86th academy awards 2013

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!

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Esteban Crespo).
Watched July 30, 2014.

Aquel No Era Yo is hard to watch from start to finish.  While its execution and possible story can come off as slightly melodramatic, it turned out to be pretty powerful for me personally.

Two doctors are visiting Africa (we aren’t sure where) and find themselves at a barricade manned by child soldiers with automatic weapons.  Paula (Alejandra Lorente) and Juanjo (Gustavo Salmerón), clearly a little naive and very optimistic, almost make it through until an adult with ulterior motives shows up and decides to teach the boys a lesson.  The General (Babau Cham) is less than gracious and watches as his man teaches young boys what to do with outsiders who “kidnap kids.”

There is one negative that I found in the film, and that is its use of non-linear story telling.  It gives something huge away, which takes away from the suspense and therefore the power of the story telling.  Occasionally throughout the short we see a glimpse into the future, into a classroom where first world students are learning about child soldiers and the war culture in this particular African country.  Immediately we know that people survive, and that impacts the plot in a very negative way.

Despite this, the rest of the filming is very well done, from cinematography to acting, color grading to sound and the development of character, Aquel No Era Yo was definitely a force to be reckoned with at these Oscars.  Despite their loss, the film was very deserving of its nomination.

If you can find the time to see the powerful and well made film, I would recommend it!  Just be aware that it is very intense and doesn’t pull any punches.

 

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.

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.

The Hunt (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hunt (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark).
Watched May 12, 2014

Sometimes kids lie, and if we operate under the notion that they are forever truthful, a lot of bad and evil can happen because of it.

What starts out as a simple character study of a decent man who has recently been divorced but sees things start to come around, suddenly becomes  a terrifying exploration of human nature and an interesting glimpse into a side of an issue we rarely take time to consider.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is currently working at a daycare.  He is excellent with the kids and has a very sweet relationship with his best friend’s daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp).  He hangs out with the children’s parents at night and goes hunting on the weekends.  His friends all worry about him, being lonely in his house, but the custody battle for his son seems to be going positively.  Suddenly, however, a crush gone wrong leads Klara to tell a lie that could end Lucas’ life… pretty literally.

Klara tells the daycare owner that Lucas exposed himself to her, and you can imagine that the story and accusations gain momentum from there.  We as the audience are pretty sure from the beginning that Lucas is innocent and we know what damage this can do, but Klara is a young girl who doesn’t understand the power of this kind of lie.  We watch as slowly, the whole town seems to turn against him.  The people who are on his side are impressive displays of unconditional love but they also trust in the knowledge that Lucas is who they think he is.  Klara’s father grapples with a host of intense emotions–the protective nature of a father and the disbelief that his best friend is that kind of man.

Mikkelsen is, without a doubt, the driving force behind the success of this film.  He won best actor at Cannes Film Festival.  His character slinks through the next weeks and months, having not been charged because of a lack of evidence, but is refused business and common decency from the community around him.  The film at its core explores the nature of “false guilt.”  He is treated as more than a criminal.  He receives threats, is beaten, and even church members don’t want to see him in their services.  Mikkelsen’s acting is superb.  He uses “subtle control of his face and voice [to convey] the inner turmoil of a man who is being forced to feel guilty about a crime that never happened” (Roger Ebert).

The film is distinctly actor focused.  There appears to be little fuss about setting up shots and most everything is hand held.  This keeps the film on a smaller scale.  It pulls into the actors and really shows the emotions on their face.  In a sense, this a great choice because the film is so incredibly character driven.  On the other hand, it limits the narrative a bit and leaves much less symbolism and depth.  Sure, a close up can convey the feeling of being “trapped,” but if most of the film is in close ups, the camera work gets stale.  That is the only reason I gave this film four stars instead of five.  Otherwise it is a complete knock out.

I would recommend this film to almost anyone.  Rest assured, you will feel a lot of emotions while viewing this film but I would really consider it worth your time.