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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Sound Editing (Brent Burge, Chris Ward), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson), and Best Visual Effects (David Clayton, Eric Reynolds, Eric Saindon, Joe Letteri).
Watched December 17, 2014.

 

In case you missed my review of the first Hobbit film, check it out here.  I would like to reiterate something that I emphasized last time.

“One of the great contrasts in story between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is at their core, their morality and grand stories are very different.  The Lord of the Rings largely explored good versus evil and how the worst evil can poison even the best of us.  The Hobbit explores lust and the unexplainable want of the wealthy to retain and maintain what they consider theirs, even if they never actually used it.  These moral explanations are overly simplified at best, but at their very core, that is what they are.  Perhaps The Hobbit‘s morality is less obvious or creates less of an impact.  This, combined with the more adventurous, lighthearted story as well as the long-winded three-part film idea, leaves critics disappointed.  In The Lord of the Rings, the good versus evil was obvious, the quest was epic, the seriousness and adult story telling nature created a complex world that will captivate for generations.  Although The Hobbit is first and foremost a children’s book, this reality is lost on many viewers and critics alike.”

After having seen all three films now, I’m disappointed in the added story telling employed to beef up the plot line to fill three release dates.  For the most part Peter Jackson and his exceedingly talented team captured the essence of The Hobbit and Middle Earth very well, but really should have pulled back into at most two films and allowed the children’s book to speak for itself.

The second film is good.  Not Lord of the Rings good, or new Star Trek good, but good.  It’s the middle of the road and leaves questions unanswered.  This is typically the drawback of splitting books into multiple films, or just series in general.  There are always loose ends.  My biggest disappointment was probably the title of the film in relation to the actual plot, but I won’t say much more than that in case I spoil something for those of you who don’t know the storyline yet.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and crew are back at it.  He, the dwarves, and Gandalf have escaped the Misty Mountains, the goblins, and Gollum to find themselves in need of help.  They stop at Beorn’s (who happens to be a shape shifter), rest up, and then head off for the dangerous Mirkwood Forest.  They encounter giant spiders and unimpressed elves, including our favorite Legloas (Orlando Bloom) and the invented Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), whom Kili (Aidan Turner), the surprisingly un-dwarf-like dwarf kindles an unconventional relationship with.  After many adventures and hardships, they make their way to Lake Town, where they meet Bard (Luke Evans–who looks remarkably like Orlando Bloom).  He turns out to be pretty important, and despite helping the dwarves get into the town safely, he isn’t always on their side.

In the end, Thorin (Richard Armitage) works his magic and wins over the town and its Master (Stephen Fry), who arm them, feed them, cloth them, and then send them to the mountain to meet the dragon whom the young folk don’t really believe in anyways, so long has he been hidden away with his great wealth.  It has now come time that Bilbo does was he was hired for, and that is to burglar.  By this point, the dwarves have become quite fond of him, but their close proximity to the Lonely Mountain kind of distracts them and puts Bilbo in a bit of a spot.  We’ll see more of that in the third film, however.

For the most part, there aren’t a lot of complaints I can make about the technicality of this film.  It is all exquisite, from the special effects down to the costuming and make-up.  These days our filmmakers like using special effects instead of make up and animatronics, which detracts from the reality of the film somewhat, but then again, they’re in Middle Earth.  Things are a little different there.  The music is epic, the scenery is, well, New Zealand so it’s beautiful.  The elves get a good amount of screen time, and although a lot of it is added from the additional story, it’s pretty bad-ass.  I love Evangeline Lily and think she makes an excellent elf, but I don’t think they should have added her story line at all.  Its benefits are that it shows a different dimension to Legolas that we haven’t seen before, and we as obvious Lord of the Rings fans get to spend more time with an already loved character, but for the most part Tauriel is unnecessary fluff to add screen time.

A good portion of the film is devoted to Bilbo and Smaug, who have a lengthy conversation towards the end.  Like his game of riddles with Gollum in the first film, book enthusiasts should like how much content the filmmakers use here.  It isn’t on the same level as the Gollum interaction, perhaps because we didn’t know Smaug before this film/book, but at least Benedict Cumberbatch voices him.

If there is anything you have to realize as the audience it is that this is not going to be Lord of the Rings.  It is a completely different beast unto itself that has the unfortunate big brother constantly hanging over it.  There is too much content, too much expected of it, and it doesn’t deliver precisely what we want to come out of Middle Earth.  Thorin is dramatic, Legolas does his classic eye acting, and Bilbo faints on occasion.  Kili is the boy band dwarf who doesn’t look like a dwarf who falls in love with an elf and somehow she falls back.  There will always be too much added story for the films to be what the Lord of the Rings series became.  Even without the book as reference, there is too much going on to make The Hobbit a great success.

I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, but I’ll own it and watch it over and over again.  If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to discourage you.  Something from Peter Jackson and Middle Earth is probably better than a lot of the films out there these days, and its nominations are well deserved.  Share your opinions with me, whether they are the same or different.  I would love to hear what you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

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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.

Captain Phillips (2013) Reivew | Jamie Daily

Captain Phillips (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca), Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Film Editing (Christopher Rouse), Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Burdon, Chris Munro, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray).
Watched March 20, 2014.

There is some kind of magic between director and actor that sometimes happens.  When it does, the pair becomes inseparable, and the movie becomes something that is hard to forget.  Captain Phillips is one of those films, and the combination of director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks is a match made in heaven.

 

Tom Hanks is your typical go to guy to play a relatable hero who the audience feels safe with.  From Apollo 13 to Castaway, he has had some amazing roles and some amazing performances.  His role as Captain Richard Phillips is somewhat different, but that is certainly not a bad thing.

 

The screenplay is based off of a true story.  Captain Richard Phillips is a merchant captain whose assignments often take him far away from home.  He is a quiet man who takes to leadership well, following regulations and gently but sternly insisting that his crew does the same.  He is captaining a large container ship, the Maersk Alabama.  There is no fraternizing with the crew.  He is there to work, and once he receives an email about increased pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, he runs safety drills to the chagrin of everyone on board.

 

The Maersk Alabama became the first cargo ship in two hundred years to be hijacked by pirates.  Phillips is calm and collected, showing heroics in his leadership skills and his cool head, despite the fact that he is just an ordinary man.  He becomes a tour guide of sorts to the Somali pirates, and in trying to get the pirates off the ship and to keep his crew safe, he is kidnapped and finds himself on a lifeboat with four Somalis with guns and short tempers.  The Somali captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is young and often finds himself being influenced by Phillips’ logic (and obvious leadership), but the muscle of the crew, Najee (Faysall Ahmed) is much more free with the trigger finger and much less likely to listen to anyone but his own addrenalin.

  

The performances in this film are all top notch, but Tom Hanks towers above them.  His last scene will stay with me for a long time.  I would definitely consider his lack of a nomination an upset, and Abdi’s nomination a surprise.  For someone with no acting experience he had a stellar performance, but with no disrespect meant, I don’t necessarily think he deserved a nomination.  Despite these opinions, there were no weak links in the film.  It is a tense roller coaster from the beginning.  There is very little time spent on back stories, but the audience gets to know enough about these men as the film progresses to understand their simplest traits.  Phillips is a family man who is good at his job.  Muse is in a deadly, competitive environment where the emphasis is on money and not on family.

 

The editing on this film was seamless.  The pace has its peaks and valleys, but once they are in the lifeboat it just continues to quicken.  Despite minimal gunfire, the terror is rampant, and when Phillips puts his own safety at risk just to write a note to his family, the crescendo seems never ending.  If I can rave about anything in this film it would be the pace.  It never lets up.  The story never stops.  The director never lost control of his film and juiced everything he could out of every minute of screen time.

 

What an incredible nomination that received no awards.

 

I’m basically gushing about this film.  If you haven’t seen it already, you need to.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Mark BoalKathryn Bigelow, Migan Ellison), Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Best Film Editing (Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg).
Won Best Sound Editing (Paul N. J. Ottosson).
Watched February 20, 2014.

  

Honestly, Zero Dark Thirty is one of my favorite films from the 85th Academy Awards.  The acting, the story, the editing–everything together makes an intense roller coaster of awesomeness.  A lot of people are concerned about the political statements, or are distracted by the scenes depicting torture.  I of course feel the emotional impact of this film like many other Americans.  I feel it positively and for the most part am okay with the past of my country that the narrative portrays.  I like the essence of America that the film depicts (when it comes to the Intelligence behind war), but I can understand those who do not agree politically with what this film represents and how that might cause some to dislike the movie as a whole.  As most reviewers should be able to do, I will separate my personal and political opinions to dissect the film as objectively as possible.

 

Maya (Jessica Chastain) was recruited right out of high school to join the CIA.  After 9/11, she is sent to Pakistan.  Her number one job is to track Osama bin Laden.  It is all she has ever done.  The film opens on an interrogation sequence in which Maya is introduced to water boarding and other techniques that intelligence used on terrorists.  Dan (Jason Clarke) becomes a good friend and support of hers, but is unwavering in his interviews.  He shows no problem with sleep deprivation and other tactics, but has a little more emotional depth outside of the interrogation room.  He and Maya trust each other early on, but he eventually heads state side when their interrogation techniques begin to become a little taboo politically.  This leaves Maya to fend with Josephy Bradley (Kyle Chandler), the head of the CIA Pakistani office, on her own.

Maya is the job.  She spends long days and nights at her desk and we rarely see any sort of social life from her.  She seems to have one friend among her coworkers, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), in which we see her go out for dinner one time throughout the whole film.  She works for over a decade, doing nothing but tracking bin Laden.  Her coworkers lose focus after London bus bombs and attacks on their home.  Protect the home land becomes the motto, but this statement produces one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the film in which Maya asserts herself to Joseph, insisting that he provide her with the resources that she needs to track the most dangerous wanted man in the world.

 

We know from history what the end result of Maya’s dedication is.  The last third of the film is all about the operation to get bin Laden, and it is eventually Maya who identifies the body.  Over a decade of work to track one man–now what?  I can imagine the surreal weightlessness of the situation, and the imagery of this sequence is spot on.  As she identifies the body, the camera is shot up at her, showing that this is a powerful moment for Maya, and as she leaves Pakistan, the weight of what she has accomplished seems to hit her.

  

There are no weak points, in my opinion, to this film.  The story telling is magnificent, the focus is great, the camera work is acceptable, and the sequence within bin Laden’s compound is so realstic it is impressive.  Despite all of these strengths, Chastain is above and beyond all of them.  Who would think that this is the same actress who played the ditzy blonde Celia Foote in The Help the year before?  She is outstanding.  Her character is emotionally distant and dedicated to the job, but Chastain puts humanity into her.  She has a steely resolve that makes the audience have more confidence in her than her on camera superiors.  She is driven and feisty–the ultimate leading lady with enough gumption for the entire cast.

 

The supporting cast is so sparingly used that when we come to the sequence in bin Laden’s compound and the cut aways to Maya are so few, one might think this would be too much of a change in the narrative.  I actually really liked it.  It is long and quiet and suspenseful.  All Maya is doing is sitting on pins and needles, waiting, which is exactly what we are doing as we watch the film.

 

They never show bin Laden’s face.  They show a trail of blood and some blurry images.  They might show a beard, or a nightgown here and there, but his image is never glorified for memory.  He was and is no more, and it is Maya who should be remembered for her accomplishments, not bin Laden for his terrorism.

 

This film is rated R and is intense.  It is as much a character driven film as it is a narrative driven film.  There is plenty of action, plenty of drama, and plenty of suspense.  I would highly recommend this film, as it is one of my favorites.

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.