Sunday, February 23, 2014

Voting for the 2014 Oscars

It’s finally here! Awards show season kicked off this January with the Golden Globes, and every week there are more societies looking to promote what they find the best films of the year.  Laced with nominations in every category imaginable along with red carpet interviews that are so graciously candid yet elegant, I look forward to enjoying every second.  As we approach the best part of the cinematic year, the Academy Awards Ceremony, I make it my goal, my duty, to see everything (or close to) as far as the nominees go in the major categories. What else is there to do with a polar vortex sweeping the Tri-State Area?
This has been a very strong past few months in the world of cinema, and it has been tough pitting these pictures against each other, as each is extraordinary in their own way.  Some made me laugh, some made me cry, some made me question why they are even such a big deal?  After careful consideration, these are my votes for the 2014 Oscars:
Best Picture: the hardest category to choose a winner for, perhaps because there have been so many silver screen spectacles this past year. Of the nine (NINE) nominees, my favorite film (and probably the best, as movie making goes) was “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  However, it probably won’t win, as the academy is made up of people who are upwards of 60 years old and probably aren’t into films that are near pornographic.  Especially those of the three hour variety.  Nonetheless, this film is fast-paced as anything.  The source material attached to the film does prove Belfort to be an unreliable narrator at times, but Scorsese is able to dress up everything and keep us watching.  Unlike “American Hustle” (which will probably win if “12 Years a Slave” or “Gravity”-God help us-doesn’t), this film has illegal dealings and an actual plot to follow.  Unfortunately, “American Hustle” may win as a result of its ensemble cast and it being the “safest” film, with the most glamour and the least touchy subject matter.  Nonetheless, if you are looking for a real movie, “Wolf of Wall Street” is the one to watch.  

Best Actor: Christian Bale may be a cinematic chameleon and his toupee had plenty of personality in itself, but his character in “American Hustle” didn’t have an insane amount of depth.  Leonardo DiCaprio is at his finest in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as he bosses everyone around and lets sex, money and drug rule his life.  However, Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” was brilliant.  I mean, the man lost 47 pounds for this role, and looked like a skeleton to get the “dying from HIV look.”  The pent-up frustration he showed in playing Don Woodroof was moving, and the lengths his character went in order to keep himself from dying of AIDS was incredible.  Of course, this film was “based on a true story” so there was something to draw from, but McConaughey’s performance was incomparable.  Even in his bag of bones appearance, I was captivated during the duration of “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett has won me over again.  Ten years ago she shined in Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and now her erratic performance as the titular character in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” has left me feeling the utmost sympathy for her character.  “Blue Jasmine” follows her as she emerges from the denial she faces as she comes to terms with her recent divorce.  She flees from New York and imposes herself upon her sister in San Francisco.  We see her go through one of the hardest things a woman can face, and cheer for her as she starts to get herself together.  The emotional roller coaster Blanchett rides on screen makes many feel sorry for her troubles, and wishes she could overcome everything in her way.  As much as I adore Amy Adams, I felt like her character lacked the depth that Blanchett showed.  She (Adams) won the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, but Blanchett’s emotional range has a stronger presence and should be recognized by the Academy (sorry Amy).  She also beats out Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” anyday.  I’m sorry, being lost in space without George Clooney at your side must be awful, but Cate Blanchett’s tragedy is far more common and likely to happen to the average female.  Thus, once more hitting home for us.  Even though we also love Meryl (who doesn’t?) her performance was a bit too kooky for my taste; it’s not difficult to act high for half of your screen time.  
Best Supporting Actor: This is a tough one; I am caught between Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle” and Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave.”  Although a lot of people don’t think he will win it, I thoroughly enjoyed Cooper in “American Hustle.”  He has come a long way to taking minor roles in R-Rated comedies (“Wedding Crashers”), and his second collaboration with David O’Russell has led him to another Oscar nomination.  And the appeal goes beyond his hair curlers and funky perm.  He plays a cop caught up in the blurred lines of the Abscam operation, Richie DeMaso.  He’s funny, confused and torn.  However, Fassbender was also a favorite of mine this awards show season.  His on-screen presence is dynamic as Edwin Epps, the plantation master.  His personality is loud here, and his strange behavior is interesting to watch, even though we all cringed whenever he would make his slaves dance.  He has potential to go gain more critical acclaim in his career, and  “12 Years A Slave” could be the starting point for that.  
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years A Slave.”  As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence and thoroughly enjoyed her goofy presence in “American Hustle,” I don’t think she deserves an Oscar this year.  Her character had little depth to it, and not even locking lips with Amy Adams will secure her award.  Nyong’o was excellent in “12 Years,” as her character showed boldness in times of adversity, and she has much more depth than J-Law’s sleazy character could hope to have.  Unlike Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County,” Nyong’o’s pain and inner struggle does move us, and Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”) doesn’t have enough feeling in her performance to make us cry for her.  
Best Animated Film: Frozen. If you didn’t like it, then mentally prepare yourself for its soundtrack blaring from my car’s stereo for the next few weeks.  End of story.  
Best Original Screenplay: “Her” by Spike Jonze.  I still can’t get over how good the film was.  And I totally understand that “American Hustle” was a “big deal.”  Hear me out-as many can agree with this statement-it is supremely overrated.  It was a strong character piece, but nothing more.  I couldn’t even tell you what the plot was beyond the first ten minutes; I probably could tell you more about “The Prestige.”  “Her” isn’t a story about falling in love with technology, but is a fresh look at love and how the complexities of it make it worth it in the end.  Screenwriter Spike Jonze uses Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), an operating system, as the tool to teach Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) what it really means to love someone selflessly, and giving yourself that joy.  The allure of falling in love with a piece of technology is brilliant, as it is almost frightening how dependant we are on it today.  As much as I did enjoy “Blue Jasmine,” which is up for the same nomination, the story line behind that script is more hackneyed and expected.  “American Hustle” did have some good lines too, but after researching the film I found that a decent amount of it was improvisation done by the actors.  The story line goes a little fuzzy anyhow.  Nonetheless, “Her” is the light at the end of the tunnel for this year’s various scripts.  

Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name.  Everyone is writing memoirs these days, because there is nothing more interesting to exhaust in a novel than one’s own life.  This memoir is worth reading, and film watching.  The differences between the book and the film were hard to really pick out, as Jordan Belfort lends himself to the pages of the novel, and he becomes an unreliable narrator.  Who wouldn’t be though, based on the amount of drugs he consumed on a regular basis.  This helps him to a fault, as his drug-induced tirade filled with stocks and sex is a brilliant display on screen.  Even though “12 Years a Slave” was the most accurate film-to-source material, it wasn’t as captivating as “Wolf” was, as far as making a spectacle (in this case, a rather burlesque one) of its writing.  Leonardo DiCaprio badgered Scorsese for years to turn this book into a film, and the product is inspiring (in perhaps the most sickening way possible).  

Best Director: Once more, this is another tough category to single out.  Alfonso Cuaron spent four years developing “Gravity” and worked endlessly with Sandra Bullock to develop her character. “12 Years A Slave” was realistic, as the novel it was based on practically wrote the screenplay, giving Steve McQueen lots to work with.  “American Hustle” was glitzy, as David O’Russell allowed for lots of improvisational dialogue and character development.  “Nebraska,” shot in black and white, was an interesting yet effective choice of Alexander Payne.  “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is the film that deserves to win in this category, even though it probably won’t.  There was so much going on onscreen, and through the three hour drug-induced, sex-laced roller coaster, it’s hard not to give him credit for his work.  Scorsese had to personally edit the film to avoid NC-17 ratings, and was meticulous about every detail on-screen.  He has worked on many films in the past, but none of them is as excessive as “Wolf.”  Cinematic excess is difficult to pull off, and no one does it as well as Marty.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Disney Should Stick to Animated Films

            After the Oscar snub of the latest live-action picture from Walt Disney Studios, “Saving Mr. Banks,” I think it is yet another sign that the company should stop making live action pictures.  Even with actors like Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson headlining the “based on a true story” adaptation process of “Mary Poppins” (who doesn’t love “Mary Poppins?”), it didn’t get any nods in the major categories of the nominations.  Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress all seemed to be missing the delightful presence of this film.  It was a charming picture, and told the story of how arduous of a process adapting a book to a movie can be. 
            However, as wondrous as “Saving Mr. Banks” was, it failed to wow the Academy.  Perhaps Disney is better off making animated pictures instead of live-action ones. 
            After the Disney Renaissance in the 1990’s (films like “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast”), Disney’s animated pictures seemed to go into a lull.  As much as we all loved “Lilo and Stitch” and “The Emperor’s New Groove,” they didn’t come close to the quality put into the films ten years prior.  (I guess being a 90’s kid really is what it’s cracked up to be).  So, Disney then tried its hand at pushing out bigger and better live-action pieces.  The bigger-and-better premise for the live-action films allured different audiences (some older, some younger, some more abundant overall) but not all have been as fantastic as some of the most recent animated films have been.  Some studios are just better at making certain kinds of film.  Unfortunately, Disney keeps making films that have been flopping.
            Let’s take a look at Disney’s live-action track record since 2000 or so.  There’s “National Treasure” and its sequel.  There are very few things more entertaining than Nicholas Cage running through Philadelphia with our nation’s blueprint at hand.  The history aspect is good for any geek, and the second one was confusing but still amusing.  Disney had hinted at the second film’s conclusion that there was to be a third film to come.  I’ve been waiting since 2007 to find out what is on the page of 47 in the president’s secret book.  Talk about the ultimate cliff hanger.  Smooth, Disney. 
            However, “Enchanted” was, well, enchanting.  Take Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, some great musical numbers, and you have a modern-day princess movie with a twist, all in our backyard of New York City.  This was an excellent piece by Disney pictures; I still cry whenever Jon McLaughlin sings “So Close” at the ball.  The musical aspect may have led it to its commercial and critical success; nonetheless Disney succeeded here.  I’m still waiting on that Broadway adaptation, of course. 
            “The Lone Ranger” was a flop for Disney.  Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Armie Hammer, the film followed a Native American and a man of justice on their adventures.  The previews looked awful, and the film wasn’t much better.  It is based on the radio series of the same name, and only rendered a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I apologize to the cast for allowing themselves involvement in the film, especially Depp, who has had much better roles in the past. 
            And then there’s the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise; it was a hit or miss depending on how highly you regard the pirate culture. The films part of it include “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” and let’s not forget “The Quest for More Money,” I mean…”On Stranger Tides.”  The first one was excellent.  It had enough closure for it to be a standalone film, but enough room for a sequel to slip in seamlessly.  The soundtracks are awesome, and there’s no denying Johnny Depp’s rendition of a pirate is frightfully entertaining.  It’s no surprise that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley opted out for the fourth film.  It received a shockingly high 6.7/10 star rating on IMDb, considering so many people (who even went to see it) disliked it.      
            “The Tooth Fairy” accomplished the impossible: putting Dwayne Johnson, wrestler-turned-actor-into a tutu for two hours.  This film was anything but entertaining; it was downright awful.  I apologize sincerely to Julie Andrews for signing onto the film to have only 18% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Even worse, a sequel was released not long after starring Larry the Cable Guy.  Need I say more? 
            In more recent years from an animation standpoint, Disney has been a powerhouse, putting out hit after hit.  In 2010, Disney Studios’ retelling of “Rapunzel,” “Tangled,” was a great hit among many.  It had some awesome music, plenty of comic relief and was just a great feel-good film.  Its song “I Can See the Light” won a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media, and the film overall received countless nominations. 
            Most recently, “Frozen” has left more of an impact on audiences everywhere than all the snow in the northeast.  There already have been announcements made about it being adapted to Broadway and a sequel in the works.  Its soundtrack has made its way to the Billboard’s Top Ten list, and “Let It Go” slips in between all the BeyoncĂ© and Kanye West on Spotify.  Best part? “Frozen” offers a great lesson for viewers, and is different than anything Disney released before.  I was taken aback when I first saw it, and it’s very difficult to dislike it. 

            Basically, Disney needs to leave the live-action work to DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, etc.  As nice as it is to see them expand their horizons, they ought to stick with animation, as it seems they are doing fantastic in that area. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"The Lego Movie" Stacks Up Quite Nicely

                The inner seven-year-old has been awakened by Warner Brother’s latest animated picture, “The Lego Movie.”  Delightful and funny, it has appealed to everyone, from little kids to their parents taking them.  Even college students have been raving about this film.  Its humor is obvious, as not one line is wasted.  The childish aspects of it are what make it so good.  Why not take such a well-known toy and turn it into a film?  Companies have tried to do this in the past (the Barbie movies, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc.) but no one pulled it off quite as successfully as this motion picture. 

                Already grossing $130 million (and counting), it’s fair to say “The Lego Movie” is well deserving of its praise and critical acclaim.  Based on the Lego Construction Toys, this film is nothing to toy around with. 

                Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) follows his instruction guide to life as he gets by day by day in his Lego World.  Mistook by WyldStyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) to be the Master Builder, Emmet is thrown into an adventure of a lifetime.  Wyldstyle takes him to Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to train him to defeat evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell).  Seriously, this cast is amazing, and they are all voicing Lego pieces.  Lord Business plans on freezing the Lego pieces and taking complete control over them.  As nefarious as his scheme is, the way he goes about it very silly.  Other actors and actresses who lent their voices to this film include Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Channing Tatum.

                With his Lego companions, Emmet and his band of misfits travel through various Lego play sets and work to defeat Lord Business.  And it works.  It really does; the idea of a Lego movie may seem silly.  And it is, in every way possible. 

                The animation is incredible, as everything is CGI composed entirely out of Legos.  From the characters and buildings to the explosions and water rushing from place to place, everything is like a gigantic Lego play set before your eyes.  I can proudly say that I grew up playing the Lego videogames, and the animation here is much more sophisticated.  The bricks and pieces onscreen felt so real.  I wanted to go home and search through my old toys and find some Lego sets to build.

                The script is lighthearted and fun. It references other toy products that are inferior to Lego and its success, along with brings different Lego sets and characters into play.  The humor is aimed for kids, but it’s clever and keeps moving.  The vocabulary suits a young audience, but the jokes that go over kids’ heads and find their way to adults in the audience are blissful, and remind us that comedy need not always be sex jokes and endless profanity.  Growing up playing with Lego sets and the Lego videogames, this was a great way to see our beloved toys in action.  I laughed the entire way through, as some of the jokes were expected.  A good portion of the humor caught me off-guard, but I’m not complaining.  I was pleasantly surprised. 

Batman and other superheroes made it into the film, along with Abe Lincoln and Dumbledore, along with some new characters that will be part of the new play sets Lego is producing and selling.  Nonetheless, everyone is lovable (even the villains). 

                Despite the “1984” vibe it gives (as big brother is watching us in the form of Will Ferrell, being a part of the system), the message of believing in yourself is a great one for kids.  And it goes about it in a creative way. 

                “The Lego Movie” had been in development stages since 2008.  Marketing for this film was extremely extensive, and successful.  The first trailer I saw was July of 2013, more than six months before the film’s premiere.  There are seventeen building play sets based on the film scenes available to purchase.  At the Lego stores, customers received a movie poster with their purchases in the month of January with characters from the film as a promotion.  A video game for essentially every console was also released based on the movie. 

                And does the fun end there? Nope! On February 3, Jared Stern (who wrote other animated films like “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Bolt”) was hired to write a sequel to “The Lego Movie.”  Despite the fact that there was some closure at the end, there is definitely room for a sequel.  With any luck, it will be just as silly and fun as its predecessor. 

                Overall, “The Lego Movie” is a delightful romp through your childhood play sets.  Colorful and action-packed, it keeps you captivated for its duration, wide-eyed and laughing the whole way through.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

From Stage to the Silver Screen- August: Osage County"

This Oscar season, a film powered by estrogen has graced the presence of the silver screen. Even better, it’s one that isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, leaving audiences nauseated by a never-ending parade of femininity.  “August: Osage County” is a film adaptation of the play with the same name penned by Tracy Letts.  It received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for best drama, along with a Tony Award the same year for best play. The dark comedy revolving around the twisted family affairs guarantees leaving audiences a bit more comfortable with their own upon leaving the theatre.  

The film centers around the matriarch Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), as she calls together her daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), with their respective families.  The cause of their reunion is for a time of family crisis, as her husband goes missing.  The brazen Weston women come to terms with their own lives (and how they are falling apart), and confront their drug addict of a mother.  

The script is excellent.  It is a well-written character piece, leaving much room for character development and leaves closure for viewers by the end of the film.  The ensemble cast won a Hollywood Film Award for their work and collaboration on “August: Osage County” at the Hollywood Film Festival.  Each character is facing some form of emotional entrapment, whether or not they want to acknowledge it or admit it. The pain that everyone feels in the film may not be relatable as a whole, but it’s real to each character and motivates them to make such self-destructive decisions.  

A psychological look at the film’s characters is an important approach to understanding the plot twists (none of which that I saw coming).  Everyone is stuck with their own interpersonal and intrapersonal issues, and even though they all have a way out, none of them feel like they can get out.  They all choose their own escapisms, or choose not to.  This emotional paralysis holds them back, and worsens the reunion that unfolds on the silver screen.  

Barbara is coping with the recent separation from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and potentially raising her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) on her own.  The reason for their separation?  Her husband had an affair with a girl not much older than Jean.  Barbara wants to save her family, but her constant need for control prevents her from doing so.  The OCD like behavior proves to be self-destructive on her part and adds to her family’s fallout.  She says so herself, “Thank God we can't tell the future, we could never get out of bed.”

Ivy faces romantic entrapment as well, as she is the only sister to stay local to keep tabs on Violet.  She is also seeing her first cousin, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) without the family knowing.  Ivy feels that he is her only choice, since she feels old as her passion slowly dies.  You cannot help but feel bad for Charles, as everyone refers to him as “Little Charles.”  That title alone is degrading, let alone the treatment he receives from his own mother.  

Karen is the youngest of the Weston sisters, and seems to suffer from being the youngest child.  Pushed aside, she latches onto older men who seem to give her attention.  Whether it is affection through actions or buying her whatever she wants, Karen craves it, and her current beau as Steve Heidebrecht (Dermot Mulroney) seems to satisfy.  However, he has other things in mind, and they hurt her.  She is so focused on her own happiness, she won’t shut up about it, even though her assumed fairy tale ending is anything  but that.  

Last but not least, Violet is caught in the middle of all the insanity, as nothing gets past her.  She is undergoing treatment for oral cancer, and is addicted to her prescription meds.  She knew the cause of her own husband’s death, and her husband’s affair with her own sister.  Violet is brash, unafraid to reveal what she knows to her family, regardless of how it will effect them.    

All the positive anger that culminates throughout the films run keeps it on its feet.  The execution of dialogue is quick, and before you know it the two hour long film is over.  It takes you into twists that will leave you gasping (I know I did) and “OH MY GOD” will be all you can muster up.  

Letts had originally wanted the actors who worked on stage for the play to reprise their roles in the film.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  The ending of the film had also been changed at the request of Harvey Weinstein.  During the initial rounds of screen testing, the play’s ending had negative feedback when shown on screen.  

The Academy gave two nominations to this film: Best Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Supporting Actress (Julia Roberts).  There had never before been a Streep-Roberts collaboration before this one, so it’s safe to say that the wait was worth it.  Roberts actually acts and doesn’t play “Julia Roberts” in this film as a change, showing some real on screen emotion.  The fish scene has us laughing, and all the plot twists that Roberts gets caught up in sweep us away, filled with shock.  Even though Streep plays an absolutely insane matriarch coping with a drug addiction, we still love her.  Even Julia Roberts.  On an interview, Roberts broke down in tears when sharing the news about “August: Osage County,” saying that Streep is her favourite actress.  Streep’s comebacks are sarcastic, and the dialogue throughout the film is quick.  If you tune out for a second, you wonder why everyone else is laughing and you aren’t.  

Overall, “August: Osage County” has been overshadowed this year during Oscar season by films like the glitzy “American Hustle” and the serious “12 Years A Slave.”  But it’s okay.  We got the Streep-Roberts collaboration that had been long past overdue.  And with the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor and Juliette Powers also gracing us with their onscreen presence, “August: Osage County” is the perfect off-beat film to make you thank your family for not being as batshit crazy as the Westons.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why Are We Falling for "Gravity"?

These past few months have been a big one for movies.  Many have made big impressions on critics, and for good reasons too.  However, there is one film that has been making waves that I recently saw, only because it was a frontrunner at practically every awards show.  The science fiction film “Gravity” was so widely advertised and praised, I felt inclined to see it.  The trailer had made me feel uncomfortable, as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stranded in space.  However, in order to make a fair judgment, viewing was required.  

I finally got around to seeing it a few weeks ago, and wow.  Just, wow.  That was probably one of the strangest films I had sat through.  Thank God it was only an hour and a half, and I watched it at home.  Otherwise, I would have been seriously pissed for paying to sit through it.

The situation it sets up is interesting, I’ll give it that.  A medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are stuck in space upon an accident that can potentially kill them.  The space shuttle is destroyed, and Kowalski decides to detach himself and float away in zero gravity, leaving Stone on her own to figure things out.  Amy Poehler was right at the Golden Globes this year.  “Gravity” really is further proof that George Clooney would rather float off into zero gravity than spend another moment with Sandra Bullock.

The director, Alfonso Cuaron, has been making waves at award shows for “Gravity.”  His accolades include Best Director at the Golden Globes, along with Movie of the Year at the AFI awards, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film for the Director’s Guild of America.  Cuaron’s directorial and producer credits in the past include “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Children of Men” and “Great Expectations.”  It’s clear that his past works don’t exactly connect to each other.  His broad experience prepared him to take on this project.  

The bulk of the film was a result of CGI.  It took four years for the film to be fully developed, as the technology Cuaron was looking for wasn’t available yet. The cinematography, visual effects and creation of the outer space atmosphere were too much to take on at the time.  

The script was strange, too.  All of the sudden, Bullock starts howling while stranded in her space shuttle.  Howling.  There were also several awkward exchanges between Bullock and Clooney.  His character’s sense of humor was trying, even for a couple of people stranded in space.   If it wasn’t for his good looks and almost robot-like perfection, there would have been an infinite amount of cringing during my viewing.  

Bullock spent six months physically training herself for the film.  She also spent a decent amount of quality time with Cuaron discussing the script, namely rebirth after adversity-the major thematic aspect.  At one point, I felt like she was even channelling Shakespeare.  The existential Hamlet was showing between the lines, as Stone starts to question what it’s like knowing your death is impending, so I commend the screenwriter for that.  Topics ranging from Bullock’s breath reflecting her dialogue on screen to the blocking of her character’s movement.  She had long pieces of dialogue to memorize and rehearse, so she had to coordinate some of her lines with the way the wires attached to her moved.  Bullock’s dedication to preparing for her role was beyond normal, which is admirable.  

James Cameron is even impressed with Bullock’s work.  “She's the one that had to take on this unbelievable challenge to perform it. (It was) probably no less demanding than a Cirque du Soleil performer, from what I can see.”  He says, “There's an art to that, to creating moments that seem spontaneous but are very highly rehearsed and choreographed. Not too many people can do it...I think it's really important for people in Hollywood to understand what was accomplished here."

One scene in the film is a major turning point, and it wasn’t even a part of Cuaron’s original script.  Basically, Stone has to figure out how to find a resolution once she enters the space pod.  Cuaron was having trouble finding a solution to this problem, so George Clooney managed to rewrite the scene, and include himself in it.  Learning this thoroughly convinces me that Clooney is one perfect robot of a man.    

I totally respect the solid facts behind why this movie is such a big deal.  This film is a rarity, as there aren’t many science fiction films out there that have a heroine (as opposed to a hero) as the main character.  The only other film out there with that honor (that managed to become a cult classic, let alone successful) was “Alien.”  The 1979 film featured Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the warrant officer aboard the spaceship.  By making a female the lead character in the film, it would help her character stand out in the testosterone induced genre of science fiction.  In fact, “Alien” led to a nomination from BAFTA for Weaver; looks like it did the same for Bullock.  

At this year Academy Awards ceremony, “Gravity” has been nominated for the following awards: Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Directing (Alfonso Cuaron), Best Achievement in Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Achievement in Visual Effects.  That’s a total of 10 (10!) Oscars.  The bulk of them are in regards to the production of the film.  All of those categories are the backbone to “Gravity;” without any one of them, the film would be lost.  From a moviemaking standpoint, it’s pretty clear why “Gravity” would be such a big deal.  However, as impressive as the cinematography is, and even though Cuaron is able to make the world look so peaceful from space, the feast for the eyes is not enough alone to garner this film the Best Motion Picture award this year at the ceremony.  

“Gravity” is highly overrated, regardless of what BAFTA or the Academy tries to tell you.  Not even the fact that Mr. Clooney graces our presence a few time throughout the film can rescue it.  I would gladly sit through American Hustle again if it means it would delay a future viewing “Gravity.”  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club: Film Review

                Released last November was the biographical drama, “Dallas Buyers Club.”  It features Matthew McConaughey at his finest, Jared Leto making a return to the silver screen after five years.  Based on a true story (as everything seems to be nowadays), “Dallas Buyers Club” follows Donald Woodroof (McConaughey) through his battle against HIV, and eventually AIDS. 

Bull rider and electrician, Woodroof lived life to the fullest each day with drugs, sex and alcohol galore.  Upon his diagnosis with 30 days to live, he denied that he could have contracted it.  Once he began researching what the illness is, and how you contract it, he realizes that it is no mistake.  At this point, HIV and AIDS were new to the medical world, and there was no treatment to cure its patients. 

Woodroof takes it upon himself to get a hold of AZT, the drug that has the most positive test results this far.  He first consults Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) to get him some dosages, but cannot acquire it within his thirty days left.  He learns more and more about the disease, and through self-testing tons of drugs, he figures out which supplements will prolong how much time you may have.  The Dallas Buyers Club is born, with him smuggling drugs in, and with the help of the transgender woman Rayon (played by Jared Leto), he gets down to business.

The film is incredible, as Woodroof does whatever it takes to cure himself, and extends the opportunity to those around him.  At $400 a month for membership, AIDS patients are able to acquire as much drugs as they want for treatment.  However, these drugs were not approved by the FDA.  A decent amount of it was vitamins and supplements used to keep your immune system healthy, and they work provided you stay clean. 

When HIV and AIDS first surfaced, doctors were unsure of how to treat it, so they tested drugs on patients to find out what worked.  Doctors like Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) in the film tried to figure out what works best.  Although the FDA did approve AZT, a drug that was supposed to regenerate the T cell count, it had side effects that weakened the immune system.  To keep himself alive for a little longer, Woodroof smuggled in the illegal drugs.  He also wanted to help people in the same situation as him and was able to so.  Woodroof wound up living   

When the story of Woodroof first appeared in a newspaper, screenwriter Craig Borten went to Texas to speak with the man.  After spending three days with Woodroof, Borten wrote a screenplay.  His charisma lent itself to a script, as his story was interesting, and could fill a theater under the right circumstances.  It took a long time for it to go into production, as other prominent Hollywood figures such as Woody Harrelson and Ryan Gosling were attached to the film at several points themselves. 

In order to make the film focus more on Woodroof himself, his real-life sister and daughter were left out of the script.  This allowed for the piece to become a character study of the man, and keep him the main focus of his biography.  The characters of Rayon and Dr. Saks were also written for the film, after interviews with AIDS patients and doctors were compiled to create them. 

The pre-production process of “Dallas Buyers Club” had been underway since 1992, before Woodroof’s death.  The production of the film wasn’t easy, either.  Due to budget limitations, there was little to no lighting set-ups.  The only camera used was a handheld, which resulted in each take having a 15 minute limit to filming footage.  The result of all the pressure? Amazing. 

Matthew McConaughey shines in this film, possibly the best of his career thus far.  In preparation of this role, he lost 47 pounds.  The Hollywood Foreign Press awarded him the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, and it was well deserved.  He is definitely a big contender in the Best Actor category for the Academy Awards, and he might win.  That category is packed with talent this year but McConaughey’s transformation to play Woodroof was the best. 

The five year break Leto took from acting definitely paid off.  He won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, and got a nod from the Academy for Best Supporting Actor as well.  He lost 30 pounds for this role, and was at one point 114 pounds.  He is a dedicated actor who isn’t afraid to stay in character, even when leaving set to go grocery shopping.  (True story-he went to a supermarket and frightened a few customers in his dress and heels). 

“Dallas Buyers Club” is up for six Academy Awards this March in the following categories: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Motion Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Film Editing.  Things are looking good for this picture, as the two actors allow the silver screen to consume them whole.  McConaughey and Leto deserve recognition beyond the Globes for their performances. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Is Scarlett Johansson Commoditized?

            One of the best films this year was “Her,” as it won a Golden Globe and is up for several awards from the Academy.  Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for his performance, but unfortunately Scarlett Johansson was snubbed for hers, due to the lack of her being physically in the film.

            “Her” is about a man who falls in love with his Operating System, Samantha (voiced by Johansson) who is designed to meet his every need.  Through her presence learns about the evolving nature of love.    She wasn’t originally cast as Samantha; screenwriter and director Spike Jonze felt that the previously chosen voice just didn’t feel right.  So, he got a hold of Johansson and recorded all of Samantha’s lines with her.  They fit much better, as her distinctive voice made for a sexy computer.  Her performance voice-acting was excellent.  However, it is a Golden Globe regulation not to nominate someone because their voice was in a film alone for an acting award. 

            I mean, the film was a hit or miss overall with the Academy. Unfortunately, as great as it was, the other films out this year just dominated all of them. 

Although she is known partially for her voice as being husky (people often would ask her if she needed water, and she would be so confused) yet seductive, people often think of her physically whenever people bring up Scarlett Johansson.  She could quite possibly be one of the most commoditized women in Hollywood because of this.  She oftentimes plays characters older than her actual age.  For example, in “Lost in Translation” she was only 18 years old.  Being known for your looks is how you get somewhere, as far as acting goes.  However, even if you do have a very distinctive voice (like Johansson), sometimes you can miss out.

In 2005, she was ranked as #9 in FHM's 100 Sexiest Women in the World; she was also the highest ranking new entry to the list.  The year after, she was chosen by Esquire magazine as the Sexiest Woman Alive.    She has been on many of these kinds of lists up to today, even.  Johansson was also chosen in a poll conducted by Glamour Magazine of 5000 people by having the “World’s Sexiest Body.”  Her accolades go on and on.   

Many of her films also recognize her as the sexy, beautiful actress in it.  Some examples are “The Prestige,” “We Bought a Zoo,” “The Avengers” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”  Her on screen presence is hard to ignore. 

More recently, there has been some controversy about the latest promotion poster for the “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” film.  People argue that she didn’t need to be photo shopped for it, and her poster is getting more social media attention than it should.    The film is “Captain America” after all, not “Black Widow…and Captain America too.” 

Even though she is becoming an iconic figure (which, is a good thing for her career), Scarlett Johansson isn’t being recognized for her work in “Her.”  Her lack of a physical presence cost her a nomination for the Golden Globes, along with the Academy Awards. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Film Review: Blue Jasmine

Nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Cate Blanchet) and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) comes Woody Allen’s latest film. Blue Jasmine follows Jasmine (Blanchet) as she comes to terms with her family falling apart and her struggle to get back on her feet. 

Jasmine, a New York socialite, had it all. Homes in the Hamptons, Park Avenue, accessibility to travel anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, and all the money she could hope for.  However, she loses it all upon her divorce from her husband (Alec Baldwin).  She becomes anxiety stricken, and constantly has flashbacks.  Jasmine realizes that the highest parts of her life were laced with the lows.  However, she only found out the darker aspects of her marriage when it is too late to do anything constructive.    She takes leave to San Francisco and insists on staying with her sister Ginger (Hawkins), whom she distanced herself from. 

Ultimately, Jasmine’s actions become more self destructive, and also negatively affect everyone around her.  As the film progresses, Jasmine regresses, both in her flashbacks and current state of affairs.  Although her efforts are valiant, her choices are poor slip-ups and are easily avoidable. 

Blanchet, who won the Golden Globe, is excellent.  Her stages of loss, heavily laced with denial, carry her performance throughout the film.  Although she is at fault to a certain extent, Jasmine makes efforts to push forward and move on from her past.    However, there is no denying that Jasmine needs to change her prescription drugs to something more effective, along with needing to see a therapist about her constant talking to herself.  Her nervous breakdowns seem too real to be only an act, so it is pretty clear why she has gotten rave reviews and awards for the role.  Blanchet takes on the titular character beautifully, and we cannot help but feel sorry for her. 

Cinematographically speaking, Woody Allen can turn any city into a romantic escape.  San Francisco is no exception.  He personifies San Francisco, and makes you want to take their hand and lead them out to dinner.  From the more expensive areas to the run-down parts, you cannot help but want to hop a flight to walk along the piers and take in the view. 

The constant flashbacks to Jasmine’s marriage (and its decline) helps us better understand why she acts the way she does.  At first if you don’t pay attention enough, it is easy to get lost.  Everything falls perfectly into place, and the more her life falls apart, the defining moments of Jasmine’s life are revealed.  Overall, another hit with Woody Allen, who has this piece nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  Cate Blanchet shines, and as we near the Academy Awards, we shall see if her performance is indeed Oscar worthy.