Tag Archives: Scarlett Johannson

“THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)” Review (✫✫✫)

Introducing the legend of Tarza– oops, I meant Mowgli.

What is it with Jon Favreau taking the most obscure ideas and actually making good movies out of them? In 2008 he brought us Iron Man, which initially seemed like a sub par idea for a superhero, but then he delivered one of the greatest superhero films of our generation. Then he made Cowboys & Aliens, which sounds stupid by the title alone, yet he still managed to make a unique blend of genres in one exciting and interesting sci-fi western. Now we have his answer to Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book, and even though it’s a remake, it’s remains to be one of the most original and compelling experiences you can have at the movies this weekend.

Anyone who is watching this movie already knows the story of The Jungle Book. There’s a jungle, an adventurous human child named Mowgli (Neel Sethi), his wolf pack family, a lazy, carefree bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a black panther named Bageera (Ben Kingsley), and a vicious tiger named Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), who harbors an intense hatred of mankind. At learning about Mowgli’s presence in the jungle, Shere Kahn swears to find the child and maul him limb-from-limb. The jungle unites together to take Mowgli away to a human village and save him from Shere Kahn.

Those of you who frequently read my reviews will notice that I am not a big fan of remakes. I am also, surprisingly, not a big fan of the original Jungle Book, which I thought was thinly written despite some outstanding musical numbers. Yet, despite my negative outlook for both of these things, I found myself quite pleased with this movie, both as a remake and as an adaptation of The Jungle Book.

The first improvement Favreau makes over its predecessor is its characters. Yes, we liked Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera and others in the 1969 quote-unquote “classic”, but we didn’t really know them. We didn’t really understand them. We had their surface personalities to admire, but that’s it. Where did Mowgli come from? Why does Baloo want to adopt this man-cub straight for no reason whatsoever? Why does Shere Kahn hate mankind?

All of these are questions I had as a kid that 2016 provided me the answers to. This is a jungle fable that is fully fleshed out and realized, not unlike most of today’s modern fantasy epics. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera, Shere Kahn, Kaa and others all have their place and function in the story, and their narrative flows as freely as the nile river. We come to relate to these characters not as Disney properties, but as personalities in their own right.

But the best thing about The Jungle Book is easily its visual effects. Yes, I know that’s a recycled compliment in today’s visually-dominated industry, but its a compliment that The Jungle Book is more than deserving in. Utilizing both motion capture from the voice actors and studying the motions and movements of real jungle animals, Favreau illustrates a smart attention to detail as these animals breathe, move, and feel like their real life counterparts, minus their speaking. Neel’s interactions with the environment, likewise, feel vivid and alert, as if he truly is swinging on vines, jumping into rivers, and running through the jungle, as opposed to acting in front of a green screen. For most other movies, it’s easy to say it’s visually stimulating because it has big explosions or large collateral damage. What makes The Jungle Book so praiseworthy is that it has none of these things, and yet, it has no evidence of being unreal despite being almost entirely computer-generated. This is easily an early contender for the visual effects Oscar at the Academy Awards, and even if it doesn’t win, it definitely deserves a nomination at the very least.

Neel is functional but not outstanding as Mowgli. What do you expect? The kid is 13 years old, barely enough to be in junior high. He’s not expected to demonstrate a bravura performance at his age, and he doesn’t. His performance centers mostly on his choreography and stuntwork, and that’s just about as far as his acting skills reach as well.

The key performance, however, doesn’t come from Neel. It comes from these jungle animals, captured so accurately on screen visually and aesthetically to its environment. It’s true, Neel isn’t that impressive on his own, but he doesn’t need to be. His interactions with the other animals is what makes this story believable and so easy to get wrapped up into.

The Jungle Book, of course, wraps its adventure up all nice and tidy, almost too much so in regards to my tastes with Disney. But the plain fact of the matter is that I was surprised. Surprised that I was actually invested in Mowgli and his jungle adventures. Surprised that when I saw the jungle and its inhabitants, my first instinct wasn’t to make fun of them, but to be absorbed by them. Surprised that when watching The Jungle Book, I was looking at it through the eyes of wonder and curiosity as a child, not the hardened, distrusting gaze of a critic.

Disney has plans to produce live-action remakes of many of their animated classics, among them including Pete’s Dragon and Beauty and the Beast. If they follow the pattern of The Jungle Book, Disney has a good road ahead of them.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A war of humans, not heroes. 

I’m going to make a bold claim here. Captain America: Civil War is the best MCU movie to be made to date.

I know, I know, I’m probably a little overzealous when I say that. Except that I’m not. I’m fully aware of what its competition is. There are two other Marvel movies that I can compare Captain America: Civil War with. Those two are Iron Man and The Avengers. All three of them are exciting, suspenseful, nail-biting, eye-widening entertainment that are just as fun and memorable as they are emotional and meaningful. They’re not just great superhero dramas. They’re great human dramas.

But Captain America: Civil War is especially unique to even these entries. How? The biggest reason is because it isn’t formulaic. In Iron Man and The Avengers, we had our heroes, our villains, and they went at each other like rock-em sock-em robots. Granted, there’s deeper insight and perspective than just the two-dimensional hero/villain foreplay, but you can’t deny the framework that’s there. There’s a clear cut good guy and bad guy, as there is in most superhero movies.

But that black-and-white sense of morality isn’t well defined in Captain America: Civil War. In fact, there isn’t really an established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. You can argue that there is a quote-unquote “villain” in the movie, but he’s more of a viewer than an active participant to the conflict involved. If we have to go by titles in this movie, what we have then is hero against hero, Avenger against Avenger, and friend against friend. The ensuing action is nothing else but thrilling, thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking.

In this sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team of Avengers, consisting of Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). After an international event involving the Avengers ends in high casualties, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) step in to introduce the Sokovia Accords, which states that the Avengers would no longer be a private organization, but instead will be employed and assigned missions by a United Nations panel.

There are two perspectives to the Accords. On one hand, the Accords would give a new level of accountability to the Avengers. They would be restricted in where they could go and what they could do, and the public casualties in turn could be lessened. Plus, the Avengers would now get paid for all of their superheroing. On the other hand, this could put a level of control and interference on the Avengers that would prevent them from doing the most good. Plus, being assigned to report to a panel leaves them vulnerable for manipulation, forcing them to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise.

Iron Man leads the side that’s for the Accords: Cap leads the side that’s against it. But regardless of both sides, there’s another player in the field whose looking to manipulate both sides to his advantage. And neither side realizes it until its too late.

The second Marvel movie to be directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and the fourth to be written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America: Civil War is a superhero movie ripe with context, a movie that asks uncomfortable questions that we would much rather remain unanswered. Just like how The Winter Soldier related its plot to today’s world of government control, survaillance, and corruption, Civil War also relates to real-world issues that appeals just as much to reality as they do to fantasy.

Take, for instance, the introduction of the Sokovia Accords. These documents, much like the connection between S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. in The Winter Soldier, presents the theme of government interference and how those implications affect our world. Yes, the Accords would impose an element of control and responsibility over the heroes, but at what cost? This is a situation where civil liberties are being traded for security, and the question is raised on whether its a good trade or not. Juxtaposing this idea of control in between our heroes raises very important questions: questions that are startlingly resemblant of our world abundant with government surveillance and manipulation.

But the movie doesn’t suffer under its philosophical weight. This is still one of those fast-paced, funny, exciting Marvel movies that you’ve come to love. It’s just now a fast-paced, funny, exciting action movie that has deeper insight and drama than the previous entries did. The issues involved draw us deeper into the film’s conflict and to each of the outcomes that these characters face.

There are two of these characters that I haven’t mentioned yet. One of them is the rebooted Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, who is played here by Tom Holland as opposed to the recently discontinued Andrew Garfield. Holland’s appearance in the film is brief yet significant, and while he doesn’t serve a role as important as the others, his charisma, immaturity, and innocent charm makes him for a very entertaining and memorable character, one who sticks out in my mind just as much as Captain America and Iron Man. To be rebooted in just two years time is definitely too soon, and part of me wonders how well Garfield would have done if he had been given the same opportunities as Holland was. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Holland still wins us over and sticks out in our minds just as strongly as Garfield and Toby Maguire does. He makes me very excited to see what’s in store for him for his eventual return in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The other character is T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). If there is a neutral side in this conflict, it is in T’Challa, although at one point he does fight on Iron Man’s team. He’s so great because unlike Iron Man or Cap, his perspective is the most human out of the other players. He is the citizen Cap and Iron Man are fighting to protect. He is the one that faces the most casualty out of any of the other players. This natural perspective into the film is so important, because it demonstrates an investment that isn’t coming from another superhero: it’s coming from the victim of both sides of the conflict. That pain and confusion is so important to understand Captain America: Civil War not just as a Marvel movie, but as a complex drama on its own two legs.

The performances, the action, the visual effects, and the direction all accumulate masterfully, and the Russo brothers demonstrate a better understanding of their characters than they did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What we have left, then, is an unchallenged masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Iron Man and The Avengers both challenged themselves morally and ethically, but not so much to the point where it’s entire plot was founded around it. There was still a right or wrong in those movies. There isn’t in Captain America: Civil War, and that makes it just as compelling as it is entertaining. The one downside to this film’s success: now the Russo brothers have to follow this up with Avengers: Infinity War. I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I would personally guess that they can’t do it. But I’ve been wrong before.

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“THE AVENGERS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The ultimate example of comic-book superhero movies. 

I remember opening a comic book for the first time in my life when I was just a small kid. The small pamphlet fascinated me: by just a flip of a page, an entirely different world was created. A world where normal people gained super powers, wore red capes and tights, fought evil wherever it may exist, and made the world a safer place by the end of the day. In a small, poor neighborhood town where I was the only white kid in a predominantly Latino school building, it provided me a sense of relief and sanction from much bullying and torment I experienced from the other school children back in the day. It provided me freedom from the accursed world I lived in: it provided me a means of escape.

And now here I am, 15 years later, watching a live-action re-enactment of the world I discovered and loved all those many years ago. The Avengers is masterfully fantastic. It is an epic superhero tale, portraying the never-ending conflict of good and evil. It is an action movie with surprising finesse, switching from scenes of explosive energy and action to other scenes with insight, humor, and heartfelt emotion. It is a faithful re-production of multiple universes we have come to love in the past four years, and re-adapts them faithfully and full of energy in this film. But the core of this film’s success is this: that the film’s story and themes are emotional, honest, and truthful, and fleshes out its heroes to make them what they are: humans. All fighting for very human, realistic, and understandable reasons.

If you’ve seen the previous Marvel entries, you already know what this movie is about. The Avengers is a group of superheroes brought together to fight the battles that human beings never could.  Who are these heroes?  You would know most of them.

Tony Stark “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr): A billionaire playboy/philanthropist that has a genius-level-intellect that has allowed him to build and fight in a suit of armor.

Bruce Banner “Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo): A scientist exposed to gamma radiation, who turns into a giant, brutish beast with monstrous strength when he becomes angry.

Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson): An agile and intelligent spy that is more skilled and capable than most other men.

Clint Barton “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner): A masterful marksman who can aim and shoot with his bow and various arrows in a matter of milliseconds.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth): The Norse God of thunder who can manipulate lightning with the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Steve Rogers “Captain America” (Chris Evans): A super soldier frozen through time who can beat criminals to a pulp, as well as wielding a shield cast in a rare metal called “vibranium”.

You’ve seen these heroes before, most of them in their own respective movies.  All with their own stories, origins, conflicts, and themes that were explored along with their respective characters. My original worry with this film was, despite the huge expectations people were having, I was afraid this movie would let people down. It does, after all, have a lot on its plate: adapting over six superheroes into one action-packed movie is no easy task. We have Batman Forever and Spiderman 3 as evidence of that, where they had trouble of adapting even four super-powered beings to the big screen.

This film, though, has surprising finesse. Writer-director Joss Whedon adapts these characters with such child-like love and faithfulness, I feel their themes and stories from their previous films carry over to this film with them. It doesn’t feel like an adaptation, or an act of cruel financial commercialism. It lives up to the hype. The characters in this film live and breathe their uniqueness we have come to know and love from the previous Marvel movies. We feel Iron Man’s sarcasm and big ego, Thor’s sense of responsibility and brotherhood, Banner’s fear, frustration, and anger, and Steve’s sense of honor, patriotism, loss, and duty. Through the film’s dialogue and references to prior films, we sense Whedon’s pure intentions underneath the action, and we respect it. We realize he isn’t making just another action movie; he is making a superhero movie.  One with upmost faithfulness and loyalty to its own universes.

Impressive also, are the actors, but I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve seen them in prior films, so we already know they are good. I will comment then, on something we haven’t seen yet: their chemistry with each other. My word. This is what makes the Avengers, The Avengers. The actor’s chemistry with each other is spot-on, and in-tune. Whether it is a scene involving humorous, sarcastic dialogue, or another scene with painful realism and emotional truth to it, there is reality being shown in every single shot when an actor is with another Avenger on-screen. I can’t accurately describe it to you and do it justice. You need to see the film to understand their relationship with each other.

People are also wondering, of course, if the visual side of the film delivers. The answer is yes, but it isn’t just because it looks great; it is because of how they handled the great visuals they had for this picture. Too many times are we given films that have great visual CGI and explosions to overwhelm the audience with, but we have no suspense, excitement, or surprise to go along with it. It doesn’t make for an entertaining film. All that is left is a predictable action film that’s empty amidst the flat storytelling and redundant action sequences that just shows one explosion after another.

The Avengers isn’t like that. It doesn’t use its action as an excuse to fall flat and give up on entertaining its audience. Its excitement is relentless. Its suspense builds, and builds, and builds until we can take it no longer.  We scramble in our seat as we attentively watch what will happen next for our heroes.

This is the kind of excitement we need in superhero movies: the kind that is reminiscent of those kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, the ones that have you sitting on the edge of your seat with your bowl of “Captain Crunch” in order to see if your favorite hero does, in fact, save the day. It is this suspense and tension that builds The Avengers to incredible cinematic heights, and makes for some truly entertaining, memorable, and iconic moments in the picture.

The Avengers is the ultimate example of a comic book superhero movie. Whedon has a great subject to play with, sure. But his film is a great one not because he solely depends on the idea to be successful. This film is a success because he treats it the way it is supposed to be treated: as an exciting action-blockbuster that retains humanity to its characters, spirit to its humor, and excitement in its own story. I know somewhere in this world, some little ten-year old kid will watch this movie, and will one day be inspired to make his own superhero movie. It’s kind of depressing, though. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2013

Ah yes, its that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Oscar time, where forgettable movies to get gold statues, while great movies get ignored.

Calm down, calm down, I’m just kidding. Except not really. People know that I’m openly critical about the Oscars for a number of reasons, mostly because the movies that were nominated were given those nominations by bloviating pundits and not genuine movie lovers. Don’t agree with me? Look at the following movies that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Rush. Harry Potter. The Dark Knight. Pan’s Labyrinth. Black Hawk Down. Fight Club. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rear Window. Psycho. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the majority of the motion pictures that are nominated at the Oscars, and I usually agree with their picks of who wins best picture. I absolutely love The Lord of The Rings trilogy, I love Rocky, The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, and I uphold that Schindler’s List is the best academy-award winner for best picture of all time. Just because those movies deserved it, however, doesn’t mean those other movies don’t deserve mention, and I find it absolutely despicable that the academy snubs pictures that have made a large impact on society. I mean, everyone’s heard of Oliver! before, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, rant over.  This year is a very interesting awards race, with Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave the frontrunners for the best picture race, not to mention all of the other awards in the ceremony. I’ve already written my top ten list of the year, so I won’t bother you with the details of which I think is better. Let’s begin the predictions.

BEST PICTURE: Since Sundance of last year, 12 Years A Slave has been recieving the most steadfast buzz that lasted all throughout the year into this ceremony. While I agree that Gravity is a great frontrunner, I don’t think that consensus is going to change. Plus, look at the academy’s track record. Based off of previous data, the academy loves to give the best picture Oscar to movies based on real events and that statistically grossed less than 100 million. Not only is 12 Years based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, but it also grossed 96 million dollars. I’m sticking to my gut here. 12 Years A Slave is winning best picture. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone seems convinced that Alfonso Cuaron will win the academy award for best direction with Gravity, and that especially seems the case since he won the DGA award as well. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s the most fit for this award. Gravity, of course, was science-fiction perfection, accurately capturing the physics and dangers of space so perfectly that it could have been filmed in space for all we know. Equally as difficult, however, is capturing the cruelty of the slave era in a relentless, gritty, unhinging fashion, and director Steve McQueen did that masterfully all while maintaing his decorum. I won’t be mad if Cuaron wins and McQueen loses, and to be honest, both are very deserving in this award. All I’m saying is that if Cuaron wins, it will be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg losing for Schindler’s List to Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive.

BEST ACTOR: The battle has been in between actors Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both nominated for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.I’m going with McConaughey for three reasons. 1) Since his win at the Golden Globes, he’s had a steady winning streak in many award ceremonies, including the SAG Awards. 2) His performance was stunning, sinking into this role of an aggressive party-hard cowboy turned health advocate, and 3) He’s Matthew freakin’ McConaughey. Do I really need to give a further argument?

BEST ACTRESS: Again, this battle is between Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. There are two reasons why Bullock won’t win this year: 1) She won the academy award for best actress a few years ago for her performance in The Blind Side, and 2) I’ve never seen a best actress win for a science-fiction film in any year. So Cate Blanchett is the assumed winner. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I want every single molecule and fiber of my being to give the award to Michael Fassbender as a hateful slave driver in 12 Years A Slave. His performance was cruel, relentless and teeth-grinding all at once, and was so despicable as a villain that he surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained. He won’t win it. The dominant opinion has been swayed towards Jared Leto in his transformative performance as a transgender AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club. While I commend his bravery and his ability to slip so effectively into this role, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance didn’t shake me as much as Fassbender’s did. Fassbender played the more striking character: he’s the one that’s more deserving in the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the only acting category where a consensus is generally already made. Besides Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo stood out both as a character, as an actress, and as a spiritually broken slave who lost all hope at life and at happiness in 12 Years A Slave. Her performance truly broke my heart, and she deserves no less than the academy award for best supporting actress. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This battle is between writer-director David O’Russell and Spike Jonze, both responsible for their respective films American Hustle and HerBecause it takes a lot more ambition to write about a middle-aged man falling in love with a computer than it does to write a historically based crime-comedy-drama, my best is on Spike Jonze’s Her. Just because its a smarter story, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If 12 Years A Slave is going to have any chance in the best picture race, it needs more of a push than best supporting actress. It’s going to get that extra push in this category. Not only is it among the year’s best, but it is one of the most spellbinding stories of the year, only barely straying from the original text that Solomon Northup wrote all those years ago. Not only will John Ridley win for 12 Years A Slave: he deserves it. 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: I’m one of the relative few that did not enjoy Disney’s newest feature Frozen, a story based on the “Snow Queen” fairy tale about two sisters trying to save each other in a crumbling kingdom. While the characters were fun and energetic, they were equally annoying and ditzy, especially whenever the stupid trolls were on the screen. While I’m less enthusiastic about it, however, it obviously hasn’t disappointed its mainstream audience, garnering a 90% on rotten tomatoes and a rare A+ on cinema score. There’s no question on who’s winning this: Frozen will win the best animated feature award.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: I’ll give Frozen this: it had wonderful music. It deserves no less, then, to win the academy award for best song for their brilliant track titled “Let it go.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: A few years ago, The Social Network won best original score for its energetic beats and its fluid synthesized sounds. For these reasons will Steven Price not only win the Oscar for Gravity, but deserve it because his music added tension, edginess and paranoia to Gravity’s already heart-pounding premise. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubewski lost years ago with The Tree Of Life against Robert Richardson for Hugo. The Academy will make that up to him this year for giving him the academy award for best cinematography for Gravity, although I’m still sad that Roger Deakins is getting left behind for Prisoners. 

BEST FILM EDITING: Let me say something here: great visual effects doesn’t make for great editing. Likewise, a masterful editor knows not only when to cut away from a shot, but also on how long to stay on one as well. Although Joe Walker is more that deserving to win for capturing the tragic essence of 12 Years A Slave, I believe it will go to Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger for Gravity due to its technical achievements. 

BEST SOUND EDITING: “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah right. I heard a mother in mourning screaming in space for 120 minutes and I was absolutely petrified.There’s no question on which movie this award deserves to go to: Gravity. 

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity for the same reasons as above. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity. End of discussion.

BEST MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club is going to win. If the academy dares to give the award to either Jackass: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger, I’m going to invite them inside my personal port-a-potty and wait for them to realize that its the poo cocktail from Jackass 3.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: I’ve flipped sides on this one a few times now. First I thought The Great Gatsby’s flashy and colorful costumes were going to take home the award. Then I considered American Hustle for its stylish, contemporary costumes. Now, after giving it a second look, my mind is made up: 12 Years A Slave is going to win for best costume design.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: I was hesitant to name this at first, because honestly anyone can take this one home. The set pieces and designs for all of the film were spectacular in the least, ranging from the financially corrupt society that American Hustle portrayed, to the bleak, barren landscapes of 12 Years A Slave, all the way to the surreal, futuristic Stanley Kubrick-style buildings in Her. I’m ultimately going to guess that The Great Gatsby wins best production design only because it is excellent at displaying the roaring twenties as well as being the most diverse out of any other nominee. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY: This category started off controversial, leaving off one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries Blackfish off of its list of nominees. Disregarding that, however, look at the other nominees. Out of any of the other selections, which one was talked about the most? Which one is the most controversial? Which one gave a clear, unbiased perspective of a serious issue and let the film show reality as it is?

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was praised all around for his film The Act Of Killing, a story about a former soldier revisiting his dark past and facing the truth about the lives he took long ago. It ended up taking many number one spots on many top ten lists, including Sight and Sound’s poll for best of the year. It’s no contest for me. The Act Of Killing is taking this Oscar home. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGAUGE FILM: The more I look into this category, the more I notice that The Hunt has been getting more and more buzz with moviegoers about the Oscars, and is the only nominee to be on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time (although, oddly enough, its listed for 2012 instead of 2013). Despite how praising the word of mouth has is, however, I’m convinced that it won’t win. The Great Beauty has been getting the most buzz out of any other nominee, and that buzz usually isn’t wrong. Plus, my ex-film professor loves it. That’s when you know two things: that it’s a bad movie, and that it’s going to be an Oscar-winner.

And here it is, at last, my three (least) favorite awards categories: the short films. Why do I say that? With the exception of one, I haven’t seen any of them. Nobody has seen them. Point me to one normal moviegoer who has seen any of these shorts, and I will pay him $100 to smuggle in DVD-ripped copies of them to my home theater.

Blehhhhhhh. Let’s finish this.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: The only one I’ve seen out of any of the films in any of these categories is Disney’s Get A Horse, a buoyant and clever combination of classic 1930’s Disney animation with that of today’s three-dimensional standard. I got this category right last year, but that doesn’t mean I will do it again this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Cavedigger, because it has the coolest title. 

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: Helium, because I can’t breathe. 

What are your predictions? Do you think Gravity is going to take the big picture home, or am I shortchanging 12 Years too much? Comment below, let me know.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write the president of AMPAS an angry letter about why Rush wasn’t nominated for anything.

-David Dunn

Correction 2/25: On the “best production design” category, ‘American Hustle’ was inaccurately identified as being “the roaring twenties that American Hustle portrayed”. The description was intended to go towards ‘The Great Gatsby’ and has since been corrected. 

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“HER” Review (✫✫1/2)

What on earth did I just watch?

How do you fall in love with a computer program? Throughout the entire runtime of Her, that’s the only thought that was peaking through my mind. I wasn’t thinking about Joaquin Phoenix’s deliberate performance. I wasn’t thinking about how sweet and serene Scarlett Johansson’s voice sounded. I didn’t think about how clever the story was or how passionate Spike Jonze’s direction was. The only thing I was thinking about was how hard it must be to maintain a relationship with a piece of machinery. Can you imagine how awkward those morning encounters must be?

Taking place in the not-too-distant future, Her follows the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), an introvert and manic depressive who writes love letters for a living and has recently gone through a divorce with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore is not in the most stable mindset as the movie begins, and as an effort to feel less lonely, he purchases an artificial intelligence who names herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johanson) to help him with his everyday needs. What goes from there is a grand journey of self-discovery, identity and romance as these two gradually come closer with each other and eventually fall in love.

For those of you who have seen the movie, does that paragraph just about do it justice? I could go deeper into the plot synopsis, but why would I? From just those three sentences, half of you have already decided whether you would like the movie or not. There are, no doubt, some introspective and provocative thinkers out there who will find joy and enchantment with this story, while other viewers will watch it and ask themselves what on earth they just watched.

For me, I went in an open book. I knew that the movie had an opportunity to woo me, that it was a strange and outlandish idea to begin with, but that the idea doesn’t matter as long as it was handled and carried out well. How did the movie do with that?

Eh. I’d rather watch 1 Night In Paris. 

Like its central idea, Her is a strange movie, a surreal and against-the-grain picture that challenges a lot of misconceptions about love and relationships. While I like that and think it has a lot of great ideas to offer its viewers, I find them so hard to focus on while we’re watching Joaquin Phoenix having sex with a machine.

Yes, there are sex scenes in the movie, although I hesitate to even call them that. There are two that we actually see, but from their conversations we actually infer that there were plenty more.

The first one isn’t really a sex scene, but more or less a copycat of phone sex with Scarlett Johansson’s voice (which I’ll admit, didn’t bother me that much at all). The second one, however, was out of this world weird, with Samantha hiring a surrogate (prostitute) for Theodore to have pretend sex with. They’re trying to justify it by saying that she isn’t a prostitute and that she’s just trying to be a part of their experience, but that argument is null and void. She’s provided sexual services in exchange for something else. She’s a prostitute.

Don’t get me wrong: there are many emotional moments that the movie handled surprisingly well, and there’s an undeniable sweetness and sentiment to the story that can’t help but be noticed. Despite her being a machine, Samantha has a surprising amount of layers to her, being an in-depth and interesting character and love interest in her own right, while the human characters contribute the more grounded relationships that make more sense than that of Samantha’s (Including a recently-divorced Rooney Mara and Amy Adams, who offer very interesting parallels to Twombly’s exotic love story).

Joaquin Phoenix, however, is the flesh and blood of the film. His performance is nothing less than exemplary, playing this shy introvert so convincingly that its hard to imagine that he at one point portrayed Johnny Cash. His character reminds me of many of cinema’s most memorable introverts, ranging from the autistic-yet-brilliant Raymond Babbit in Rain Man to the hyper-obsessive and socially distant Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, or the paranoid John Forbes Nash Jr. in A Beautiful Mind. All of those movies focused on characters that struggled romantically and socially, and how much they struggled with their identity and being themselves. I love it when movies reach into characters that deep and personally, and if the film focused more on Twobly’s personality rather than that of his love and attraction to his operating system, the movie could have ended up being way more successful.

I can’t help but keep thinking about how small Her’s audience will be. In this day and age, art films are getting harder and harder to advertise and appeal to mainstream moviegoing audiences, and this movie is definitely no exception. I know the film’s premise doesn’t matter as much as how well that premise is handled, but there are some movies that just can’t get away from their bizarre ideas. Case in point: did anyone really expect Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber to be a good movie?

I stress this again: the main character is in love with a computer program. If you can buy that and get over that to enjoy the movie, good for you. But there are no doubt others who will not enjoy this picture, and I can’t help but think that they will be a more sane person because of it.

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