Best Writing – Original Screenplay

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Writing-Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola).

“Anderson’s movies often mark out their own weirdly regressive, faintly dysfunctional space, from which the modern world has been politely excluded, and where the occupants communicate in a kind of modified, private language” (The Guardian).

“Moonrise Kingdom” is both bizarrely weird and fabulous at the same time.  Wes Anderson is well known for his unique, artistic view of the world and way of telling a story through film.  This story of two young lovebirds in a tiny island community with interesting takes on reality is no different.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who has been with the island’s scout group for some time.  An outsider with pyrotechnic tendencies, he meets Suzy (Kara Hayward) at a church play and is immediately smitten.  They become pen pals and after much planning decide to “run away” and take a camping trip together.  Sam, after all, is an experienced scout.  Suzy, on the other hand, seems to know nothing about camping but quite a lot about music composition and interesting library books.

The adults are not absent.  On the contrary, they are deeply concerned for the well being of their charges.  They take a break from their own disfunctions to be preoccupied by the young couple’s and spend a good portion of the movie searching for the two, and then trying to keep them apart.  Suzy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are pretty normal, including the untoward relationship between Mrs. Bishop and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).  Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his troop are the most unique characters and other-worldly story line of the entire film.  As they search for the twelve-year-old love birds and try to bring them back to reality, a storm brews off shore that will turn the small community upside down.

Each scene and shot is picturesque.  I really enjoyed the cinematography.  It was like watching a photograph come to life.  The presentation itself was a bit awkward and unique, but that is typical of Anderson’s films.  It is all about the emotion and desire.  He makes the ordinary seem magical.

This film isn’t for everyone.  It’s a bit artistic and out there.  Its timing is even unique and takes pauses in awkward places.  There is a constant reminder that you are watching a film and it won’t allow you to get sucked in.  The scenes including the Scout Master and his troop are so out there that the absurdity is comical–in a good way.

If you are in the mood for an artistic film in which you suspend a bit of your own reality to watch the absurdity of this 1965 community, then I would definitely recommend this film.  If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, definitely watch something else.

Advertisements

American Hustle (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

American Hustle (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Charles Roven, Jonathan Gordon, Megan Ellison, Richard Suckle), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Alan Baumgarten, Crispin Struthers), Best Production Design (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler), and Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell).
Watched June 5, 2014.

David O. Russell is becoming an unstoppable director in recent years.  From The Fighter to Silver Lining’s Playbook, and now onto American Hustle, he groups his favorite actors together in this film to punch out another excellently made, sharp piece with similar humor that we all loved in Playbook.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence are the revisiting dream teams, but their performances are complimented this time by Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. and other big names in the industry.  The star studded cast combined with the fabulous director should be a recipe for greatness, and although the film took home zero Oscars on awards night, it was certainly a strong contender.

The story is a little unoriginal and one we have seen often.  It is the late 70s and early 80s.  Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a small time scammer married to a young woman named Rosalyn (Lawrence).  When he meets vivacious Sydney Prosser (Adams)–if that is her real name–he falls in love and ropes her into his business.  They’re eventually cracked by the feds and ambitious Richie DiMaso (Cooper) offers them a deal to get off the hook.  If they will help him to take town some big time scammers they’ll walk.

Irving is a piece of work, and an excellent character, which is probably what attracted Bale to the part.  The opening scene shows precisely how the man creates his masterpiece of a combover, complete with hair piece.  He knows what he wants and how to get it but he also knows when things aren’t right.  Sydney might turn out to be better than him, but I’ll let you decide on that front.

Despite the fact that Rosalyn knows about Sydney, she comes off as a few crayons short of a set and is constantly setting things on fire or talking about her manicures.  She is surprisingly dangerous and passive aggressive.  In true Lawrence-fan fashion, she was one of my favorite characters in the film.  She brings a different side to the comedy that the other characters don’t, although everyone seems a bit gaudy.  As Christy Lemire  from Roger Ebert says, “Her complexity and unpredictability make her fascinating to watch—she’s just unhinged enough to think she’s the voice of reason—and Lawrence is a radiant scene-stealer.”

The costuming is truly on point.  Sydney is obsessed with the plunging neckline.  Just as distracting is Richie’s head of incredibly curly hair (which he curls every night).  Each character is so delectably unique, and yet somehow the story line doesn’t get bogged down with their loud, semi-insane character arcs and holds things together surprisingly well.

Jeremy Renner plays the mayor, Carmine Polito, who is one of the many they are trying to scam.  He is a big time family man who passionately wants to make a difference in the city, but unfortunately his methods are against the law and Richie is chasing after him.  Irving and Sydney have no choice but to go along.  Rosalyn is the loose cannon that could ruin the entire operation, and everybody knows it.  Instead of keeping her at home, they continue to take her to all of the events and set her free.

The big personalities are a recipe for disaster within the film, but outside of that, everything came together fairly well.  Russell went at the con artist angle with more humor than we typically see.  This is perhaps an attempt to make the plot more unique, but really it’s just a rehash of everything we have all ready seen out of Hollywood.  Everything is executed well, as you can tell from the list of nominations, but what was missing was the twist of originality we typically see from the director and his star studded team.

The film is rated R, but is a great comedy with a lot of wit, laughs, and ridiculous situations.  I can appreciate this type of humor a lot more than something like “Ted.”  If American Hustle sounds like something you would enjoy, I would definitely recommend it.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Picture (Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter), Best Film Editing (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa), and Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack).
Won Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and Best Makeup (Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews).
Watched March 14, 2014.

I have heard a lot of rave reviews of Dallas Buyers Club, many stating that it is a story that needs to be told, but mostly that the acting is out of this world.  I was very young during the time period of this film (beginning around 1985 and going into the nineties) and don’t remember anything about the AIDS crisis.  I have little to no personal experience with it and therefore it hits me in a less personal way.  I am very glad that I watched the documentary How to Survive a Plague before I watched Dallas Buyers Club because this film is more about the characters and a small populace of affected people whereas the documentary had a lot of facts and really represented the numbers and scope of the epidemic well.

 

Dallas Buyers Club is a character driven film with very few side plots.  There are a lot of small rolls and a few big ones, but McConaughey and Leto are, in my opinion and beyond contention, well deserved of their wins at this years’ Oscars.  I was on the fence about McConaughey at first but he slowly won me over.

 

His character, Ron Woodroof, is a genuine cowboy in Texas.  An electrician by day and a rodeo cowboy by night, he spends the rest of his time drinking, doing drugs, and sleeping with hookers.  He is from the beginning shown as a homophobic southern man who perceives himself as quite the ladies man, but when he lands in the hospital from electrocution he is told that he has HIV and has thirty days to get his affairs in order.

 

After a disastrous experiment with AZT, the only drug for HIV and AIDS that was undergoing trials at the time, Woodroof runs down to a doctor in Mexico who tells him and his now full-blown AIDS infected self to switch to vitamins and non-toxic medicines.  He loses his job and is ostracized by his friends, so as a way to make ends meet he starts selling alternative medicine.  In walks Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender with AIDS who ultimately opens the homosexual market to Ron.

While fighting the FDA and selling medicine, Ron fights for his life, with a little bit of innocent romance on the side.  He becomes taken with the only doctor who seems to care about the patients and about AZT’s toxicity–Eve (Jennifer Garner).

In a lot of ways I can understand why this story needs to be told, but more than anything I marvel at the performances of McConaughey and Leto.  Both men lost an exorbitant amount of weight to portray the roles well, which in turn affects their performances.  The moment when Ron realizes the weight of his condition is truly poetic, which is actually a flaw throughout the whole film.  It is more poetic and artistic than raw, which makes the story lose some of its impact.  It is complicated to explain, but its editing and general flow of story, as well as its use of flashbacks give some of the plot an ethereal quality that pulled me out of the film.

 

Leto seems to have a moment every time he is on screen.  It is not just the type of character he is portraying, but the way in which he does it.  His makeup and costuming certainly lend to the character but Leto inhabits and commands it.  From a playful, unabashed personality, to addiction and pure despair, Rayon was generally a very strong character with a smaller role than I expected.  He is leaps and bounds above his competition from this years’ nominees and I would watch the film again just to see his performance.

 

The Dallas Buyers Club is rated R and has a heavy topic with some explicit scenes.  Enter into it knowledgeably.  If you don’t know anything about the AIDS epidemic you might want to do a little reading before you watch the film because it doesn’t represent the magnitude of the situation that well.  Otherwise, of just Leto’s performance alone I would recommend the film.

 

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.