Best Cinematography

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) and Best Sound Mixing (Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland, Skip Lievsay).
Watched May 30, 2014.

Inside Llewyn Davis is cyclical.  It is the depressing period in one’s life after the death of a loved one and partner.  It is also a behind the scenes peak at the life and struggled of a folk artist in 1961.  More specifically, it is a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).

At first we don’t know why, but Llewyn is extremely down on his luck.  He is hopping from couch to couch on the sometimes grudging shoulders of friends.  His sister is a hard love type of woman and his ex-secret lover is pregnant with his baby while her husband (Justin Timberlake) is helping him out with jobs and connections.  It is winter in New York and Llewyn can’t even afford a coat, that’s how unlucky his is.  We find out later why he is no longer a duo and his emotional scarring makes him refuse much musical help or the thought of joining a group.

He is a rough human being.  He heckles other singers and is angry and unforgiving, but somehow he is able to muster the responsibility of taking care of his friends’ cat who follows him out one day. His chase of the cat and his attempt to bring it home is a consistent theme in the film and adds a cute quirk to his character that was needed.  The snow, cold, and dark night clubs bring the depression level of the film down and Llewyn’s character arc doesn’t go very far in the span of a week.

It is clear that most of the characters in the film are sympathetic to Llewyn and what he has gone through.  He has a distinctive surliness that is tough to connect with, yet somehow I was rooting for him that somewhere in the film his life would turn around.  We know next to nothing about his history, which makes him a mystery.  That is definitely a weakness of the film, in my opinion.

It is very obviously a Coen brother film.  Having been away from art and filmmaking for a few years now, I find it a lot more difficult to appreciate dark and depressing films.  There are little to no redeeming qualities in Inside Llewyn Davis, and to be honest I was at a loss as to what the moral premise was.  I felt that the script needed to be more rounded out and complete.  However, the cinematography was certainly excellent and painted the mood of the film extremely loud.  The folk songs are particularly good and Isaac delivers a good performance.

I don’t think that I will ever watch the film again, but if you have love for the Coen brothers, Oscar Isaac, or especially a connection to music, this could be one that you would enjoy.

The Grandmaster (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Grandmaster (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Philippe Le Sourd) and Best Costume Design (William Chang Suk Ping).
Watched May 24, 2014.

I wanted to like The Grandmaster so badly!  I was really unsure what I was getting into when I started watching it, but I roped my husband into it because I knew it was about martial arts.  It is certainly a unique shooting style with a lot of artistry and strong technique, however its plot was so slow moving that it lost my attention multiple times and I found myself caring little for what was going to happen in the end.

The film is the story and history of martial arts, but is specially focused around Ip Man (played by Tony Chiu Wai Leung), a martial arts master who would eventually train Bruce Lee.  Ip Man was a master during the republican era of China in which the dynasty falls.  He is surrounded by greatness and is inspired, patient, and a true believer in the art.  He becomes attracted to the daughter of a master from the north, despite already having a wife and children.  As the dynasty falls and Japan invades, he is forced to Hong Kong in search of work, but is stranded there when the borders close.  Everyone is claiming to be a martial arts master and fights break out everywhere.  There are very few true masters teaching the art and holding to the old ways.  Ip Man is hit on all sides by life, but is able to open a school that will one day attract the likes of Bruce Lee.

The film’s third main character is time.  Ip Man’s relationship with both kung fu and his love interest Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) are told through a manipulation of time.  Whether the story line is sped up or slowed down, the master is always a presence of calm in the storm.  A calm demeanor, however, does not always mean happiness.  Even the best can be overcome by emotion, especially if the emotion is revenge.  Gong Er’s legacy and family are practically stolen from her, and no matter what it means for herself, she seeks to restore her family honor above all else.  They are wise, but cannot escape time, just like the rest of us.

The cinematography is particularly dark.  When there are joyful times, there is light and color and tradition, but as the invasion happens, everything becomes shrouded in darkness pierced by sharp reds.  The film is truly a piece of art, but its style is a tad over exaggerated and over saturated for my taste.  It becomes so wrapped up in itself (most especially in its over-use of slow motion) that although the kung fu is truly magnificent, it gets lost in its presentation.  Perhaps it is good that it is not flashy and bright, or unrealistic like typical Hollywood.  It is much deeper and more meaningful this way–just very redundant.

If you enjoy films that are more pieces of art than entertainment, this could probably be one you would enjoy.  I don’t think that I will ever seek out The Grandmaster again, and nor do I think it impacted my life, but I don’t regret my time spent watching it either.

Gravity (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Gravity (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards, of which it won 7.
Nominated for Best Picture (Alfonso CuarónDavid Heyman), Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), and Best Production Design (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard).
Won Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Film Editing (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger), Best Original Score (Steven Price), Best Sound Editing (Gienn Freemantle), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Munro, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Skip Lievsay), and Best Visual Effects (Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Tim Webber).
Watched April 7, 2014.

  

What was undoubtedly this year’s overall “winner” at awards night, Gravity is a huge accomplishment in all areas of filmmaking.  To get ten nominations is impressive enough, but to walk away at the end of the night with seven wins is a testament to the skills behind this piece.  If that isn’t enough, the movie even lives up to the hype.  From story and casting to visuals and sound, the film is a feast for your senses.

 

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space mission.  While out on a routine space walk making repairs, their shuttle is hit by debris and Ryan finds herself detached from the shuttle and spinning helplessly into space.  Luckily, her colleague Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who is vastly more experienced, was attached to thruster jets when disaster hit and he is able to tether Ryan to himself and begin a horrifying orbit around the earth towards a space station.  Every breath is terrifying as Ryan’s space suite constantly reminds her how little oxygen she has left.  She has to learn to overcome her fears and must refuse anything but survival as a possibility.

 

We know very little about the characters, but the back story that is revealed about them gives all we need to know.  The story is not simple and predictable, although it has the possibility to be that.  While Clooney’s performance is simple and to the point, his character is exceedingly impressive and calm.  Bullock commands attention, adding to the crescendo of sound and visuals that make Gravity hard to look away from.  Her nomination was extremely well deserved.

 

The film does not make a grand statement.  It revolves around the ideas of “you never know who might be listening” and that space is not able to be conquered–that life in space is impossible.  Almost right away Ryan says, “I hate space,” which sets up her character for what she is about to experience.  You might laugh, you might cry, and you will definitely be sitting at the edge of your seat.  I can only imagine what the film was like in the theatre in 3D, but even on my HD 47inch it was to die for.

 

Director, writer, and editor Alfonso Cuarón paired with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are unstoppable.  I cannot rave enough about the imagery and the lighting.  To be fair, there was no weak link.  All of the puzzle pieces fit.

 

Clearly I would highly recommend this film.  It is one of the best films out of Hollywood in a long time.

Lincoln (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Lincoln (2012)
85th Academy Awards
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 12 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy), Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Best Costume Design (Joanna Johnston), and Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn).
Won Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Production Design (Rick Carter, Jim Erickosn).
Watched February 27, 2014.

I have heard a lot of good things about Lincoln, and perhaps these things, along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ win at the Oscars made me expect too much.  As much as I tend to enjoy the pristine nature of a good Spielberg film, the stage like dialogue, production design, and cinematography left something to be desired.

 

President Abraham Lincoln is perhaps one of the most well remembered Presidents.  This film focuses on a small period of time around his reelection, just months before his assassination.  He is gunning for the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery, much to the chagrin of his cabinet.  Even some within the Republican party were hesitant.  Everyone wanted peace from the Civil War.  They wanted their sons to stop dying in battle and for the South to come back to the nation.  The Democrats were vehemently opposed to the Amendment.

 

We all know what happens in the end, which takes away some of the mystery and suspense, although the filmmakers tried their best to keep the audience on the edges of their seats.  The representatives vote and threaten each other.  Lincoln is slow and yet eloquent.  He speaks strongly when needed but prefers a calm state and story telling.  In tense situations he commands the attention of a room by telling a story that might relate to the situation at hand.

 

The acting, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, is top notch.  They deliver difficult lines and portray a wounded spirit very well.  My favorite scene involving Mary Todd Lincoln (Field) is when she defends her remodel of the white house to some extremists, showing a bit of the gumption that Lincoln must have fallen in love with in the beginning.  The loss of one of her sons has all but done her in, but in this moment there is fire in her eyes, much like in the President’s when he expresses how disgusting slavery is.

 

He and his political party dance the line between peace and the freedom of slaves.  They believe that if they declare peace with the south before the Amendment is brought to a vote, there will be no sense of urgency and it will not be passed.  They employ questionable and typical techniques to “buy” votes and stall envoys.

 

Some of the story is much too slow, or maybe unnecessary.  I understand why they included the story line of Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the son who wants to go to war, but it is so underused that it is more of a distraction from the main story than anything else.  It shows the fear of his parents and unearths more of their grief.  The emotions in these scenes are palpable, but the execution of the filmmaking is very staged.  There is a constant tug of war between filmmaker and actor in this film that I found very distracting.

 

Despite some negative attributes, the film is well done and deserving of its nominations as well as wins.  I would definitely watch it again, although I might not own it.  If you are a history buff you will probably really enjoy it.  I can recommend Lincoln as a good film, but you should expect it to be somewhat slow, dark, and quiet.

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.