84th Academy Awards (2012)

Pina (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Pina (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film (Gian-Piero RingelWim Wenders).
Watched April 9, 2013.

Most of the reviews I read for Pina were absolute raves, but I did manage to find one that agreed with me and made me feel like a little less of a weirdo.  If you love modern dance, contemporary, and ballet, and also have an eye for the abstract in art, you probably will not agree with me.  I generally like contemporary and classical ballet, along with other styles of dance, but this documentary was fairly alienating and is definitely aimed at fans of Pina Bausch, the choreographer genius behind the dances in the documentary.

 

Pina passed away from cancer just five days after she was diagnosed.  The film was already in pre-production, but after her passing it became a tribute to her choreography and her genius in the dancing community.  The documentary features several dance numbers that she and her company performed during her career, but they are broken apart and are never shown from beginning to end, but rather sprinkled throughout the narrative.  They all tend to incorporate elements–earth and water–or obstacles.  There is very little dialogue, and when there is, it is usually a brief, somewhat ambiguous statement from one of Pina’s dancers about Pina and her style of teaching and choreographing.  There are also original clips of Pina herself in both the studio as well as the stage.  She embodies so much of her dance that after watching her, the other dancers seem as if they are chasing her greatness.

 

From someone who knew nothing about Pina Bausch before the film, I almost know less after watching it.  I know her name and that she was a dancer and choreographer.  However, the documentary revealed little of her story and her character, but focused mostly on the imagery of her dances and therefore her ideas translated through dance.  However, the fact that her dances were broken up made it more difficult to discover their meaning and therefore grow attached to them.

 

I am not a dancer and therefore the messages did not translate well.  I was very confused and bored until the last few minutes, when I was finally able to discover some of my own meaning in a few of the dances.  One of the last scenes has the group of dancers doing a certain “line dance,” if you will, along the ridge of a mountain, and I found this shot quite beautiful.

 

All things said and done, I am glad to cross the documentary Pina off my list and move on to something else.  I would not recommend it if, as I mentioned before, you don’t care for modern or contemporary dance and if you would rather there be some dialogue or verbal explanation of story.  I am a great lover of story, and there was little depth in that regard for me.  However, if you are a lover of dance and a lover of Pina Bausch, please disagree with me and see the film for yourself!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects (Dan LemmonDaniel BarrettJoe LetteriR. Christopher White).
Watched April 7, 2013.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes should have been awarded Most Awkward Title, but like Real Steel, turns out to be a pretty entertaining blockbuster, although this one did try to have some depth to its story.

 

Sometime in the not too distant future, James Franco… I mean Will Rodman is trying to find the cure for Alzheimers, particularly because his father is suffering from the devastating disease.  Like most drugs, he is testing on apes, and within the first few minutes there is promise and hope–one of the apes, Bright Eyes, is finally showing potential.  Will knows he’s on the right track, and rather hastily gets his reluctant boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), to let him pitch the drug to the board.  Inevitably, things go wrong, and it seems like it’s back to the drawing board… except when Will finds Bright Eyes’ baby boy.  Not able to put him down like Jacobs wants, Will smuggles the baby chimp home and notices almost right away that the chimp is hyper-intelligent.

 

Many years pass, which include experiments and growth, both on humans and chimps alike.  Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow), whom Will has been giving the experimental drug for Alzheimers, has improved drastically, and as the chimp Caesar has grown, so has his intelligence.  Will is teaching him to sign, and because of his affection for the primate, grabs himself a vet for a girlfriend, Caroline (Freida Pinto).  Her role is rather pointless and I’m never actually sure why she’s there, except to dab Caesar’s occasional boo-boo and to lend an emotional support for traumatized Will.

 

Because Will does become traumatized towards the end of the film.  First Caesar is sent away, and then things get real crazy.  As this film is a prequel for the two before it, the ending is rather inevitable, but the journey is revealing and entertaining.  Caesar is a sweetheart whose brain eventually gets the better of him.  Taking him away from Will is probably the worst decision the human race has ever made.

 

Rise is nominated for its visual effects, and they are definitely impressive.  Although the apes are clearly animated, their facial expressions and movements are fluid and realistic, and at times it is easy to forget their animation.  The story and over-all execution is drastically less campy than the previous films, even Tim Burton‘s 2001 version.  Humans aren’t portrayed as all-out bad guys.  There are definite sour fruits all throughout the film, but Will and his family represent the good guys, and they do it well.  It is hard not to root for Caesar and his companions, but if one has seen or knows of the previous Planet of the Apes films, it is impossible not to root for the survival of humanity.

 

Fun fact for the fans, there is a brief, although significant clip of the first manned shuttle to Mars, but if you don’t understand that reference, move right along.

 

If you’re looking for a blockbuster that semi-successfully goes a bit deeper into morality and life questions than your typical summer hit, this would be a good one to try out.  However, if you’re more into films like The Artist or Pina, I would highly doubt that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is your cup of tea–but you knew that already.

Real Steel (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Real Steel (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects (Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg).
Watched April 3, 2013.

 

“Behind it all is a collective fantasy of invulnerability, omnipotence and eternal life.  “Real Steel” at least acknowledges that machines require maintenance to be superhuman” (NY Times). 

 

Real Steel is your basic entertaining blockbuster with an out of this world budget supported by a fairly incredible cast and with very little depth behind its predictable, albeit likable character arcs.  It doesn’t try to be more than it is, and although it is a bit long of a film, it brings us a different kind of sport movie, complete with a feel-good montage sequence, thats heroes are robots–not humans.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the focus is definitely more about the character growth of the humans than the robots.  This isn’t your typical sci-fi thriller where the robots are terrifyingly intelligent, they outthink us, and try to take over the world.  In fact, it almost seems as if director Shawn Levy was careful not to dwell too long on any robot’s face, lest we get the feeling that there is something going on in its brain.  The robots in Real Steel are innocent, despite what their human owners are using them for.

 

It is sometime in the future and human boxing has become obsolete, something that Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is trying to forget.  Robots have taken over in the ring, and despite the fact that Charlie is clearly bitter about not being in there himself, he is a robot fighter, bringing his dilapidated monsters around to underground fights where big league rules don’t apply.  Things aren’t going well for Charlie–he keeps losing and is behind on his rent.  He lives in the old gym where he used to train, and the daughter of his now deceased coach, Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) owns it, as well as fixes up his bots.  After a lot of bad luck, things seem to turn around when Charlie’s old fling turned baby mama dies (we don’t know how) and Charlie could stand to earn a lot of money if he plays his cards right.  The kid, Max (Dakota Goyo) shows little emotion toward his mom’s passing, but is remarkably like Charlie, and figures out pretty quickly that Charlie sold him to his aunt.

 

Through some turn of events, Max has to stay with Charlie for the summer, and inevitably, because he is the carbon copy of his dad, he falls in love with robot boxing.  He finds a robot in a junk yard–an old second generation sparring bot named Atom, and essentially falls in love, like a kid would fall in love with a dog.  Using his giant eyes of persuasion, he gets Charlie to help him out, and Atom’s incredible ability to take a hit instantly skyrockets them to fame and eventually onto the big stage where they take on the biggest professional fighters of the day.

 

The special effects are out of this world.  I usually completely forget that the robots are computer generated, and although we all know that Atom has zero brain functions, it’s hard to not root for him.  It’s a lot easier to root for Max–he has a fiery personality that travels right alongside his innocence.  Charlie is a tough cookie and has a lot of issues he has to get through, but by the end he is a lot more endearing.

 

One of the last scenes is my absolute favourite, although I wouldn’t say watching the entire movie is worth it just to get to that place.  If you’re looking for an entertaining, well made blockbuster, this is definitely a good option.  It’s not particularly something I would want to watch over and over again, but it has a feel-good quality that I quite enjoy, and the ending is uplifting and joyful, which is a good feeling to walk away with after watching it.  If you haven’t seen this one and you’re into sport-type movies, I would recommend it.  However, if you’re looking for something with a certain level of depth, this would be one to stay away from.

 

A Separation (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

A Separation (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Asghar Farhadi).
Won Best Foreign Language Film (Iran).
Watched April 2, 2013.

 

Even though foreign films, different languages, and subtitles are not my thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how amazing A Separation is.  It is starkly honest in conveying its own culture’s weaknesses, as well as its strengths, and the subtlety of its delivery is very moving.

 

The film opens in a courtroom.  A man and a woman, husband and wife, stare directly into the camera as the woman tries desperately to prove that she has grounds for a divorce.  Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take her daughter somewhere out of the country, and she will go with or without her husband.  Nader (Payman Maadi), on the other hand, will not leave because his father has alzheimers and he has to care for him.  He will give her permission for a divorce, but won’t let her take their daughter.

 

Because Simin moves out, Nader hires a woman to take care of both the house and his father.  Razieh (Sareh Bayat) has to bring her young daughter to work every day, as well as commute ninety minutes each way.  Although it is clear from the beginning, the arrangement is more to Nader’s liking than Razieh’s, things soon get more serious as Nader’s father’s health takes a drastic downturn and Razieh feels as if her morals have been compromised.

 

Although the beginning is slow, and at first I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going, things eventually took a drastic turn.  I won’t reveal what that is, except that the family suddenly finds themselves in the courts again, but this time for a much more serious reason than divorce.

 

The acting is exquisite and almost all of the characters have such a depth and likability that it is hard to root for just one of them.  The plot takes some unexpected turns, but also shows a side of Iran that many in the states don’t get to see, which I quite enjoyed.  The cultural differences are interesting but are not the driving force behind the film.  The story, production design, cinematography, and acting are all forces to be reckoned with, and when it comes down to it, this just might be a foreign film to top the charts.

 

Even if foreign films aren’t your thing (like me!), I would definitely recommend A Separation for you!  You should be aware that it is a drama full of a lot of dialogue (and therefore a lot of subtitles), but I found it completely worthwhile.  There is an interesting clash between honesty, religious beliefs, family, and manipulation that pull the whole story together into something great.

[trailer contains some spoilers]

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Joe BerlingerBruce Sinofsky)
Watched March 16, 2013.

 

My heart breaks as I write this review.  In fact, it has taken me weeks to write it, which is why I have done so few reviews lately.  My thoughts are jumbled and writing them down almost makes me more confused.  This documentary was hard to watch, both because of its content, the real life events, and the way it stuck to me after it was finished.  The filmmakers were incredibly convincing, both in their style, delivery, timeline, and story.

 

My personal opinions on the murder of three eight year old boys and who killed them does not have a place in this review, as I would like to focus on the filmmaking and its place in the Academy’s nominations.  However, I feel a great hole in my heart as I think about that night in 1993 when three sets of parents were frantically searching for their children, and the horrible moment the next day when they found out why Michael, Christopher, and Stevie never came home.  “The real West Memphis Three who will never be forgotten” (http://www.terryhobbs.com).

 

The film is divided into parts.  The first two recap what happened in the previous documentaries, therefore if you are a newcomer to the story, like myself, the first half of the film is plenty to catch you up on what has been going on the last twenty years.  The first chapter is clearly a product of the nineties, and is jarringly askew, aided by the overbearing Metallica accompaniment.  Despite this fact, after adjusting my 2013 brain to their post-production decision, I found it fit very well with the horrific nature of the murders and the trials that followed.

 

The Paradise Lost films are not about three eight year old boys (Michael, Christopher, and Stevie) who were murdered.  They are about the three who served time in prison for almost twenty years for the murders.  The documentaries’ main goal was to prove their innocence and have them released.  The filmmakers’ actions were desperate at times because one of the three convicted received the death penalty in 1994.

 

For someone who knew nothing about the film going into it, and even less about the murders it focuses on, I was fairly traumatized, to say the least.  I watch a lot of crime dramas but very few documentaries on the same subjects, simply because the real life actions make me sick to my stomach, whereas dramatized circumstances are entertaining.  I was horrified for the little boys, for their families, for their screaming mothers, and for the three teenage boys that may or may not have committed the crime.

 

Setting reality aside, the filmmaking was phenomenal.  I can’t get past how wonderful the editing was, and how ultimately persuasive the filmmakers were able to make their argument.  Whether or not they manipulated situations or left out evidence in hopes of convincing the audience that the three on trial were innocent is irrelevant because they set out to argue their case and were successful.  The way they timed it, pieced it together, narrated it, and used the interview footage was all beautifully done.

 

Because of my own experience with this film, I recommend it lightly.  Please understand the nature of the film and that if all you can handle is Hollywood crime dramas, this is one to stay away from.  I am glad to get this review done so that maybe I can move on, and therefore recommend that if you also have a tough time letting go of reality, this might be a good documentary to pass by.