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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.

Pina (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Pina (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film (Gian-Piero RingelWim Wenders).
Watched April 9, 2013.

Most of the reviews I read for Pina were absolute raves, but I did manage to find one that agreed with me and made me feel like a little less of a weirdo.  If you love modern dance, contemporary, and ballet, and also have an eye for the abstract in art, you probably will not agree with me.  I generally like contemporary and classical ballet, along with other styles of dance, but this documentary was fairly alienating and is definitely aimed at fans of Pina Bausch, the choreographer genius behind the dances in the documentary.


Pina passed away from cancer just five days after she was diagnosed.  The film was already in pre-production, but after her passing it became a tribute to her choreography and her genius in the dancing community.  The documentary features several dance numbers that she and her company performed during her career, but they are broken apart and are never shown from beginning to end, but rather sprinkled throughout the narrative.  They all tend to incorporate elements–earth and water–or obstacles.  There is very little dialogue, and when there is, it is usually a brief, somewhat ambiguous statement from one of Pina’s dancers about Pina and her style of teaching and choreographing.  There are also original clips of Pina herself in both the studio as well as the stage.  She embodies so much of her dance that after watching her, the other dancers seem as if they are chasing her greatness.


From someone who knew nothing about Pina Bausch before the film, I almost know less after watching it.  I know her name and that she was a dancer and choreographer.  However, the documentary revealed little of her story and her character, but focused mostly on the imagery of her dances and therefore her ideas translated through dance.  However, the fact that her dances were broken up made it more difficult to discover their meaning and therefore grow attached to them.


I am not a dancer and therefore the messages did not translate well.  I was very confused and bored until the last few minutes, when I was finally able to discover some of my own meaning in a few of the dances.  One of the last scenes has the group of dancers doing a certain “line dance,” if you will, along the ridge of a mountain, and I found this shot quite beautiful.


All things said and done, I am glad to cross the documentary Pina off my list and move on to something else.  I would not recommend it if, as I mentioned before, you don’t care for modern or contemporary dance and if you would rather there be some dialogue or verbal explanation of story.  I am a great lover of story, and there was little depth in that regard for me.  However, if you are a lover of dance and a lover of Pina Bausch, please disagree with me and see the film for yourself!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects (Dan LemmonDaniel BarrettJoe LetteriR. Christopher White).
Watched April 7, 2013.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes should have been awarded Most Awkward Title, but like Real Steel, turns out to be a pretty entertaining blockbuster, although this one did try to have some depth to its story.


Sometime in the not too distant future, James Franco… I mean Will Rodman is trying to find the cure for Alzheimers, particularly because his father is suffering from the devastating disease.  Like most drugs, he is testing on apes, and within the first few minutes there is promise and hope–one of the apes, Bright Eyes, is finally showing potential.  Will knows he’s on the right track, and rather hastily gets his reluctant boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), to let him pitch the drug to the board.  Inevitably, things go wrong, and it seems like it’s back to the drawing board… except when Will finds Bright Eyes’ baby boy.  Not able to put him down like Jacobs wants, Will smuggles the baby chimp home and notices almost right away that the chimp is hyper-intelligent.


Many years pass, which include experiments and growth, both on humans and chimps alike.  Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow), whom Will has been giving the experimental drug for Alzheimers, has improved drastically, and as the chimp Caesar has grown, so has his intelligence.  Will is teaching him to sign, and because of his affection for the primate, grabs himself a vet for a girlfriend, Caroline (Freida Pinto).  Her role is rather pointless and I’m never actually sure why she’s there, except to dab Caesar’s occasional boo-boo and to lend an emotional support for traumatized Will.


Because Will does become traumatized towards the end of the film.  First Caesar is sent away, and then things get real crazy.  As this film is a prequel for the two before it, the ending is rather inevitable, but the journey is revealing and entertaining.  Caesar is a sweetheart whose brain eventually gets the better of him.  Taking him away from Will is probably the worst decision the human race has ever made.


Rise is nominated for its visual effects, and they are definitely impressive.  Although the apes are clearly animated, their facial expressions and movements are fluid and realistic, and at times it is easy to forget their animation.  The story and over-all execution is drastically less campy than the previous films, even Tim Burton‘s 2001 version.  Humans aren’t portrayed as all-out bad guys.  There are definite sour fruits all throughout the film, but Will and his family represent the good guys, and they do it well.  It is hard not to root for Caesar and his companions, but if one has seen or knows of the previous Planet of the Apes films, it is impossible not to root for the survival of humanity.


Fun fact for the fans, there is a brief, although significant clip of the first manned shuttle to Mars, but if you don’t understand that reference, move right along.


If you’re looking for a blockbuster that semi-successfully goes a bit deeper into morality and life questions than your typical summer hit, this would be a good one to try out.  However, if you’re more into films like The Artist or Pina, I would highly doubt that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is your cup of tea–but you knew that already.

Real Steel (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Real Steel (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects (Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg).
Watched April 3, 2013.


“Behind it all is a collective fantasy of invulnerability, omnipotence and eternal life.  “Real Steel” at least acknowledges that machines require maintenance to be superhuman” (NY Times). 


Real Steel is your basic entertaining blockbuster with an out of this world budget supported by a fairly incredible cast and with very little depth behind its predictable, albeit likable character arcs.  It doesn’t try to be more than it is, and although it is a bit long of a film, it brings us a different kind of sport movie, complete with a feel-good montage sequence, thats heroes are robots–not humans.


Don’t get me wrong, the focus is definitely more about the character growth of the humans than the robots.  This isn’t your typical sci-fi thriller where the robots are terrifyingly intelligent, they outthink us, and try to take over the world.  In fact, it almost seems as if director Shawn Levy was careful not to dwell too long on any robot’s face, lest we get the feeling that there is something going on in its brain.  The robots in Real Steel are innocent, despite what their human owners are using them for.


It is sometime in the future and human boxing has become obsolete, something that Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is trying to forget.  Robots have taken over in the ring, and despite the fact that Charlie is clearly bitter about not being in there himself, he is a robot fighter, bringing his dilapidated monsters around to underground fights where big league rules don’t apply.  Things aren’t going well for Charlie–he keeps losing and is behind on his rent.  He lives in the old gym where he used to train, and the daughter of his now deceased coach, Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly) owns it, as well as fixes up his bots.  After a lot of bad luck, things seem to turn around when Charlie’s old fling turned baby mama dies (we don’t know how) and Charlie could stand to earn a lot of money if he plays his cards right.  The kid, Max (Dakota Goyo) shows little emotion toward his mom’s passing, but is remarkably like Charlie, and figures out pretty quickly that Charlie sold him to his aunt.


Through some turn of events, Max has to stay with Charlie for the summer, and inevitably, because he is the carbon copy of his dad, he falls in love with robot boxing.  He finds a robot in a junk yard–an old second generation sparring bot named Atom, and essentially falls in love, like a kid would fall in love with a dog.  Using his giant eyes of persuasion, he gets Charlie to help him out, and Atom’s incredible ability to take a hit instantly skyrockets them to fame and eventually onto the big stage where they take on the biggest professional fighters of the day.


The special effects are out of this world.  I usually completely forget that the robots are computer generated, and although we all know that Atom has zero brain functions, it’s hard to not root for him.  It’s a lot easier to root for Max–he has a fiery personality that travels right alongside his innocence.  Charlie is a tough cookie and has a lot of issues he has to get through, but by the end he is a lot more endearing.


One of the last scenes is my absolute favourite, although I wouldn’t say watching the entire movie is worth it just to get to that place.  If you’re looking for an entertaining, well made blockbuster, this is definitely a good option.  It’s not particularly something I would want to watch over and over again, but it has a feel-good quality that I quite enjoy, and the ending is uplifting and joyful, which is a good feeling to walk away with after watching it.  If you haven’t seen this one and you’re into sport-type movies, I would recommend it.  However, if you’re looking for something with a certain level of depth, this would be one to stay away from.