in the film is distinctly different from other films about slavery.  On one planation, dozens of women stand about the house and their curious questions are bemusedly answered by their owner, while one poor girl is being whipped for dropping eggs.  At Candieland you are placed naked in a steel “hot box” if you try to run away.  Tarantino’s style gives the plantations a sheen that most films avoid.  Slavery is certainly not presented as something positive, but its storyline is different in Django Unchained.

 

I could probably write a fourteen page essay on any Tarantino film, so I will summarize the rest of my opinions.  All of its nominations are deserved.  I am a little shocked that he won Best Original Screenplay, but not upset.  The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, the costumes are either humorous or indistinct.  The side plots and characters lend to the story well and although the run-time is a bit much (and the gruesome firefight is probably where the story gets unnecessarily lost and meandering), all in all it is a great film.

 

Please be aware that this film is 100% rated R and make your decisions accordingly, but what kind of Tarantino fan would I be if I did not recommend this nominated film?  I suggest that you see it not because it is a historical film about slavery (because it is not), but because its characters, editing, story, and humor are all something unique out of Hollywood.

 

How to Survive a Plague (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

How to Survive a Plague (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (David France, Howard Gertler).
Watched February 18, 2014.

  

Regardless of its content and message, How to Survive a Plague is exactly the type of documentary that I like.  It is full to bursting with original stock footage, which tells most of the story.  The interview footage is used very well and although the balance tends to be more B-roll heavy, it communicates the story extremely well.  If it weren’t for such a hard subject, this could be a documentary that I would watch several times over.

 

The AIDS and HIV epidemic broke out in the 1980s and millions of people died while the FDA worked sluggishly (and through protocol) to produce affordable medication for the dying.  Two groups formed–ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group).  ACT UP had demonstrations and protests.  Some of its original members eventually broke off to form TAG, which was probably the most effective group at getting the best medication passed through testing and trials to the general populace.  Both groups grew from humble, angry beginnings and eventually gained respect from the scientific community.  They grew angry with politicians who told them to “change their behavior” and protested the Catholic church for denouncing the use of condoms.

 

While the 109 minute film can get a little repetitive, it effectively works over ten years of ACT UP meetings, protests, conferences and stats into the storyline to portray the humanity of the issue.  While the persons interviewed or featured in the original footage state their opinions strongly, about politics and otherwise, the film itself holds back and seems to want to emphasize the numbers–the death toll–and the humans behind each one.  Despite differences, lifestyles, and choices, these people are trying to save their lives.  Sometimes they act in desperation but their groups drag them back to reality so that their efforts will be effective instead of just expressive.

 

All in all, despite the heavy subject matter, it is an excellent documentary.  The people are raw and real.  Their stories are unfiltered.  The directorial touch is very light.  They certainly created a story from the many hours of footage and through editing they were able to connect with the people in front of the lens.  They even leave in “bloopers” from original footage to show how incredibly real this situation was.  Everything they are trying to communicate is not necessarily what others failed at, but what ACT UP and TAG succeeded at.

 

Despite how much I can rave about this film, I will mention again that it becomes repetitive.  Group meetings, conferences, and protests are broken up by interviews and the occasional news program.  There are political rallies and Presidential debates.  It is almost as if the crew became too attached to certain sub-plots and felt that the film would be harmed if it was left out–but it would not.  We get the picture that the FDA is taking too long to approve the right meds, but somehow that gets lost a little bit while the plot meanders into multiple protests and political spotlights.  The resolution is rushed and sudden while the journey to it is long and drawn out.  The story needs a more firm direction to be a true knock out.

 

That is my one and only complain with this truly nomination worthy film.  I would probably watch it again, and would also recommend that the documentary lovers see it.

 

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Short (David Silverman).
Watched February 13, 2014.

  

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” is a very cute animated short that is right up my alley.  I have been a fan of The Simpsons since I was a kid (much to the chagrin of my mother) but have not watched it in a few years.  Watching this short was very nostalgic and wonderful.

 

The short is without dialogue.  Marge brings Maggie to a very Simpsons-like daycare where she goes through airport style security and has a brain scan that labels her as average.  She joins the “nothing special” kids in a dank corner, with the kid who eats paste, and the baby who loves squishing butterflies with a wooden mallet.  Maggie discovers a caterpillar friend and soon realizes that it will shortly turn into a butterfly.  She must save her little friend from the evil baby!

 

The animation is a step up from your average Simpsons.  It was released in theaters in 3D, but even in 2D it captures shadows and colors that are not normally a part of the Simpsons world.  The story is cute and well executed.  It is a very short short, but it takes no time at all to feel a connection with Maggie and a dislike of the evil mallet carrying baby.

 

This short is so cute and, well, short that I find no hesitation in recommending you see it.  It is readily available online and if you like The Simpsons, I see no reason why this animation should evade your attention.