Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Beasts of the Southern Wild: The journey you’ve never taken

Pick up your copy of the award contending Beasts of the Southern Wild on December 18, 2012. Courtesy of eOne Media

Pick up your copy of the award contending Beasts of the Southern Wild on December 18, 2012. Courtesy of eOne Media

Independent films depend purely on the strength of their story, lacking access to flashy special effects and bloated budgets to hide imperfections. Instead, everything is stripped bare revealing the heart of the tale. Sure to be an Academy Award contender, Beasts of the Southern Wild is, at its core, an exemplary demonstration of the rawness that is the independent film.

In this semi-fantastical story, we follow six-year old Hushpuppy and her hot-headed father as they face the harsh realities of life in a bayou cut off from the rest of society.

It takes a while to really sink into this film. The characters are difficult to connect with and their thick Louisiana accents can be troublesome to comprehend at times. However, as the film progresses and you witness the predicaments of the people, you slowly begin to latch on to them – Especially little Hushpuppy, played beautifully by Quvenzhané Wallis.

(Quvenzhané Wallis)Wallis’ performance is astonishingly natural for a first time actor of five years old. Her innocence and strength keep you interested in the film, even if the story appears to drift at times.

Writers Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, who also directed the film, deliver a psychological look into the daily life of the neglected and underprivileged people of the world.

(Quvenzhané Wallis), (Benh Zeitlin)For the DVD home release, the original film is given good video transfer, even if there is an excessive amount of film grain. The audio, however, is top notch. Subtle details are everywhere to be found and the use of bass at the appropriate moments really adds weight to certain scenes. The special features are solid and include an in-depth, 18 minute Behind the Scenes featurette, Deleted Scenes with director commentary, some of the audition footage for the father and daughter leads, and the short that led to this movie, Glory At Sea.

(Quvenzhzé Wallis), (Dwight Henry)Bottom Line: This movie has Oscar nominations written all over it and the DVD release is one any movie fan will want to check out.

Movie Grade A-
Blu Ray Grade B+

Runtime: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Killing Them Softly: Potential slaughtered by director

Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, and Ray Liotta star in Killing Them Softly. Courtesy of Alliance Films

Amazing movies have that uncanny ability to feel as if time just flew by. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a movie that seems intriguing on the surface but in execution falls short forcing us to check our watches every five seconds. Sadly, Killing Them Softly is one of these films.

Not all is lost as there are some positives in Andrew Dominik’s (The Assassination of Jesse James) latest film.

In Killing Them Softly, a couple of young knuckleheads rob a mob protected poker game only to find themselves hunted by a hired enforcer.

The adapted story has a great deal of promise, but Andrew Dominik’s direction seems to belay the entire film’s plot. Subtlety is clearly not one of Dominik’s strengths as he endlessly beats us over the head with the political speeches of Bush and Obama in an attempt to provide poignant social commentary. It just doesn’t work.

The cast is solid with Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy (Argo), Ben Mendelsohn, and James Gandolfini putting forth a great combination of dramatic and comedic performances.

The brutally, vivid violence was given a great deal of thought behind shooting at interesting angles and variable framerates.

In the end, the slow pace and lack of tension throughout most of the film forces the audience to nitpick on the faults rather than rejoice in the otherwise thought-provoking story.

Bottom Line: Not worth a trip to the theatre. However, there’s enough potential to give this a chance as a cheap rental.

Grade C

Runtime: 97 minutes
3D: No

Lincoln: Has Oscar written all over it

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Lincoln. Courtesy of Disney Pictures

With the USA battling through election pangs this year, it’s fitting that we take a look back to what a great president like “Honest” Abraham Lincoln can do for their country. In Steven Spielberg’s latest historical epic, we follow Abe as he fiercely battles the confederates and most of the nation to rid the United States of Slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis is absolutely brilliant as the 16th president. His performance is packed with a special blend of both subtlety and power – The kind of which only great actors can deliver. The supporting cast keeps close to Lewis’ charisma, with Sally Field leading the charge.

Spielberg has nothing left to prove in his career, yet shows no complacency in his direction of Tony Kushner’s excellent adapted screenplay. There is a constant tension throughout the film that is perfectly broken with rich comedic relief from the statuesque president himself.

As far as cinematography is concerned, this is some of the best the Hollywood has offered this year.

My only minute criticism is toward the sheer quantity of names being thrown at you. It can lead to confusion when you’re trying to decipher whom the characters are referring to scene after scene.

Again, that is just a tiny blemish in this phenomenal film that will light up the Academy ballots come 2014.

Bottom Line: Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis are a winning combination in this must see taste of American history.

Grade A

Runtime: 149 minutes
3D: No

War Horse: A brilliant film wrapped in poor packaging

Steven Spielberg's latest epic, War Horse. Courtesy of Disney Pictures

There are few directors in the history of cinema who have crafted such a vast array of classic films as the legendary Steven Spielberg. His latest Oscar nominated epic War Horse proves the magic of movie making still flows powerfully in Spielberg’s veins.

War Horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, takes us on a journey with Joey, the stallion who touches the lives of everyone he meets and his harrowing journey through World War I.

This is far more than a war film depicting good versus evil. Both sides are examined, which gives this movie depth. Every aspect of this film is of the highest caliber. The acting is superb from every member of the vast cast, including Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, and new comer Celine Buckens.

While none of the animals were harmed in the filming process, the movie does depict animal cruelty and there are scenes of horses suffering. A word of warning: if you are an animal lover (as I am), these scenes can be very difficult to watch.

Unfortunately, this combo pack comes in a large DVD style case, instead of the compact Blu Ray case. Since most people will be purchasing the movie for their Blu Ray collection, it makes absolutely no sense to package and promote an inferior product.

The feature set is on the light side for this DVD/Blu Ray combo release, with only two featurettes to enjoy. War Horse: The Journey Home sits you down in a roundtable discussion with the cast, writer, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, editor and the one and only Spielberg himself. The second is An Extra’s Point Of View – a brief look into the hundreds of extras and what they endured to bring this story to the big screen.

Bottom Line: While the hardware is lacking, the powerful film within is worth every penny.

Release Date: April 3, 2012

Movie Grade: A
Blu Ray/DVD Grade: C

Runtime: 146 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

The Muppets: Wocka Wocka Fun!

Jason Segel and Amy Adams star alongside the wackiest puppets in The Muppets. Courtesy of Disney Pictures

In the 1960’s, Jim Henson created The Muppets, dawning a new era of puppet entertainment for the young, old and everyone in the middle. Twelve years after the last theatrical release, The Muppets are back in a fun new musical parody starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang.

Walter, the newest Muppet, travels to meet his Muppet idols with his brother and his girlfriend (Segel and Adams), only discover a plot by an evil oil tycoon to destroy the Muppet Studios.

It’s non-stop entertainment from beginning to end. Every member of the cast has a world of fun with their characters and jabs at movie clichés every chance they get.

Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller wrote the screenplay and all of the incredibly memorable songs (Beware: you’ll be singing them for days after watching the movie).

This super home release includes a Blu Ray, DVD, and Digital Copy, as well as a copy of the soundtrack. Could you ask for anything more? Disney thought you would, so they included a bountiful array of special features, including Scratching the Surface: A Hasty Examination Of The Making Of The Muppets, Deleted Scenes, A Little Screen Test On The Way To The Read-Through, Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song, Unreleased Theatrical Spoof Trailers, Audio Commentary with the writers and director, The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History), and Disney Intermission. Lots to explore!

They’re all self-explanatory, but the coolest feature is most definitely the Disney Intermission. This feature is automatically activated when you pause the movie, prompting fun, original skits by the Muppets that keeps everyone waiting entertained.

Bottom Line: This is a jam packed home release that will tickle everyone in your home.

Movie Grade: A-
Blu Ray/DVD Grade: A

Runtime: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Some goodies for fans in this home release

Gary Oldman stars in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Courtesy of Entertainment One

The Academy Awards have long been criticized for their pretentious selections of top films in cinema. This year, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy received three nominations from the Academy, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, further warranting these criticisms.

This movie is an adaptation of John le Carré’s novel and tells the story of a British Secret Service (MI6) mole hunt. To be frank, this is one of the least interesting movies to involve any level of spy operation. The characters are highly underdeveloped and emotionally disconnected from the audience, while the story is riddled with lack-luster motivation.

Gary Oldman’s (The Dark Knight) performance is nothing more than a straight-faced intellectual from beginning to end, making the Oscar nomination and tremendous praise absolutely baffling. The best performance comes from Benedict Cumberbatch, who excellently portrays the young spy trying to cope with a great deal of stress.

Fortunately, for the numerous fans of the movie, the Blu Ray + DVD combo home release contains a decent set of bonus features for you to dive into. The bonus features include five deleted scenes, a thirteen minute featurette Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: First Look, and a full length audio commentary with director Thomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman. Both the featurette and commentary provide an interesting background on the production, while the deleted scenes, if you’re anything like me, may put you to sleep.

Bottom Line: If you’re not a fan or aren’t looking to cure your insomnia, keep your distance from this movie.

Release Date: March 20, 2012

Movie Grade: C
Blu Ray/DVD Grade: B+

Runtime: 128 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1