Best Directing

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 8 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Best Adapted Screenplay (David O. Russell), and Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers).
Won Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
Watched January 24, 2014.

  

Silver Linings Playbook is your average rom-com story, but with creative and unique characters that take the film up a notch.  It is no wonder that it received so much recognition from the Academy, and if it weren’t for some stiff competition, Cooper might have been accepting an award right alongside Lawrence.

 

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent the last eight months in a mental hospital.  He found his wife in the shower with another man and almost beat him to death.  He found out in the hospital that he is bi-polar and has been struggling with it his whole life.  Against his doctor’s wishes, Pat’s mom Dolores (Jackie Weaver) gets him out on court approval and he moves back in with his parents with one goal in mind–get healthy and get Nikki.  His wife Nikki (Brea Bree) has placed a restraining order on him, but Pat will do anything to get her to see that he is better and that he is good enough for her.

 

While having dinner at his friend’s house, he re-encounters Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow who is just as messed up as he is.  After only an hour or so she makes him walk her home and then offers him sex, but Pat insists that he’s married.  They begin an unlikely friendship in which their problems sometimes complement each other and other times result in public embarrassments and encounters with the cops.

  

Tiffany’s sister is Veronica (Julia Stiles) who is friends with Nikki.  Pat wants Tiffany to get a letter to Nikki explaining how much he has improved, but Tiffany decides that she will only do it for something in return, which is how Pat gets roped into doing a dance competition with Tiffany.  Pat’s dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) hates Tiffany because he thinks she’s messing up the Eagle’s juju.

 

Pat’s relationship with his family is complicated, and it is obvious that his dad probably struggles with the same emotional problems that he does.  His mom fights for both of them, hoping that love will cure them both although she always seems anxious about her men.  Pat senior makes a living from betting on the Eagles games and Pat Jr. is his good luck charm.

 

While the end of the story is pretty typical and the rest of the time Pat is pretty good at playing the hero, the remainder of the film does a really good job of showing an honest and raw view of Pat, his family, and what they are going through.  Tiffany seems like she’s had an extra helping of crazy but Pat slowly brings her down to earth.  Both Cooper and Lawrence fully inhabit their roles and bring a reality to them that is exquisite, especially from Cooper whose previous appearances in films such as The Hangover didn’t show the abilities that he possesses.

 

Despite the fact that Lawrence is pretty hot right now and I am a fan of hers, I think she deserved the Oscar that she won.  She became Tiffany, leaving behind the teen Katniss from The Hunger Games and embracing more of the Ree from Winter’s Bone (that earned her a nomination in 2011), she went all out.  Cooper also did the role justice.  My favorite scene was when he could not find his wedding video and a terrific family fight ensued in which the cops were called and a teenage neighbor showed up with a video camera.  I could feel Cooper’s frustration and his loss of control while his family tried to help instead of escalate the situation.

 

The film is kept pretty muted as far as colors go and the comedy is all appropriate and well timed.  David O. Russell obviously did an amazing job directing this film and while I didn’t find the editing particularly unique, it got the job done (aka it was invisible, as it should be).  The visuals and behind the scenes are all top notch, but the thing that makes the film for me is the characters and the actors who inhabit them.

 

If you can handle a good amount of swear words and a little bit of crazy, I would definitely recommend Silver Linings Playbook to you.  While it might be a romantic comedy, your guy will enjoy it as much as your girl (Cooper and De Niro don’t hurt, and the football talk is good as well).  If you don’t have this film on your Netflix list yet I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Advertisements

Speedy (1928) Review | Jamie Daily

Speedy (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Director, Comedy (Ted Wilde).
Watched November 21, 2013.

  

I will be completely honest.  I have watched several silent films so far, some of which I loved, some of which I did not, but one that I feel is no longer relatable is Speedy.

 

The comedy is just over an hour long and full of slap-stick that Americans would normally love and respect.  The star, who at the time was a bigger crowd pleaser than Charlie Chaplin himself, is none other than Harold Lloyd.  His character is very bad at keeping down a job, partly because he is obsessed with the Yankees, but also because he is probably the most unlucky klutz of all mankind.

 

After losing another job, he takes his girlfriend Jane (Ann Christy) out to Coney Island where the slap-stick and ill fortune continues.  They pick up a dog along the way and ruin his new suit in the process.  The whole story climaxes at the end with Jane’s Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff) who runs the last horse drawn trolley in the city.  As long as he runs the trolley once every twenty-four hours, he keeps his rout, but the big railroad tycoons are trying to take over and offer Pop pennies for his track.

 

The one thing Speedy seems to do right is recognize that Pop’s rout is worth a lot of money and he will do everything to make sure that the trolley stays running, Pop doesn’t get hurt, and the tycoons pay up.

  

Speedy has three distinct acts.  In the first, Speedy loses his job and takes Jane out to Coney Island anyways.  There is essentially no dialogue, only slap-stick comedy.  When it comes to films depicting complete idiots who fail at every turn, I have very little patience.  Although others find it amusing, and I could understand how this film could entertain in 1928, I grit my teeth and often leave the room because I can’t stand to watch it.  That is how I felt the entire 71 minutes of this film.  It was extremely uncomfortable.

 

In the second act, Speedy has a job as a cab driver.  He does everything from having an out-of-order sign on his car (unbeknownst to him), to getting several tickets, to driving the Great Bambino Babe Ruth himself to a Yankees game.  He does absolutely nothing right and loses another job in the same day that he gets it.  Yet again, I could not sit still while watching.

  

The third act is my favorite.  Speedy finally succeeds at something and he has a goal–protect Pop and save the trolley.  He enlists the help of some old veterans who have their game nights in the trolley and feel fiercely protective of it.  The railroad tycoons have hired some thugs to take it out of commission, but Speedy and his boys will do anything to stop them.

 

There were a lot of things I could do without in this film, but it did have a few highlights.  Ann Christy does a lovely job and I enjoyed her character as well as her performance.  The shots of Coney Island are exquisite and if you have the opportunity to see this portion of the film, I would recommend it simply so that you can see it.  The lights, the booths, and most especially the rides are so nostalgic and lovely.  Lloyd’s last silent film captures the heart of Coney Island perfectly.  Despite this, however, I could have done without the first two acts entirely.  I wish that the story had more of a focus and got less sidetracked while attempting to make the audience laugh.  Perhaps it is because America had come to expect this sort of comedy from Lloyd; I wouldn’t know.  I wish that they had instead beefed up the third act and made it almost the entire movie.

 

That being said, I am unfortunately not a fan of Speedy and don’t plan on ever watching it again.  The recommendation to see it is very hesitant, although I would love for you to see some of the Coney Island shots and perhaps Babe Ruth himself looking very uncomfortable in the back of a speeding cab.  Besides that, however, I really disliked most of the rest of the film.

Amour (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Amour (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Director (Michael Heneke), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke), and Best Picture (Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Velt Heiduschka, Michael Katz).
Won Best Foreign Language Film (Michael Haneke).
Watched November 12, 2013.

  

Amour is a heavy, well crafted tale of the tests that love goes through in the last days of our lives.  Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) have been married a long time.  Well cultured and now retired music teachers, they lead simple lives in a beautiful french apartment full of books and a baby grand.  One morning, Anne has a lapse, which we assume was probably a stroke, because the next time we see her she has undergone surgery, and it went badly.  She slowly progresses from being half paralyzed in a wheelchair to being bed ridden and cared for my nurses and husband alike.

 

Georges bears most of his wife’s condition very well, although you can see the sadness, fear, and helplessness in his eyes.  His daughter, who seems very preoccupied with her own life, keeps insisting that something must be done, but Georges has the ability to see that there isn’t much that can be done but help Anne be comfortable.  Anne loses her ability to communicate in the end, but although her words make no sense, you can see every emotion plainly in her eyes.

 

This is one of those films where I forgot pretty quickly that I was watching a foreign film.  I hardly noticed I was reading subtitles most of the time.  It is somewhat slow moving, particularly in the stillness that director Michael Haneke uses effectively.  He chose to shoot several scenes in one shot.  The camera doesn’t move for several minutes while Georges cuts flowers, Anne learns to use her wheelchair, or receives a bath from a nurse.  There is so much communication in this film, and most of it isn’t through dialogue.

 

The cinematography is brilliant, the story telling is wonderful, and the emotions are heart breaking.  It is easy to connect with the characters, which is sometimes difficult in foreign films.  Almost the entire film is shot in their small apartment and yet we see a whole life story.  Georges and Anne are still individuals who are learning about one another, and though the truth is that we all die alone, Georges is with Anne every step of the way, with love that only he could show to her.

 

Although the film is hard to watch, I also found the story quiet beautiful.  Those of us who are lucky to make it to their age with our partner will one day experience this, and it isn’t any easier than if they had lost each other earlier in their lives.  The story is relatable, but it is also an example of the partnership in marriage.

 

This film will require a little patience, and should probably not be viewed if you are having a tough time in life, but besides that I would highly recommend it.

Life of Pi (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Life of Pi (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 11 awards, of which it won 4.
Nominated for Best Picture (Ang Lee, David Womark, Gil Netter), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Magee), Best Music, Song “Pi’s Lullaby” (Bombay Jayashri, Mychael Danna), Best Sound Editing (Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton), Best Sound Mixing (D. M. Hemphill, Drew Kunin, Ron Bartlett), Best Production Design (Anna Pinnock, David Gropman), and Best Film Editing (Tim Squyres).
Won Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Original Score (Mychael Danna), Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), and Best Visual Effects (Bill Westenhofer, Donald R. Elliott, Erik-Jan De Boer, Guillaume Rocheron).
Watched April 12, 2013.

 

Life of Pi is based off the award winning book by Yann Martel.  I have loved the book for years and was ecstatic when I heard about the film, but when the movie actually came out, other lovers of the book told me that they were really disappointed in it, so I decided not to see it in theaters.  Low and behold, I should NOT have listened to them!  Opinions about the film vary, which is understandable, from both those who have read the book and those who have not.  From my perspective, not only does the film follow the book incredibly well, but its execution stands up to Martel’s vision and I would love to watch it as often as I read the book… which is very often.

 

Life of Pi can be broken into three parts.  Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is living in Toronto when an author (Rafe Spall) comes to him in search of a story–a story that is said to make you believe in God.  With a knowing smile, Pi begins at the beginning.  He was raised in Pondicherry as a zookeeper’s son.   The beginning is very family friendly–with silly humor including an overly buff and disproportionate swim instructor and Pi’s exploration of many religions.  The beginning almost feels disconnected with the rest of the film, but it is also necessary in order to set up the rest of the story.

 

Encountering some difficulties, Pi’s family decides to move to Canada where they will sell the animals and begin a new life.  Their Japanese ship never sees shore again because during a terrific storm, it sinks to the deepest part of the sea and Pi finds himself alone in the ocean, apart from the giant tiger Richard Parker.  This is when the story picks up and things get good.  Pi must find the strength to fight for his life, as it is being attacked from all angles.  His faith is challenged, and because he spends over 270 days at sea, he is left with nothing but faith by the end.

 

Because Pi is telling his story to the author, we know the outcome, and for those who have not read the book, this is perhaps a let down.  However, the book reads the same way and therefore Ang Lee, who directed, took no liberties in that regard.  Although there are a few weak links in the production, as a whole, the entire cast performs very well, and one could argue that the three who carried the film were Ang Lee, Claudio Miranda (the cinematographer), and Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi for the majority of the film.

 

Ang Lee has directed many award winning films in his time.  His wins with Life of Pi are well deserved.  Miranda’s work is exquisite, and combined with the visual effects, the screen becomes candy to the eyes.  When the heavens reflect so perfectly in the waters that it seems Pi and his raft are floating in midair, I wasn’t sure where to look because I wanted to look at everything at once.  Richard Parker, the tiger, is 100% animated and there is very little within the film that indicates this.  Sharma does a magnificent job acting and reacting to his tiger-less circumstances and I am pretty shocked the Academy gave him no recognition.

 

There is love, humor, sadness, and fear.  The end delivers the best moment of the film by Sharma and although many reviewers dislike the conclusion, feeling as if it is a bit tacked on, I found it wrapped everything up nicely.  It is a film that causes one to think rather than just something that entertains.  Although I’m not sure if Pi’s story would cause one to believe in God, I really enjoyed it.

 

I would definitely recommend this film.  Hands down, no arguments against it.  It can be slow at times and the three parts of the film can feel a bit disjointed, but as a whole it is a beautiful film and one that I would love to own.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards.
Nominated for Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), Best Directing (Benh Zeitlin), Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald), and Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin).
Watched March 30, 2013.

My thoughts about Beasts of the Southern Wild, whether profound or otherwise, are few and far between.  The reviews I have read about the film seem to be on either one side of the fence or the other–complete love or near hate.  I am a rarity and find myself on the fence–neither a devoted follower or a hater.  It’s a coming of age story… but with a six year old.

 

This is Benh Zeitlin’s breakout film as a director, and as such, he came out with a bang.  Being nominated for four Oscars while taking the risks that he did in the film are gutsy, and I doubt this will be the last we hear from him in Hollywood royalty.

 

The film is about a community that lives outside the levy in New Orleans around the time of hurricane Katrina, although this fact is not stated in the film.  The main character, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in this place called the Bathtub with her father.  They live in two separate trailers that are perched on stilts.  Her father is not always present, and sometimes Hushpuppy has to fend for herself.  Although it is obvious that her father Wink (Dwight Henry) isn’t the best dad in the world, he is desperate to teach his daughter how to take care of herself because he knows he won’t be around forever.

 

When the hurricane comes, many in their community leave for the protection of the levy, but those who stay see their home torn apart and spend the next while riding boats on what were once streets.  The animals and sea life slowly die and the group has to decide what to do, because doing anything might make the levy people force them to evacuate.

 

Hushpuppy occasionally narrates the film with thoughts so profound and poetic, even though it might be in broken english, that it is hard to believe a six year old could phrase anything that way.  And yet, it is believable because we know Hushpuppy, and we know what a stubborn, quiet, intuitive little girl she is.  We also understand the love she has for her home, as well as the imagination that plays out for us on the screen.

 

Zeitlin used all non-actors for his cast.  The actor who plays Hushpuppy’s dad Wink (Henry) is a baker and has stated no interest in pursuing an acting career.  Many times when non-actors are used, it tears the film apart and very little of the other positive qualities matter.  However, I think the fact that Wallis was nominated for Best Actress, being the youngest ever nominated at nine years old, speaks volumes about the performances in Beasts.

 

Despite the wonderful acting and the art direction, I found the story hard to connect with.  Even though there are traumatic things happening on screen, I felt little to no connection with the characters and felt very little whenever bad (or good) things happened to them.  The cinematography, at times good, others not, was shot on film instead of HD.  I generally like this quite a lot, but the film utilized the currently very popular style of hand held shots, which is something I can only stand in minimal amounts.  I understand the choice, in part, but think it would have been much more powerful if it was used more sparingly.

 

I’m not sure whether or not I would recommend this film.  If you are a fan of such brain benders as The Tree of Life by by Terrence Malick, you might enjoy Beast of the Southern Wild, although Zeitlin has a ways to go before he reaches Malick’s genius.  This isn’t a movie to watch casually, but if you are looking for something serious with childhood adventures (in a non-children friendly movie), it might be a good option.