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Margin Call (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Margin Call (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay (J.C. Chandor).
Watched September 5, 2013.

  

Whether or not technical jargon or financial speak is your thing, your forte, your niche–Margin Call is a thriller without ghosts and guns but with speech, money, and meetings.  What The Ides of March is to politics, Margin Call is to banking, but with a twist.

 

It is 2008, roughly 24 hours before the entire US financial system went in the tank.  It opens upon an amazing cast playing bankers within an institution roughly based on Lehman Brothers.  Over eighty percent of the employees are let go in one day, including head of the risk department, Stanley Tucci.  As he enters an elevator with a box of his possessions, he hands his employee Peter (Zachary Quinto) a flash drive with the words “Be careful.”

 

Peter, who is essentially a rocket scientist but got into finance for the paychecks, takes to the task immediately and discovers something that causes the entire upper management to panic and hold meeting after meeting in the wee hours of the morning.

 

I wasn’t able to understand the technical jargon all that much, which is why I appreciate that the CEOs don’t really comprehend it either, and therefore as Peter continually has to explain himself on more and more simple levels, I came to understand what was happening slowly as the movie went on.  Their stock was essentially worthless.  The entire system was going to come crashing down, and if they did not act, they would lose everything.

 

It is a battle between money and morality.  Do you risk losing all of your customers or do you sit by and watch everything fall away?  It is a quick, simple decision that affects the entire economy.

 

There was a lot about this film that I loved, and not very much that I disliked.  The cast is out of this world, including appearances by Kevin Spacey, Paul BettanyJeremy Irons, and Demi Moore.  Even though the lowest representative on the totem pole makes a quarter of a million dollars a year, his character represent the every man–obsessed with money, how to make it and continue gaining it–and how the crashing economy results in him bawling in a toilet stall because he has lost everything.  Those with higher positions make big bucks and earn promotions, while those on the selling floor are let go the minute they get rid of most of their stocks.

 

Besides some quiet audio and perhaps a rather complicated subject for those with no background in finance, there are very few weak points in this film.  I found it interesting, sad, and although I already knew what the outcome must be, it was still nail biting.

 

If you have the patience for well written films with zero explosions, I recommend this one be moved to the top of your list.  I really enjoyed it.

Footnote (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Footnote (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Joseph Cedar).
Watched June 1, 2013.

Footnote is an interesting Israeli film full of comedy and family drama.  The story of the film is fairly boring, but perhaps that is what makes it so good.  Despite the fact that it is a foreign film, the story is so every-man and ordinary that the circumstances, both comical and heart wrenching are relatable for even yours truly.

It was not my favourite film, but it borrowed techniques of humor and story telling from some of my most beloved styles that I appreciated it for what it was.  The wonderful camera work communicates the extensive family drama.  There is even  an arch nemesis.

It is the story of a father and his son, Eliezar and Uriel Shkolnik who are both scholars in the same field.  Uriel has been significantly more successful than his father, whose life’s work was stolen from him and published directly before Eliezar was set to release his Talmudic Studies work.  As such, his only published acknowledgement is in the footnote of another noteworthy scholar’s book.  Eliezar has studied the same thing his entire life, and although he has been nominated every year to receive the Israel Prize, he never receives it.  In turn, he is very critical of his son’s work, which is much more philosophical and less grounded in fact, as he believes.  Despite this, Uriel has been exceedingly successful in his career.

The rest of the plot I will leave for you to discover.  The characters are very interesting.  Uriel always feels as if he has to overcome his father’s poor reputation in the scholarly community, while Eliezar  believes that he himself is one of the most knowledgeable scholars.  He will publicly criticize his own son, despite his own failings.  The marriages and father-son relationships are strained and cyclical.

Yes, I did say that there is a comedic element to this film.  It is constantly teetering between character implosion and circumstantial humor that makes it a somewhat stressful viewing experience.

The film is beautiful, the acting is wonderful, and the characters are deeply complex.  It is the story that I found as slow as molasses.  I believe that Footnote is worth one viewing, but after that I would rather spend my hours on something else.

If you generally enjoy foreign films and don’t mind a slower pace, this is something that I would recommend for you.  Otherwise, I would recommend viewing something else.

(WARNING: Trailer contains major spoilers!)

The Master (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Master (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).
Watched April 25, 2013.

Everywhere I look, the world of reviewers is raving about The Master.  Hardly anyone has anything negative to say.  To be quite honest, there have only been two films I have watched so far that have driven my writing on this blog to a complete standstill, and this is one of them.  It was all I could do to sit through the first half hour of this film, let alone the remaining 100 plus minutes.

 

While the acting was all well and good and those embodying their characters gave intense commitment to their character arc, the story itself was lackluster and slow moving.  The emotional depth was so one note that it was hard to keep my eyes open.  When the story attempted to get deep and perplexing, there was so little explanation and so much left to the audience to discover and decide that I lost interest immediately.  I am a big fan of films that make you think, but this film made me so uncomfortable that I had to walk away from it several times.

 

In the most simple of terms, the film is about a cult.  A man named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) returns home from World War II a broken man.  He spends his nights making and pushing his moonshine (generally made out of soap and paint thinner, among other things), and his days searching for his next job, because he can’t seem to hold down anything.  His world changes drastically when he happens upon a storybook ship adorned with lights and laughter.  He hops aboard and finds himself the new pet of The Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

 

Author and thinker, Dodd leads around a gaggle of ex-wives and family as he teaches about past lives and healing faults and hurts of the past.  He argues that the earth is trillions of years old and that by healing our past wounds we can become a more perfect species.

 

Despite how interesting and soul searching this might sound, that’s really all there is to this film.  There are some awkward experiences and a few fists are thrown here and there, but the film really stays at a standstill and by the end there is very little growth seen in any of the characters.  Freddie maybe has the most change, but the rest are determinedly still.

 

While there are some winning scenes of impeccable performances, the scenes together do not combine into anything moving or resolved.  I would not recommend this film, and will likely avoid it from now on at all costs.

Ides of March (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Ides of March (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Beau WillimonGeorge ClooneyGrant Heslov).
Watched April 20, 2013.

 

“But is it better to win and deliver on half your pledges or retain your purity and achieve nothing?” (The Guardian)

 

I was working in a movie theatre when Ides of March came out and I had a vague interest in seeing it.  It probably had something to do with Ryan Gosling being in the film, but it was 2011, a year before elections, and I was sick of politics already.  It is probably best that I avoided it, but now that I have some political clarity, I actually quite enjoyed the film and for what people my age tend to call “an old person film,” I really appreciated the 102 minute runtime.

 

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is gunning for the presidency and is deep in the trenches of political warfare–the democratic primary campaign.  He claims no religion and always smoothly moves the questions in the direction of the constitution.  His campaign manager is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who has equally made his life about politics as well as loyalty among the ranks.  The Ides of March has its main eye on another character–the right hand man to Zara is the young, dashing idealist Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) who still retains his innocence toward politicians and the campaigning process.  He claims the only reason he works for Morris is because he believes that he is the only solution to the country’s problems.  It is as if he has Morris on a pedestal and the man can do no wrong.

 

Things take a turn pretty quickly.  The competition’s campaign manager, a Mr. Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), sees something brilliant in Stephen and asks him to meet him at a bar.  It is here that he offers the young visionary a job and claims that he has caused another politician to jump ship with a promise of Secretary of State.  Stephen is confused and reeling, not sure whether or not he should tell Zara about his meeting and not sure why Duffy would come to him with these stories.

 

Stephen learns pretty quickly about the value of loyalty, but he also learns that no one is perfect.  If you want to survive in this career path, you have to make the tough decisions and sometimes you might even have to compromise your beliefs for a man you once thought a saint.  His innocence is shattered and he has to choose whether or not to let others trample all over him or to use the many weapons in his arsenal to get what he wants.

 

Ides of March is a slow, dialogue driven, political thriller directed by George Clooney that uses its short run-time very effectively.  Gosling’s character reminded me a lot of his character in Drive, although this time he is much more talkative.  All of the actors did a good job–they were all believable in their roles and the people who you might love in the beginning prove to fool the audience just like they are fooling the American public.  Politics can be a dirty game, and this film only shows a part of that.

 

There is very little bias toward democrats or republicans, although there are shorts snippets of Morris discussing his liberal ideals.  It isn’t a film to convince you to become democrat, but more of an insight into a world that we all know is full of liars and manipulation.  They all want to get to the top, even the interns.

 

If this sounds like your kind of movie, I would definitely recommend it.  It’s not something I would watch all the time, but it is well made and the scripting, of course, is very well done.

 

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.