Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Watch, Part Two: More Movie Reviews

I knew a little of Her going in...Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his Operating System. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, I figured it'd be awkward, quirky, funny, and sad.

And it was...but it was so much more including so very, very human.

Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, what a most delightful name! He is in a state of mild depression, melancholy, and upset since his wife (Rooney Mara) divorced him. He works at a letter agency, where he types up beautiful, heartfelt letters for people. What a unique concept, I loved the idea of this, though in a way it is a little sad. Imagine paying someone to write a birthday card or letter to a loved one. Through the writing of these letters, you can see Theodore is a sensitive, sweet guy. His friend Amy, Amy Adams, is similar in nature. I adore Amy Adams, whilst only a small but integral supporting part, there is something about her, she adds a special something to every film she stars in.

The set design - which I absolutely adored - was futuristic yet believable. Highly stylised, from the beautiful woolen high-top pants the men wore, to the technology used and understood by everyone. It appeared to be a quiet, reflective, zen community, this near futuristic LA. It was hypnotic to watch the people scenes, as they moved about from the subway to work to home.

So when Theodore changes his operating system and selects a sexy female voice (Scarlett Johansson), and begins to fall in love with it you actually buy it. And this is where the movie really works...the 'romance' has to be believable. So much so that when he begins to tell those close to him, they barely bat an eyelid.

But things get out of control and the film takes a darkish turn, and you'll have to see the film to find out what really happens.

Phoenix was stunning and adorable as Theodore Twombly, you believe his every word and feeling. An absolute crying shame he was not nominated for Best Actor!

The script was pitch perfect, it walked a fine line and it worked. Kudos to Jonze, who has obviously spent a lot of time around Charlie Kaufman. 

I really think the movie was about connecting and how we all desperately want to find someone to connect with, and how easy it is to fall in love with someone who you feel gets you (whether it is the kind of romance you have with like-minded friends or actual lovers), and how very deeply we can fall in love when we realise we have found a kindred spirit...regardless of their suitability.

Her is a great movie, one that stayed with me for days. I still think about it, and I love it when a movie does that.

12 Years A Slave
Wow, this was heavy going but what an amazing story. Now, I realised it would be a harrowing film but not quite how much. It was shot in a very discombobulating fashion during some of the scenes. So the action and story were emotionally upsetting, but this made you feel physically upset, uncomfortable, at unease. This is not to put you off but to have you really understand the pain and suffering these people used as slaves went through.

12 Years A Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man, who unwittingly becomes captured and sent south as a slave. An intelligent, cultured man, who finds himself in the worst of the worst conditions and with no reprieve but the kindness of strangers, and they were very few and far between. The scenes leading up to and including his capture, and then his transport to the auction houses (Yes, they auctioned these people off!) were very unsettling. Steve McQueen's direction cemented the unsettle, disjointed scenes of the paddle steamer boats paddles grinding the water and so forth were offputting yet stunning. The cinematography of the beauty of The Mississippi against the brutality of the injustice ensured profound viewing.

Once sold, by the horrific and ironically named Freeman (Paul Giamatti), to the gentle Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) Solomon had things a little 'easier'. However, Ford's kindness towards Solomon was unappreciated by others on the Plantation, and after some incredibly harrowing scenes, Solomon was moved on to work for Epps (Michael Fassbender), a nasty piece of work. And it was here, that the unease ramped it up a few notches. Mostly with Fassbender's interaction with Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), a maid on the plantation.

Yes, it is a horrific story of all our pasts, and yes at times I was pained and in tears, but this is a must see movie. The story is incredible, from start to finish, and ultimately uplifting when you know the history that came (all too slowly) after. It is a visual masterpiece, there is no doubt about it, and it has a soundtrack that is near perfection.

But it is the acting that makes this magnificent movie an instant classic. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomo, and commands your attention in every scene. There are no words to describe his performance, it is simply the role of a lifetime and he more than makes it his own. Lupito Nyong'o broke my heart, she was note perfect as the aptly named Patsey. Also Adepero Oduey as Eliza, who worked at the earlier Plantation, a woman separated from her children, her performance was like watching someone's heart break from the outside. Giamatti, Cumberbatch, and Paul Dano (a nasty redneck) were superb as deeply flawed men, but Fassbender's Epps was so nasty and mean, he will go down as one of the all time villains in movies. Also outstanding in smaller parts, Sarah Paulson as Epps' wife, and Brad Pitt in a small but pivotal role.

12 Years A Slave was another movie that stayed with me for days, it haunted me, still does. And I think that is important, go and see this film, you will be rewarded for the experience.

Dallas Buyer's Club
Oh my, talk about seeing harrowing films back to back, this was another one with some rough scenes that almost broke me. However, it is also a film with a lot of laughs, and great deal of heart, and an important part of our recent history.

It is the true story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck electrician and hustler, who makes money on the rodeo circuit. After an electrical incident, he is taken to hospital where he is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. A womaniser and homophobe, he refuses to believe he has it and thinks they made a mistake. After deteriorating he ends up back in hospital in a ward with transgender woman, Rayon (Jared Leto), and being looked after by Eve (Jennifer Garner), a kind hearted doctor.

Once Ron comprehends his reality, he begins to research drugs and finds information on one unapproved in the US, but available in Mexico. He travels to illegally obtain the drugs, more than he needs, to sell to other patients and make a little money on the side. And so it begins, a journey to many foreign locations, hustling and buying drugs, bringing them in illegally and trying to stay one step ahead of the law and the disease itself. This makes for heart wrenching drama and black humour in equal doses.

And along the way he not only befriends Rayon, but cuts her in as a partner on his deals. The character arc of Ron Woodroof not only as a patient but as a human is simply incredible. Set in the mid 80s, as Rock Hudson dies and people just don't have the knowledge we have today, watching the developments was heart wrenching.

Matthew McConaughey will surely take home Best Actor at the Oscars for this performance. You forget it is McConaughey and start to think you are watching a documentary, his portrayal of Woodroof is that fine. I was never a fan of his Southern 'charm' and poor choice in roles, but as he has gotten older he is choosing more interesting parts, supporting characters with guts, and these last few years has led him here and, like Ron Woodroof, his personal journey has been outstanding.

Jared Leto is unrecognisable as Rayon, again, he will surely take home Best Supporting Actor. Watching Leto and McConaughey duet on screen is one of the finest performances you will see. Add in the steely reserve of Garner's Eve, Steve Zahn's redneck cop, and the solid Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass, and you know you are in good hands.
Why is it called Dallas Buyers Club?
Well, you need to go along and see the film and find out. You'll be surprised and pleased, but remember to take was a two hankie film for me, but I'm a bit of a sook!


Nebraska was such a change of pace to the other films. Filmed beautifully in black and white, and directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt, and The Descendents), Nebraska is the tale of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a cantankerous fellow who is frustrated with his elderly life and is convinced he has won one million dollars in sweepstakes. The sweepstakes are obviously a scam but he is certain he is a millionaire and keeps escaping from his home in Billings, Montana to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his money. His wife, Kate (June Squib) is fed up with his vagueness and wandering. His sons are called to assist. Both live in town, Ross (Bob Odenkirk) is a wannabe news anchor, and David (Will Forte), an electronics salesman.

So David indulges his father and drives him to Lincoln to see if he has indeed won. They stop in Woody's hometown of Hawthorne along the way for a family reunion of sorts. Although, things are not quite as friendly as they seem, when the family gets wind of Woody's 'winnings'.

Nebraska is essentially a father/son road movie and a glorious one at that. It is a slow, even paced film, almost mirroring Woody's slow and shuffley gait, and we are all the better for slowing down to take in their lives and watch the stunning cinematography of the country terrain, filmed in sharp black and white. It is at times a little slow and quite melancholy, but that is broken up with great humour and some great moments, especially during their short stay in Hawthorne and the interactions with the characters there.

The characters in the town of Hawthorne, and the family members are delightfully drawn, apparently some of them locals and not actors (much as he did in Hawaii in The Descendents). Stacey Keach is particularly good as Ed, Woody's ex business partner, also Devin Ratray and Tim Driscoll as Woody's redneck nephews.

Bruce Dern is superb as Woody, a man of little words, and ill health, he acts through his drawn, hunched, and shuffley body. June Squibb steals every scene she is in, her face is luminous, and her angst and distaste for situations and some people is hilariously venomous. It is a truly outstanding and feisty performance. However, for me, it was the delightful performance of Will Forte as the unshakeable David, which drew me in the most. A laid back fellow, who obviously has issues with his father, but clearly adores him too. His kind face and mannerisms, and the patience he had through multiple taxing situations along the way were played with subtle charm and sweetness.

This is a lovely, heart warming story, filmed only as Alexander Payne can. The black and white cinematography is postcard picture perfect. It is worth the journey, take the time out to slow down and join them on the road to Nebraska.


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