Sunday, 24 February 2013

Finding Osama Bin Laden

A film that has led to a full scale inquiry into the US army and their 'interview methods' in the war against terror. From the only female director with an Oscar under her belt, we are brought a journalistic account of one of the biggest man hunts in history. This is Zero Dark Thirty

It's two years after the September 11th attacks and Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA operative had just moved to a CIA black site in the Middle East to join the interrogation team. Sceptical towards the aggressive methods that her college Jake (Jason Clarke) uses, she sees the advantages of such methods. She begins to become obsessed with the case of finding Bin Laden and believes their best lead is in finding Abu Amed. The mission takes over her life as she constantly is rejected by her superiors, George (Mark Strong) and Joseph (Kyle Chandler) for focusing on old theories and a lack of evidence. But she perseveres This is not a story where you want to know what happens - you already know the ending - this is learning how it happened.
American propaganda? Naaaahhhh.


Chastain’s performance is, obviously, the central point of the whole film. There is no doubt that she is a strong actress. She is brave, bold, and powerful. As Maya, she shows how authoritative a successful secret service operative needs to be, regardless of gender. She really captures Maya’s intelligence and dedication, painting her, very commonly, as a bit of a badass; rebelling against authority, forcing her superiors to bend to her will, and focusing on one man for eight years. Sometimes Chastain comes across as suddenly over-emotional, though. There are points that seem too much like they are ‘I need to shout to be a good actress’ moments. Some of these sections, it can be assumed, are down to the direction, rather than the acting. The supporting cast are also fantastic. There is something jarring about the most likeable character in the film also being the most brutal interrogator but, at the same time, it is a testament to Jason Clark‘s performance that he managed to make that paradox a reality. It is one of the most engaging aspects of the film.

Is there an American flag in every shot?
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction is sturdy and solid. She does not hold back – in a very similar way to The Hurt Locker – but, very intelligently, does not present an opinion in her work. She creates a debate. There is no doubt that Zero Dark Thirty is a piece of pro-America cinema, but the more controversial matters – the representation of torture and Islam – are left for the audience to decide how they feel. For example, torture is shown but not in a negative or positive light. It is unnervingly neutral and this seems to be where the largest issue is caused. People want condemnation of torture and xenophobia, and anything less than that is considered praise. Bigelow is a master of avoiding opinion but opening discussion. With excellent camera work, the film’s only real technical flaw is its length. It starts dragging on unlike some of the other nominations of a similar length (see Lincoln) but this can be looked past as the film is of a strong enough quality to encourage the  audience to persevere.

A heavily researched piece of film which tells the story behind one of the most well-known events of recent years. No doubt you will learn something – though do not trust all you see – and you will be entertained. Good for fans of The Hurt Locker as Bigelow seems to have found her stride in politically encouraged war films.


Best Bit? Naturally, the Navy Seal operation was long waited for throughout the film and tense throughout. 

Emancipator Of The Slaves.

Who does not enjoy a good history? You know those ones with the cool teacher who did awesome impressions of famous historical figures? The one who made learning fun? This is the film equivalent of that and is the most nominated film of this year's Oscars. This is Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at war with the south. The film opens with two of the North's soldiers commenting on how inspiring they find Lincoln to the man himself. But his wife (Sally Field) and head of state (David Strathairn) are slightly less pleased with him as he pushes for the Amendment that will abolish slavery to be signed earlier than recommended. Fearing that they will never will win enough Democrats over for the fast approaching vote, a select few Republicans set about convincing those close to the fence to support their side. The most notable of these campaigners is Mr Stephens (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been fighting for equality for half his life. But with the war going on in the background and chances for peace becoming visible  will Lincoln sort his priorities out?

After all his speeches, Lincoln was a little horse.

A huge ensemble cast that is made up of some of the most talented individuals in film. People like Lee Jones, Day-Lewis, Gordon-Levitt (lots of double barrelling). But without a shadow of a doubt, Daniel Day Lewis does more than steal the show; he creates the show, he makes it what it is. It is rare to see an actor so lost in their character that, if you did not know Lincoln was dead, you would easily believe this was a documentary. But there is more than that. So often historical characters, particularly political ones, can be so dull with their technical jargon and boring job. But Day Lewis makes Lincoln so likeable that it is physically impossible to find him uninteresting at any point. Listening to his voice is often soft like honey. A truly masterful performance. His supporting cast are also brilliant, namely Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, also both nominated. The former as the mentally troubled wife of the president, the latter as, what can only be described as, the bad cop of the Republican party. He is uncompromising and unconventional but his rough persona is so extremely captivating that you fully support what he says and does, despite his handling of situations being less than text book.

'Summer you say? Ah, I'm sure she was a wench.'

Spielberg, as always, is on top form. A perfect blend of history, education, heart, soul, and comedy, Lincoln is a little different to the directors normal material, which is not a bad thing. John Williams’ (again) fantastic score is less evident than in the directors other works, and while Spielberg is no stranger to historical accuracy, Lincoln feels different. More like a self-congratulatory pat on the back for himself after all the years of research he has put into making something that is not only entertaining, but also educational. A true rarity in cinema these days; a captivating watch that also teaches a story that is vital to American history and also the history of equality. Not only this, but somehow, he has made what is, at its core, a film about men voting and little else, extremely enjoyable for a whole two and a half hours without any feel of it dragging. Excellent directing.

A film that is like being in school but way more fun. Proof that accurate storytelling and historical politics can be really pleasant to watch on a big screen for over two hours. Who would have thought? A gem of the biopic genre and likely to take home more than one award.


Best Bit? Seeing Daniel Day Lewis and Joseph Gordon Levitt interact as Lincoln and his son Robert was a piece of amazing acting that hits a timeless theme of the pain of parenting - something everyone can relate to, albeit from different sides of the spectrum. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Love

Today's film is the ninth film of its kind in the history of the Oscars to be nominated for Best Picture. None have won. What kind of film is that, you ask? Why a foreign language film of course! None have won yet but could today's film rock the boat a little? This is Amour.

A couple in their eighties, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), live a relaxing retired life in Paris, occasionally going to see the concert of one of their ex-students to see how successful they were at teaching the next generation of masterful pianists. But their days of music teaching are long over especially after Anne suffers a stroke and, despite doctor's best efforts, is left wheelchair bound. Eva (Isabelle Huppert), the couple's daughter, upon hearing the news raises a fuss about what more can be done but Georges defends his wife's decision to not go back to hospital. Instead, he cares for her himself, along with some visiting nurses, and we see how far love can be stretched. For, at its core, Amour is about love.

*
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are both incredible performers. At 88 and 86 respectively, no doubt people told them that their better days were behind them. How wrong they were. Riva is the oldest actress ever nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, beating the record set by Jessica Tandy by a whole six years and clearly all that age has added up to some undeniably fantastic experience. Sadly, she is extremely unlikely to win next to the more American favourites, Chastain and Lawrence, but she deserves the award nonetheless - She took the BAFTA, so who knows. She heartbreakingly portrays a devastating illness that will strike a chord in many audience members' hearts and will cause more than a few tears. Some will undoubtedly find it uncomfortable to watch. Trintignant, who carries the film, keeps the title of the film at the front of his performance. The pain that is caused from watching the suffering of his life-long love flickers in his eyes throughout the film; it is a rare performance in which reality and art seem too close for comfort. Again, it is likely that the acting will hit home for many people who have experienced similar things.

*

Michael Haneke is very definite in pointing out that he would not dare call this movie 'love' (Amour) if it were a conventional love story. There is more to love than what the movies like to show. Love is pain as well and, through his beautiful direction, Amour truly captures that notion. At points, the film can be horrible to watch as it hovers over the line of artistic representation and realism. No one really has a craving to watch an elderly couple struggle to live. But at the same time, that is part of the film's appeal. Handled so beautifully and bravely, Amour presents something very real and that makes it hard to not watch. A true wonder of cinema.

A beautiful, realistic, and artistic piece of French cinema. A perfect example of reasons to watch foreign films. As Westerners, we have a habit of ignoring the rest of the world but but it is a good thing Amour slipped through that veil.


Best Bit? There are far too many moments to pick from. Just watch it.

*Forgive the lack of humorous annotations, I have nothing funny to say.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Disorders And Football

Today's film is the first film since 2005 to be nominated for the 'Big Five': the five Oscars that all films dream of holding. Best Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Picture. Only three films have won all five (It Happened One Night, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Silence Of The Lambs) and nothing has been nominated for all five since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Admittedly, today's film shares similar themes with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but does it have what it takes to gain equal success at The Oscars. This is Silver Linings Playbook.

The film opens with Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) being discharged from a mental health institution by his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), after 8 months of a court ordered stint. After discovering his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), was having affair, Pat pummelled the involved man to a pulp, was institutionalised, and had a restraining order placed upon him. Now, out of care, he tries to come to grips with his bi-polar disorder and tries to settle back into his old life with the intention of winning back Nikki. He soon meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with similar disorders, who seems to take a liking to him straight away but, as well as trying to fit in to his father's (Robert De Niro) superstitious affairs, Pat really just wants to impress Nikki. He loses weight, takes up jogging, and it seems like the secret to getting back with Nikki may lie within Tiffany and her connections. But will it be smooth sailing for Pat or will his history and therapy get in the way?

There was clear reason to think Cooper's role was trash.

Silver Linings Playbook is a rarity in casting. It has been nominated for all four acting Oscars (as well as the big five. Phewie!) which only 12 other films have ever done. The last was Reds in 1981. No film has one all four - only two have won three. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, as a pair, have incredible chemistry on screen. Admittedly, their connection is not necessarily the most positive at many points - their arguments stand strong as some of the best moments of the film. Cooper, supposedly, does a very decent job of portraying bi-polar (though there's a lot of debate over this) but, as a none sufferer, it seems real enough. Lawrence reflects the realism in her portrayal of Tiffany but still has all the heart you'd expect from such a film. Weaver and De Niro both take hold of their roles with real dedication. It is wonderful to see De Niro back on form after he seems to have done some Focking dreadful films (geddit?)  and this is really on form. The heartbreak of seeing a son that just is not the same and watching them live a life where their family is no longer their most important aspect in their life is completely visible in De Niro's performance. Similarly, Weaver's motherly nature is at the forefront of her performance with a heart bigger than the hug she would offer. A lovely performance, if not moving sometimes.

Brad counts his Oscar nominations.

A true feel good story. A whole range of emotions are presented throughout Silver Linings Playbook, and each audience member will be touched by something different. Whether it is the idea of family supporting each other no matter what, having a mental disorder, or even love, there is something for everyone. A well selected soundtrack supports a wonderful film. However, the comedy can sometimes jar with, what is really, a serious subject matter. Laughing with mental disorder seems a little obscure. But that doesn't take away from the films merits. It is still a wonderfully enjoyable piece of cinema and is bringing attention to really important factors in our society that often get overlooked. David O. Russell brings something that we need to take note of to our screens.

A completely delightful film. Touching, funny, and, most importantly, topical. A film that makes you think and look at the world around you.


Best Bit? The finale is guaranteed to put a smile on even the most miserable bastards face.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beasts In A Southern Child

The shortest of the Oscar nominated films at just over an hour and a half, today's film is the film that you may not have heard of because it was so small. There is one most years. See Winter's Bone in 2011. So will this have the same success? This is Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a six year old girl, lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a forgotten little slum known as The Bathtub. She lives under a different roof to her father and fends for herself. But when a storm threatens to flood The Bathtub and a mysterious illness begins to affect Wink's health, the smart residents of the settlement run for higher land but Hushpuppy stays with her father to fight out the weather. The rest of the film looks at the remaining few Bathtub locals and their reaction to the storm and the government that forgot them. Above all though, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a tale about Hushpuppy and her strength, power, and independence.

Without a TV, Wink cheers over literal fantasy football.

They say never work with children or animals. Some of the other Oscar nominated films have severely ignored the latter (see Life of Pi) but Beasts of the Southern Wild completely disregards the first, and never has a better decision been made. It would be insulting to put Quvenzhan√© Wallis under the term of child acting because good child acting suggests, 'Aw, didn't they do well for their age.' Wallis did not do well for her age, she did well, period. Rightly nominated alongside the likes of Chastain, Watts, and Lawrence because, simply put, she is completely legitimate competition for them. Aged 5 when she auditioned for the film, she manages to carry the whole movie on her back better than some actresses who have been in the game for years. Sadly, her co-star, Dwight Henry, was not recognised by the Academy and it is almost unbelievable. Wink, being the deep and complex character that he is, is portrayed incredibly, and in some respects, beautifully, by Henry, a small town baker who turned down the opportunity to audition because he wanted to focus on his baking. Wink is a strong character, but there is a great deal of veiled love for Hushpuppy hidden behind his rough exterior. A truly brilliant performance.

'Hello? Is this the number to talk to hot chicks?'

Benh Zeitlin's direction does more than tell Hushpuppy's story. It opens the audience eyes to a whole way of living that we often forget. A community forgotten and left to their own devices and how, as a western world, we can neglect them and only think for ourselves. That we try to help those who want no help. It takes our world and turns it into a gritty, yet realistic, fantasy tale. The natural world and the human world colliding in a beautiful story that tugs on every single heart string possible. Assisted with some terrific camera work and a hauntingly atmospheric score, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotional roller coaster that is a wonder to watch and will keep you engaged and captivated from the start.

For some of the finest acting I have ever seen, let alone from a 6-7 year old, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a must see. Bring a box of tissues and be ready to go on a journey.


Best Bit? Hushpuppy and Wink's attitudes towards the storm are so captivating, you can't help but want to know everything about them.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Movies Save Lives

A film about the American secret services normally rings bells of high speed car chases, an attractive male roughly shooting his way to the bad guy, and several high budget explosions. Not today's film. Today we look at a film that looks behind the scenes of one of the CIA's most adventurous rescue missions, which mostly involves people sitting behind desks. And yet, it has incredible reviews across the boards. How? Let's check it out. This is Argo.

The year is 1979. The American Embassy in Iran is overrun by Iranian revolutionaries and several hostages are taken. However six Americans manage to escape and find refuge in the Canadian Ambassador's house, complete with handy trap doors to hide beneath. Back in the CIA offices in America, there is demand to work out a way to get these six out of Iran safely, but all plots seem a bit difficult or flawed. However, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), with the help of Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), put together a scheme that seems completely ridiculous but just might work: put together a fake film and get the six trapped men and women to pose as a Canadian production team on a location scout. Wrangling together John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to be his producers and men in the office, he sets out to begin creating Argo - the film that never will be. But complications begin to arise over time limits, believability  and the White House doubting how strong the plan really is. A true story to make you bite your nails to the bone.

The two of them need to sort out this meth... I mean, mess.

An excellently cast film. Ben Affleck, as well as directing the film, holds the action together with a solid, dedicated performance. The calm CIA persona is constantly juxtaposed with the nerves of a real man; a man whose career, life, and six others' lives depend on his plan going right. Affleck really shows that stress in his acting, sometimes explicitly, other times it is all in his eyes. Bryan Cranston, as always, is fantastic. O'Donnell is the man who aims to play it by the book, and in Cranston's performance, we see the pain that that causes; the stress of balancing doing things right or doing things the way he is meant to. A constant internal conflict. Goodman and Arkin are delightful additions to the cast and provide a lot of the comic relief - or lighter areas of the film. They are captivating to watch, causing not only laughter, but also creating some of the most suspenseful moments of the film. A really solid ensemble that work fantastically together to build up suspense and make an atmosphere that remains tense the entire run time.

A pat on the head for your good ideas, Tony.

At two hours long, Argo is the second shortest of the nominated films. And what a solid two hours. Affleck is just as powerful behind the camera as he is in front of it. He takes Tony Mendez's story and transforms it into a real nail biter. How Affleck manages to create such tension from a lot of people talking and only a small bit of action is beyond me. The classiest race against the clock that cinema has offered in a long time. With a wonderfully atmospheric score and camera work that truly captures the intensity of situation on screen, Argo makes what could be a slow paced 'important men talking around a table' film into a constantly dramatic and engaging thriller that rockets forward with strength and power. Pushing the audience to the edge of their seat, especially in the second half.

A brilliant, brilliant example of how to create a dramatic thriller based around the secret services without needing lots of high action sequences. Timing, dialogue, and solid performing create a heart pounding and adrenaline raising piece of cinema which is dripping with constant excitement. A fantastic film.


Best Bit? The ending. Powerfully tense and but loaded with spoiler. Watch the film. 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Life Of 3.14159265359......

Based on a multi-award winning and bestselling book, today's film has it all. Water, water, water, water, er... water, and a tiger. It's nominated for 11 Oscars (Just behind Lincoln with 12) and Obama described the book as,  "an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling." [x] On a personal note, I adored the book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading - or anyone who can read. It is truly a fantastic read. This is Life Of Pi.

The story of Piscine Molitor Patel, otherwise known as Pi after he was called 'Pissing' for years. As a young boy, Pi took up some strange interests such as swimming and finding out as much as he could about different religions until he is a practising Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. Pi's family own a zoo in Pondicherry, India, but as times get harder, the Patel family decide they have to give up the zoo, sell the animals to other establishments around the world, and move to Canada. But disaster literally strikes when a storm causes the boat that the whole family and half the zoo animals are on to sink. Pi is lucky enough (some may argue) to be thrown into a life boat, which is soon invaded by a zebra and a handful of other animals. The ship sinks to the bottom of the ocean and Pi fearfully clings to the side of the lifeboat; a horrible way to start 227 days at sea. Pi prays that his faith, knowledge of animals, and intelligence will bring him to safety.

'I believe I can fly' was always Pi's favourite song.

Being, essentially, a one man film - minus small scenes with the family and the future Pi - the whole film hangs on one actor: Suraj Sharma. Not only does the entire movie rest on his shoulders, it is his debut. This is his first appearance in any form of filmed media and it is impossible to tell. His performance is ridiculously solid and unfaltering. Acting to nothing for the majority of the film - his only companions being the sea and a CGI tiger - he takes 2 hours of what should surely be dull and dragging and makes it completely engaging. And since there is very little else to talk about in terms of acting, let us look at the special effects of Pi's pals. Watch the film and try and tell the computer generated tiger from the real one. You will be wrong most of the time. The special effects on the animals is absolutely outstanding. Richard Parker, the tiger, in particular, is a piece of technical wizardry. 

Pi starts his own Mexican wave.

But the animals are not the only special effects that are worthy of mention. The film, as a whole, is a collectio of some of the best visual creations in film to date. Think Avatar, but rather than creating a new world, it perfectly, and breathtakingly, captures our own. Thousands of fish flying over and around the boat, whales soaring out of the water, glowing sea dwelling creatures galore, Life Of Pi, simply astounds in every visual aspect it possibly can. Ang Lee has solidified the title of master behind the camera as he presents one of the most visually astounding and captivating films of recent years. Better yet, he did it with a premise that was described as unfilmable. All this combined with an emotionally developed script and heart wrenching score creates a beautifully moving piece of cinema that captures the themes of the book to a tee: faith, miracles, and strength in human determination. Some damn fine editing brings everything together perfectly.

 An incredibly shot film. Not just a masterful story, but also one that touches on the important things in life. And on top of that, it is simply beautiful. Fans of the book may be slightly disappointed due to missing scenes and the extent of Pi's suffering, but the film is wonderful in its own right.



Best Bit? Two breathtaking moments are the second storm and the arrival of the flying fish. Both will leave you speechless. Incredible film making.

Again, on a more personal note, read the book. The book is seven times as good as the film. It's incredible. Don't worry about seeing the film after the book or vice versa, just read the book at some point.