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Archive for December, 2015

Life of Pi (2012)

Life_of_Pi_2012_PosterDirected by Ang Lee

Just as there are movies that I’m watching for this blog that I have been wanting to see for a long time, there are movies for that I’m watching for this blog that I have never had any intention of seeing. These are not the movies that I haven’t heard of before or ones that I think are violent, but movies that for some reason or other I really, really don’t want to see. Life of Pi was one of those movies. I read the book about ten years ago, and I loved it – until the part where Pi comes to the mysterious island. After that happened, I lost my ability to suspend my disbelief. Because of this, I developed an antipathy towards the book, and I really didn’t care to see the movie. But since I make sacrifices to fulfill my goals, I watched Life of Pi.

So what’s the story? Teenager Pi’s family, along with their literal zoo full of animals, is moving from India to Canada. Before they make it to their new home, there is a shipwreck, and Pi ends up as the only human survivor on a lifeboat with four of the animals, including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The Good: Life of Pi is based on a rather complex book. It’s not just the story of a boy on a lifeboat with a tiger. His unusual name is explained, as is his conversion to three different religions. I was impressed at how well the book was adapted as a screenplay. The writer, David Magee, managed to fit in the frame story as well as the flashbacks to great effect.

I didn’t see the 3D version of Life of Pi, so I can’t judge that aspect of the cinematography, but what I would call the “regular” cinematography was fabulous. The shots were so beautiful and so carefully set up; it was almost like watching a living painting.

The acting was very good. Pi was played by several different people, young and old, and all were good. Pi’s mother Gita and father Santosh were played by Tabu and Adil Hussain respectively. They made a good couple did a wonderful job playing off each other, the mother trying to protect her son by keeping him safe from the world, the father trying to protect his son by showing him harsh realities of life.

The Bad: I don’t know if it was because I had already knew the book and therefore knew what was going to happen, but I found Life of Pi to be rather tedious. I loved the first hour or so; in fact, it made me wish that I had been born in a zoo in India. But not long after the shipwreck happened, I realized that I was no longer mentally involved in the movie. I’m not sure exactly why I stopped caring about Pi, but I just wanted it all to be over.

I also felt that Pi’s conversion to Islam was glossed over. His first introduction to Hinduism was fully covered, as were the beginnings of his interest in Christianity, but we don’t really know how he became interested in Islam. Since all his religions were important to him, I feel like they all should have been given equal weight.

I was a little annoyed at how small Gerard Depardieu’s role was. He’s an amazing actor, and his part was little more than a cameo. I seem to remember the cook having a larger role in the book, and I wish they had taken advantage of the great actor they had hired and let him do more.

The Ugly: Three years ago, this movie won the Academy Award for best visual effects. Today, it looks fake. This is why I am so against CGI; it just doesn’t hold up well. ET, made over thirty years ago with puppets and green screens, looks more real today than Life of Pi. During many of the ocean scenes, I couldn’t help but think of The Truman Show (1998), where Truman believes himself to be sailing on the ocean but is in reality in an artificial pool of water that is nowhere near as deep as the ocean. The animals were sometimes obviously, disappointingly fake, too. It niggled at my mind and kept me from enjoying the movie as fully as I wanted to.

Oscars Won: Best achievement in directing; best achievement in cinematography; best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score; best achievement in visual effects.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in film editing; best achievement in sound mixing; best achievement in sound editing; best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original song (“Pi’s Lullaby”); best achievement in production design.

Django Unchained (2012)

django unchainedDirected by Quentin Tarantino

 When I first decided to watch all of the best picture-nominated movies, I wasn’t planning on blogging about them. I wasn’t watching them in any order at all; I would just watch what I felt like or had access to. Since Django Unchained streams on Netflix, it was easy to get, so I watched it probably about a year ago. I hated it. I’m not a big fan of violence, but Quentin Tarantino obviously is. (Yes, this is the first Tarantino film I’ve seen.) I can understand why some people would find the movie funny, but it’s not my kind of humor. I was so glad that I had watched it and could check it off my list. But then I realized that if I were going to write a fair review of a movie, I would have had to have seen it recently. So I reluctantly watched it again this week. I still don’t like it, but I can admit that there elements of the film that are excellent.

So what’s the story? German bounty hunter King Schultz needs the help of the slave Django to find three men he’s hunting. Django turns out to be remarkably good at killing white men for money, so Schultz teaches Django all the skills he will need to be a bounty hunter himself. When he has learned enough, Django and Schultz go to the plantation Candyland to rescue Django’s wife from the clutches of the evil Calvin Candie.

The Good: I have never said this of any movie, and I will probably never say it again, but the cinematography was fun. I didn’t realize fun cinematography was even a possibility until I saw Django Unchained. I can’t exactly put my finger on what makes it fun, but the camera angles are jaunty and the cinematographer uses stereotypical camera work in unconventional ways. Even if I didn’t particularly care for what was being filmed, it was filmed creatively.

Christoph Waltz gave an excellent performance as King Schultz, who was a deeply ethical con artist and bounty hunter who only used his skills to rid the world of evil people. He’s an interesting character, and Waltz portrayed him wonderfully. Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not always my favorite, does do a very good job at playing King Shultz’s opposite: a completely villainous wealthy man who cares only about himself and his property. There’s no subtlety here; he’s just completely bad. DiCaprio does it well. I didn’t even recognize Samuel L. Jackson in his role as Stephen, an obsequious slave who is as proud of Candyland as Calvin Candie himself. He did a good job.

Django Unchained kind of reminds me of The Princess Bride (1987), not in the plot or the acting or the subject matter, but  the way that it makes fun of a genre while being a movie of that genre itself. I attribute that to the screenplay. Even though it’s not my style of humor, I did laugh at the scene with the men in hoods. There was witty banter and good dialogue throughout. It was a good screenplay, even if it wasn’t my style.

The Bad: I initially liked Jamie Foxx in the role of Django, but as the movie goes on, the role gets cockier, but Jamie Foxx doesn’t. He’s a little bit too quiet for the role, I think.

At the very beginning of the movie, words appear on the screen: “1858: Two years before the Civil War”. This bothered me soooo much. The American Civil War started in 1861, not 1860. There must be a reason that Tarantino decided to put that wrong information up, but I don’t know what it is. I also don’t know why Django’s wife is named Broomhilda, when the actual name is Brunhilda (or Brunhilde, if you want to be even more German about it). I can’t handle when people get little details wrong. Again, I’m sure Tarantino did that on purpose, but I was just annoyed.

The Ugly: I hate violence, especially when it’s violence for violence’s sake. Django Unchained has tons of over-the-top graphically bloody violence. Sometimes it’s even played for laughs. It never made me laugh, and the sprays of blood and guts everywhere were overdone. I know, I know, that’s a Quentin Tarantino thing, but it’s not my thing, and I don’t think it’s necessary.

Oscars Won: Best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Christoph Waltz); best writing, original screenplay.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best achievement in cinematography; best achievement in sound editing.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

beasts-of-the-southern-wild-posterDirected by Benh Zeitlin

The nice thing about doing this project is that sometimes, I get around to watching movies that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those movies. I’ve been wanting to see it since it came out, but I haven’t ever had the time, the desire, and the DVD at the same time. Now that the stars have aligned and I’ve seen the movie, my opinion of it is: huh? I had heard it was a fantasy, so I was expecting something along the lines of Pan’s Labyrinth. It wasn’t like that at all. I liked it, but was left confused (and a little disappointed) when it was over.

So what’s the story? Little Hushpuppy lives with her daddy, Wink, in a poverty-stricken Mississippi River Delta area known as The Bathtub. She loves her community and her daddy, but when the polar ice caps melt, The Bathtub is flooded, ancient animals called aurochs are released from the ice, and Wink becomes desperately ill. Hushpuppy must confront her fears and go on an epic journey to save her daddy.

The Good: The whole time I was watching Beasts of the Southern Wild, a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream kept running through my head: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” Quvenzhané Wallis was fantastic as Hushpuppy. She had the most determined, ferocious look I have ever seen on a child. I couldn’t believe she was only five when she did that acting. And she didn’t do a good job of acting for a child; she did a good job of acting, period. It was an incredible performance. I can’t get over it.

The soundtrack fits the movie (and Hushpuppy) perfectly. There are moments of dreamy bells that reminded me of childhood fantasies and imagination. There are some great zydeco fiddles and accordions that are reminiscent of the area. It’s very moving and very well-done.

I don’t know the technical term for this, but I really liked the look of the movie. The blending of the fantastical elements with the more realistic elements of the Southern poverty worked really well. It’s not quite set decoration; maybe art direction fits. Whatever you choose to call, it was artfully done.

The Bad: I don’t like the feeling that I don’t know what to make of this movie. I admired Hushpuppy’s ferocity and determination, the love that everyone had for The Bathtub, but I don’t understand how that translates into their need to blow up the levees. I kept thinking that it reminded me of something like The Odyssey, but it wasn’t quite a direct retelling of that story. The lines were extremely blurred between the reality of Hushpuppy’s situation and the fantasies that she created to cope with reality, so it’s hard for me to know what happened and what didn’t. I really don’t like feeling this way about a movie. Maybe I just need to watch it again someday.

The Ugly: I didn’t find anything bad enough about this movie to make it into the ugly category. Beasts of the Southern Wild is very good as a whole. It’s just a confusing good.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actress in a leading role (Quvenzhané Wallis); best achievement in directing; best writing, adapted screenplay.

Amour (2012)

amourDirected by Michael Haneke

I wasn’t planning on taking this last week off. I had watched several of the movies and was reviewing my notes to write my posts when I got hit by a migraine that didn’t wear off for a few days. This meant that I got ahead in the audiobooks I’m currently listening to (Pinocchio: bizarre and pedantic; and Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: bizarre and amazing, in case you were curious), but it was not helpful for blogging. But it’s gone and I’m glad to be back writing again.

I’m not hugely familiar with French cinema, but I like to think that I’ve seen more French movies than the average American. The French movies I have seen tend to be move a little more slowly, be a little more introspective, and end much more depressingly than American movies, so I wasn’t expecting a happy love story about an elderly French couple when I watched this movie, no matter what the cover looked like. But Amour was so much sadder than I would have been able to anticipate, mostly because it was so heartbreakingly real.

So what’s the story? Anne and Georges are a happily married couple. They are elderly retired music teachers, but they still live in their beautiful apartment by themselves. They read books and go to concerts and see their friends and play Chopin on their beloved piano. All that changes when Anne has a stroke and the realities of old age intrude upon their lives.

The Good: The acting is superb. Emmanuelle Riva was so perfect as Anne that I forgot that she was an actress playing a stroke victim; I thought that I was truly watching a woman whose body and mind had failed her. Jean-Louis Trintignant was amazing as Georges, a man watching his beloved wife slip away, but stubbornly doing his best to fight for her and care for her.

The soundtrack for the movie was also perfect. The only music in the movie was music that the couple played themselves on the piano or that they  were actually listening to. It added to the realism of the film. Any musical score that had played in the background to underscore the emotions or tell the viewer what they were supposed to be feeling would have detracted from the emotion that the movie brings just from the subject matter and acting.

The Bad: Because the movie is so realistic and captures so perfectly the burden of caring for a disabled loved one, it drags sometimes. Taking care of sick people isn’t fun or glamorous, and sometimes it’s downright dull. Amour needed to be that way, but watching people do dull things isn’t a completely fascinating way to spend two hours. I will admit to nodding off a couple of times. (And no, I do not wish to hear any comments along of the lines of “if you think this is boring, go watch Transformers!” Life is boring sometimes, and watching someone else’s life is boring. This truth doesn’t detract from my intelligence or from the beauty of the movie.)

The Ugly: There is nothing lovely about physical and mental decline. It is a horrible thing to see. Just like life can be boring, life can be horrible. This movie is very hard to watch because of that. Amour is a stark reminder of reality and not for the faint of heart, for those who only wish to see movies about the young and happy. It’s a beautiful portrayal of a terrible subject. Although I’m glad that I saw it, I don’t think I will ever be able to watch it again.

Oscar Won: Best foreign language film of the year.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actress in a leading role (Emmanuelle Riva); best achievement in directing; best writing, original screenplay.