Life of Pi (2012)

Life Of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by:  David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Starring:   Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Tabu and Gérard Depardieu

Oscar Nominations: Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Screenplay (Adapted), Directing, Best Motion Picture

This movie is a visual feast and (as a few critics have mentioned) uniquely demonstrates the power of 3D and CGI.  Even if you don’t like 3D I would say this movie is a must-see in the awkward glasses.  The story, about a man reminiscing about his youth and his search for truth and religion, depends entirely on its effects and a celebration of the magic of filmmaking.  It is interesting to see it nominated against Beasts of the Southern Wild as both use film to relay their stories in such unexpected and exceptionally unique ways (unleashed imagination vs.  heartbreaking realism) that neither should be missed.

What I liked:  I am not one for special effects, but what Ang Lee has accomplished here is worthy of praise.  This film moves forward with visual mastery and my hat is off to the director for using the effects to their fullest potential rather than relying on it to tell an amazing (and some said un-filmable) tale.  Finally, once we’re pulled out of the adventure and listen quietly to the protagonist as he looks back on the adventures of his youth, there is a moment of truth and honesty that is truly touching.

What I didn’t like:  Thoughts on religion throughout the story didn’t add much to the movie and hindered the flow.  The acting is not as strong as the effects and I was certainly aware of Suraj Sharma’s ‘performance’ as opposed to the smooth conversationalist tone of Irrfan Khan.  The insertion of the author didn’t work for me either until the very end and it feels like he’s only there to propel the story, whereby his character isn’t given much depth or understanding.

My rating:  Avatar was just the beginning.

IMDB: 8.2

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

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Tuesday Night Comedy

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What to do on a Tuesday night when it’s -30C degrees? Grab a drink, curl up on the couch and tune in to New Girl at 9pm followed by The Mindy Project at 9:30pm.  These two sitcoms make my Tuesday night.  Granted, I know a lot of us are ‘over’ the genre (what do people see in The Big Bang Theory?!) and both of these are sitcoms in their truest form:  22 minutes of quirky characters finding themselves in compromising predicaments; but that doesn’t preclude them from being funny.  In fact, they feature two of the funniest people on television in Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Max Greenfield as New Girl’s Schmidt and the eponymous Mindy Kaling.  Here’s a tidbit about both but there’s no real point in critiquing them because a) I enjoy them for what they are: laugh out loud (literally…) funny and b) I’ll let the material speak for itself.

New Girl (2011 – )

Created by: Elizabeth Meriwether
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone, Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson

IMDB: 7.9/10
Airs:  Fox, CityTV Tuesday, 9pm.


Video courtesy of cooooourtneyy
**These clips don’t even include Season 2’s ‘drum roll’, ‘rebranding party’, ‘Halloween headbutt’,  ‘stripper dance’ or, of course, the ‘Douche Bag Jar’.

The Mindy Project (2012 – )

Created by: Mindy Kaling
Starring: Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina and Ed Weeks

IMDB: 6.4/10
Airs:  Fox, CityTV Tuesday, 9:30pm.

My rating: The writing and casting are far better in New Girl but Mindy Kaling may be the funniest woman on TV at the moment.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

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Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin (screenplay), Lucy Alibar (stage play “Juicy and Delicious”)
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easterly

Nominations: Screenplay (previously produced material), Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), Directing & Picture of the Year.

Quite simply, I loved this movie.  Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut about a young girl who describes her understanding of the universe is gritty and magical, grassroots, poetic, heartbreaking and beautiful; it drags us in, wrenches the heart and considers all the wonder and decay of the Deep South. Don’t get me wrong, despite my gushing review this film is far from perfection but the emotion of it is enough to carry the whole.

What I liked:  Quvenzhané Wallis is a revelation as Hushpuppy and Zeitlin does a brilliant job telling the story through her eyes; especially with voice-over narration that eases the film forward with delicate quips about her views on the world.    Dwight Henry, who plays her retreating father, is also commendable in his first ever performance and the relationship between the two is poetry – in all its anger, love and honesty.   The creative camera work and editing yanks us into the Bathtub, so much so that we are transported, not only into their world but also into their understanding of it.

What I didn’t like:  If we’re going to compare stories then most of the other nominees in the Oscar screenplay category are probably better told tales.  The story here feels like an idea moving forward.  There is no real plot and at times the jump cuts took me out of the film and I had to reorient myself.  That said, the heart of this film and the creativity in which it unfolds is the driving force behind it.  The narrative is crafted beautifully by Zeitlin and carried out heart and soul by Wallis.  When I think about it, I still feel the emotion of it, and that is no small feat.

My rating:  My favourite film of 2012 so far.

IMDB: 7.5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Argo (2012)

ImageDirected by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek.

Nominations: Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Screenplay (based on previously produced material) and Best Picture.

Ben Affleck’s third feature is a solid political drama based on the 1980 CIA-Canadian mission to free six diplomatic escapees out of Revolutionary Iran by staging a fake film production.  The movie moves forward well and tells a good story with the help of strong performances, a little laughter and a suspense-driven final act.  I enjoyed it but would I rank it #201 on IMDB’s, now skewed, top #250 list? No.  That said, most people I know loved it.

What I liked:  The writing is excellent and Affleck does well to rely heavily on the plot as the story itself is the most interesting part of the movie.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide the comic relief and are a cut above the other performances.  The casting is near perfect and the 1980s feel of the movie works.  Finally, the movie moves smoothly forward because of the story and it gains momentum and crescendos into an excellent final act.  Had I left the movie early, I would be writing a different (and half-assed) review.

What I didn’t like:   Ben Affleck is commendable as the CIA Operative who takes responsibility for the lives of the six escapees but his performance felt too much like Affleck playing the hero and while I appreciated the sense of deep emotion beneath his impassive expression, perhaps there just wasn’t enough urgency until the final act to engage my attention completely.  That said, I tip my hat at his turn from Hollywood bad boy to serious filmmaker by letting the work speak for itself.  What I noticed most was the lack of true emotion or filmmaking creativity in the storytelling to make this film stand above the pack.

My rating:  I would give it my vote for best screenplay.

IMDB: 8.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Rebelle (2012)

War Witch (In English)

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Directed by: Kim Nguyen
Written by: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Serge Kanyinda and Mizinga Mwinga

Nominated for: Best Foreign Language Film

It’s Oscar Season!  I will try my best to preview most of the films that are up for notable Oscars despite the fact that I am among those who believe the ceremony is directed towards commercially appealing talent rather than actual artistic talent but I digress… Anyway, I thought I’d begin my Oscar posts by promoting some homegrown talent.  Montreal filmmaker Kim Nguyen has garnered much press and accolades for his French war drama, Rebelle (aka War Witch), about a teenage African girl who tells the story of her war-ravaged youth to her unborn child.  The movie has already been nominated, and won, a number of awards for Nguyen and his leading actress Rachel Mwanza, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film for Nguyen at the upcoming Academy Awards.  The trailer looks both beautiful and disturbing, which makes me eager to see it.

In Montreal, it can be seen in theaters starting January 18th at Cinema du Parc.  Hopefully it will gain a larger distribution with this nomination as it has already finished screening in theatres, but if not, keep your eyes out for it!

IMDB: 7.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Oldboy (2003)

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Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Garon Tsuchiya (story), Nobuaki Minegishi (comic)
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang

Finally something different; which is probably why this South Korean thriller is ranked #85 on IMBD’s top 250 movies.  Granted, we have all read, seen, heard stories of revenge but I had never seen anything on this scale or this disturbing.  I often dive into foreign films because I know if they are reaching us across the pond then they are worth watching and Oldboy is more wild, ghastly, fascinating and strange than any Hollywood production that comes to mind. The film, about a man who is imprisoned for 15 years without knowing why and his search to discover the reason, is so unfettered by effects and so captivating that it begs you to forget it is a movie and I had to turn away in moments of extreme violence.

What I liked: I have a hard time rating performances in a foreign language because I have to rely solely on visual expressions.  In this case, I can say that Min-sik Choi, as protagonist Oh Dae-Su, and his certain transformation, torture, exhaustion and anger ring as emotionally true as any great performance.  The editing is both gritty and stylized which makes it artistic (which is a welcome respite from the horror) and adds a touch of humour.  There is one fight scene that astonished me for its realism; finally a fight where guys get tired!

What I didn’t like: South Korean culture is so different that, at times, I had trouble understanding or relating to what I was seeing, especially the female characters.  However, I was so fascinated that it didn’t detract from the overall affect of the movie.  Finally, the violence is more brutal that a Tarantino film.  The film ends on a disturbing note and yet somehow we are relieved.

What I already know I don’t like: Rumours that Hollywood is going to remake this film.  Disaster.

My rating: Worth closing your eyes through some horrifying scenes to watch the whole.

IMDB: 8.4

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%