Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette blogger & ISU student
When I first started really paying attention to movies, I thought of the Academy Awards as way for the pretentious types to display their elitist disparagement for popular culture, and flood our minds with their ideas about what good movies are and should be. If a movie looks pretty but puts you to sleep, there is a good chance that movie will get serious consideration for an Oscar. In retrospect, I realize I might have been a little harsh.
Over the years, I have come to realize the Academy usually isn’t too far off when deciding what the best movies and performances are. Even though there are arguably too many movies nominated in the Best Picture category, when it comes down to picking a winner it usually does a pretty good job of selecting a film that entertains, is easy on the eyes, has good cinematography and direction, has fresh writing and sharp dialog and — what I feel separates a good movie from a classic work of art — it stands the test of time.
Of course, there are those movies that are great at the time, but after a few years they lose its zeal. They just become dated (“Gladiator” seems pretty hokey now). Or they simply turn out to be not that good (do I even need to mention “Crash”). Other times, a movie stands the test of time, is beautiful and brilliant, but it just doesn’t appeal to a mass audience, which is usually be the case.
Since the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to include up to 10 nominees, the last three winners “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Hurt Locker,” all, were well put together movies, but failed to garner much box-office success. The expansion of the category has let in many blockbuster nominees (most don’t belong) to no success thus far. That might change at this year’s ceremony. This year’s favorite is “Lincoln,” which has demanded much critical praise, and has also been very successful at the box-office.
Challenging front-runner “Lincoln” is the CIA thriller “Argo,” voyage adventure “Life of Pi,” revenge flic “Django Unchained,” classic musical “Les Miserables,” Bin Laden quasi-biopic “Zero Dark Thirty,” rom-com-dram “Silver Linings Playbook,” fantasy “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and French drama “Amour.” This year’s list of nominees is a good mix of different genres. It mixes popular films with relative unknowns, foreign-language films with English language films, action films with romance film and so on…
Over the next few weeks, I will give my critiques, praises and opinions about this year’s Best Picture nominees.
To be continued…
Written by: Daniel Fox - Daily Vidette Blogger & ISU Student
Every now and then I see a movie at the video store or online that I’d never heard of, has a few stars that I have heard of, sounds interesting and, the key, actually turns out to be good. Story driven films like “Safety Not Guaranteed” really are the diamond in the ruff of the endless sea of schlocky straight to DVD disasters, which I sometimes question how such trash can even get made. And, big budget theatrical embarrassments that rely on recycled story lines, ineffective special effects, played-out heroes and heroines and are pushed on us by obsessive advertising. This film, from the producer of Little Miss Sunshine, contains none of the before mentioned plagues of the film industry. But instead is well written, visually appealing, has fresh (somewhat) new faces, moves along nicely and brings some of the same quirkiness and originality as Sunshine did a few years ago.
I sat back ready for some Rom-Com that might make me smile, or maybe even laugh a little bit, but I was not expecting to actually be taken-in by a movie that stars that melancholy straight-shooting girl from Parks and Recreation (Aubrey Plaza) and that football obsessed Chicagoan yuppie from The League (Mark Duplass). I was pleasantly surprised at how a film about a group of journalists investigating an eccentric loon and grocery store clerk (Duplass), for a “tongue-in-cheek [exploitation] story,” could grab my attention from beginning to end.
Safety follows Darius (Plaza), an intern at a Seattle magazine, as she befriends Kenneth (Duplass) in order to gain insight on an advertisement he placed in the magazine.
*WANTED* Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke…You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring own weapons Safety not guaranteed. I have done this only once before.”
As you can imagine the “this is not a joke” part of that statement was a huge joke to Darius and her team of journalists – alcoholic too-cool-for-school journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson; New Girl) and Aranu, a shy and geeky intern played by Karan Soni. Darius struggles as she begins to form feelings for the “time traveler,” and must decide whether he merely has a wild imagination, is completely crazy or (of course) actually a time traveler.
While the film steals ideas from other films (it is a little bit too much like 2000’s Happy Accidents), it is original enough for the viewer to not feel bogged down with stereotypes and clichés. Plaza doesn’t exactly demonstrate her versatility as an actress. She plays the same deadpan slightly angst ridden character as she does on Parks, but it works in this particular role. I was impressed with relative newcomer Duplass’s portrayal of the too-nuts-to-be-true Kenneth, as well as the film debut of Soni as Aranu.
If you want to see a good story, with a good cast, find the one copy of Safety Not Guaranteed at the local video store and invest a couple bucks on an unexpected (or maybe a little suspected) indie treat, that is romantic enough for the girls, while being outlandish enough for the guys.
If you are looking for a bright, sunshiney movie that is going to pull at you heartstrings and make you make you leave the theater with a warm, fuzzy feeling – skip “Killing Them Softly.” But, if you enjoy incredible acting, good story telling, sly dialogue and brutal imagery this is the movie for you.
The film focuses on the robbery of a shady poker game, and the players involved. It is set around the financial collapse of 2008 (clips of speeches by Bush and Obama play in the background to set the mood of economic collapse), in a dark, rainy, over-the-top corrupt, desolate and financially bankrupt urban dwellings of an undisclosed city in America. The noir follows Jackie (Brad Pitt) a hitman for business-class crime boss Driver (Richard Jenkins; Six Feet Under, Cabin in the Woods), as he tries to unravel whodunit around the cast of scuzball thugs and conmen. Markey (Ray Liotta) is in charge of an underground poker game organized by Driver. He rises to the top of the suspect list, because of a previous attempt he made at robbing the game. Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola; The Sopranos) knows Driver would be the number one suspect, and thinks he can rob the game undetected. He hires a couple of hoods to do all of the heavy lifting. Frankie (Scoot McNairy; Argo), a clueless armed robber, recruits Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a hapless junkie, to pull off the heist. The story unravels as Jackie follows the bloody clues left by the amateur robbers. He enlists the help of Mickey (James Gandolfini; The Sopranos), an alcoholic lush of a man that is teetering on the brink of destruction. The tension overwhelms the screen as everybody suspects everybody else, and the roundabout game of cat-and-mouse entangles everybody involved.
The film is director Andrew Dominik’s first attempt at a movie sense his 2007 critically acclaimed, yet little seen, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” also starring Pitt. The film is successful at tapping in to the uncertainties that people feel about the countries unclear financial future, and acts as much as a social commentary as a straight heist flic. The daunting tale acts as a reminder of the injustices of our society, while in its own dark way it exposes the fragility of the human condition. In a film-world filled with cotton-candy-soft stories and tired clichés, “Killing Them Softly” is a breath of fresh (or should I say polluted) air.
Written by: Daniel Fox - Daily Vidette Blogger & ISU Student
Lola’s story is one that every woman goes through at some point in their life. You know the one: meet love of your life, love of your life breaks up with you, your heart breaks in to a million pieces, you go a little crazy, he wants you back, you take him back, you decide you can’t take him back, you end up being a fierce, independent woman.
Lola Versus features Lola (Greta Gerwig), a quirky, earthy, emotional, 29 year old who is forced to do some soul searching after her fiancé breaks up with her. Her story is heartbreaking, but relatable as a twenty-something woman. I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her that everything was going to be okay. Her life sort of falls apart after the break up and she makes a mess of her life, including her relationships with other people. There’s awkward first dates, first kisses, one night stands, and plenty of drunken nights spent reflecting on her break up. For the most part, everything seems pretty realistic, albeit dramatic. Lola’s honest personality shines when she drunkenly screams, “I’m slutty but I am a good person!” As college students I think we can all have a little sympathy for Lola during this hard time.
It’s always nice to watch the story of a strong woman unfold. She goes through the heartbreak and comes out stronger on the other side, which is encouraging for all of us out there in the big bad world of love.
Written by: Natalie Clapp - Daily Vidette Movie Blogger & ISU Student.
Blue Like Jazz is a film filled with extremes – including extremely weird. It’s based on the book by Donald Miller, which I haven’t read (have you?). It’s a coming of age story that shows the transition and adjustments between a life full of strict religion to one that is completely liberal.
Don is a sophomore at a junior college near his home in Texas. He’s grown up in a home with a single mom who is Southern Baptist and has been surrounded by hardcore Baptists is entire life. He leaves his junior college for a liberal arts school in the Northwest where he experiences some serious culture shock. The school is known for being one of the most liberal in the country and it shows throughout the film. Don is living in a brand new environment, with a whole new breed of people, and all he wants to do is fit in. Don struggles with his faith throughout much of the film, which might scare some people from watching it, but there are plenty of stereotypical college moments to laugh at, too.
I’m usually not a huge fan of Christian based films or books. I still haven’t decided how I feel about Blue Like Jazz for sure, it was just really weird. It was interesting to follow Don on his journey through religion. I especially liked the scene towards the end when Don is ranting about how he truly feels about religion and his new life in Oregon. It made the whole movie seem more realistic and relatable because you could feel his frustration seeping through the screen. We’ve all been there whether it was because of religion or a significant other or a stupid class. I also really liked that the actors were all unknown. It helped me focus on the message of the film rather than how much I’m in love with every movie star. And I definitely think this film had a great message, so check it out!
Written by: Natalie Clapp - Vidette blogger & ISU student.
The Art of Getting By had me at hello. Or at the very first song that played during the opening credits. And even though my favorite part of the movie was its awesome soundtrack, I still found the story entertaining on a rainy afternoon. The characters really made this film memorable. There’s the mysterious bad boy, the confused good guy, the clueless parents, the beautiful girl and her drunk mother, and a few more troubled teens. I love character films because it’s fun to relate each person to someone in my life. Or at the very least, it makes it easier to put myself in a character’s shoes.
The story revolves around George, played by Freddie Highmore, a highly emotional yet adorable senior in high school. He falls in love with the somewhat mysterious and free spirited Sally, played by Emma Roberts, who shows little interest in him throughout the entire film (it’s a real shame that hardly any of Julia Robert’s acting skills got passed down to Emma). The story is a combination of family drama, high school drama, first loves, and growing up in the middle of it all. George finds hope and reason for life in Sally, which is heartbreakingly wonderful. The plot is mostly predictable, but there are a few curve balls.
All in all, I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars. It breaks your heart a little but won’t leave you hanging at the end. It was fun to watch a movie about high school problems instead of real life, real world problems for once. As a college student it’s rare to find a movie about high schoolers that I actually appreciate. But there were many points throughout the movie where I felt sad for the characters for whatever reason. I take this as a sign of a good film. Be sure to check out the soundtrack, which includes music from The Shins, Alex Puro, Mates of State, and more!
Written by: Natalie Clapp - Vidette blogger & ISU student
Man On Wire: I’ve seen this documentary more times than I can count and I never, ever get sick of it. Philippe Petit, a passionate, adorable Frenchman, had a tight rope walking hobby turned lifestyle. This film captures the emotional and physical aspects of Petit’s complicated goal of walking across a high wire set between the Twin Towers. It’s even more incredible to see this happen now that the Twin Towers no longer exist. Petit’s story is what we all want ours to be: passionate, full, endlessly exciting. Listening to Petit’s point of view as well as the friends who helped him make his dream come true is exhilarating and captivating.
Dear Zachary: Everyone (EVERYONE) needs to see this tribute documentary. I don’t want to give anything away because, trust me, you’ll be shocked multiple times throughout the film. So I’ll just say that this is a gripping story of a man, his crazy girlfriend, their son and the family that loves him unconditionally. I literally have chills just thinking about it. Watch this film! And pay close attention.
Bill Cunningham New York: The life of Bill Cunningham, famous fashion photographer in NYC, is fascinating. Cunningham is the sweetest old man who rides around on his bike (he’s 80!), snapping pictures of whatever catches his eye. His simple lifestyle is humbling to experience in the midst of all the pretentiousness that is the fashion world.
The Endless Summer: This is an adventure and friendship filled documentary. It takes you back to the 60’s, which is cool cause you probably weren’t alive in the 60’s, where a group of surfers travel to awesome places like Australia and Africa. All they do is eat, sleep, and surf for days. It’s like a dream world and seems too good to be true. This documentary inspires me to seek out the beauty in the everyday and to not take life so seriously.
Each of these documentaries is available on Netflix instant watch!
Written by: Natalie Clapp - Vidette blogger and ISU student.
Last night my roommate and I were the ultimate girly girls: ice cream, candles, pj’s, and a click flick - The Lucky One. Turns out we were the lucky ones because this movie is everything a chick flick should be: a hot guy, a beautiful woman, puppies, a shower make out scene, a dangerous ex-boyfriend, and just enough cheesiness to make you say “awwww”.
The Lucky One is a story of losses and gains. Logan (Zac Efron) finds a picture of a woman (Taylor Schilling) while he is serving in Iraq and somehow finds her when he returns to the states. We’re still unsure as to how he tracked her down from such a vague picture, but whatever, it’s Zac Efron we’re talking about! Beth owns a dog kennel in Louisiana which is where Logan begins to work and gets to know Beth and her family. Beth has an adorable little boy who Logan eventually grows close to. Efron’s character is very cold and standoffish for a good chunk of the movie, which was sort of frustrating. Anyway, Beth’s ex-boyfriend is a crazy, jealous local police man who constantly tries to keep Logan and Beth apart. But like any good chick flick, love keeps them together.
As we were watching this movie we weren’t completely glued to the TV. It was entertaining and all, but mostly predictable. But that’s exactly the type of movie we were looking for after a long weekend of doing what college students do. The plot is rather simple and the characters aren’t deep. There are some sweet Hallmark moments with Beth’s little boy and Logan that made us melt a little. Watching this movie also made me want to adopt a dog (there’s just something about a good looking guy with a dog, am I right?). I highly suggest renting this movie when you’re in the mood for something mindless and heartwarming all while wanting to stare at Zac Efron for a couple of hours…which is probably always.
I’ll be the first to admit that reading The Hunger Games didn’t exactly thrill me. I skimmed the majority of the action packed book and if we’re really being honest here, I don’t think I ever even finished it. I guess I just didn’t love the whole concept of what The Hunger Games are, something didn’t sit well.
The Hunger Games is a futuristic adventure about a nation that is divided in to 12 different districts. Each year 2 members from each district, a boy and a girl, are chosen at random to compete in The Hunger Games. The competition is basically survival of the fittest and the last person alive wins. Necks are snapped, people starve, there’s a little love story woven in for us romantics, weird stuff happens. It’s a great story to get lost in and it might make you feel better about your life because, I’m just guessing here, you probably don’t have to run around the forest eating squirrels and dodging balls of fire to live another day.
And now here are some thoughts I jotted down as I watched the movie:
As you can tell, I wasn’t too in to the actual plot or anything. Is that bad? Am I a bad movie blogger? Sorry. Even though The Hunger Games isn’t my book/movie genre of choice, I still found it mildly entertaining, I guess.
Written by, Natalie Clapp - Vidette movie blogger & ISU student.
Wes Anderson has done it again! Moonrise Kingdom is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time (the perfect summer film!). Its simple, yet entertaining plot had me laughing and feeling very nostalgic. I felt like setting up a fort in my back yard and telling ghost stories all night after I left the theater. Moonrise Kingdom is the type of movie that makes you wish you were a kid again.
Sam and Suzy are two emotional kids living in the 60’s. They send each other love letters all summer before finally meeting in the middle of a big, grassy field. Sam has run away from camp and Suzy from home. Both of their guardians put out a search party for them, but they don’t want to be found. One of the most memorable scenes is when Sam and Suzy are dancing on a remote beach to an old French record. Sam makes Suzy a pair of earrings out of his fishing hooks and pierces her ears right there in the tent. They tell each other “I love you” and it makes your heart melt.
There were a lot of great actors throughout the film, many of whom have shown up in previous Anderson films. My favorite was Frances McDormand as Suzy’s megaphone carrying mother. Something about her screams “crazy person”. Jared Gilman, who plays Sam, was just a doll. His hipster glasses combined with his knowledge of the great outdoors had me wishing he had an older brother. I really appreciated the casting in Moonrise Kingdom, they nailed it!
It’s no secret that Anderson’s films are always aesthetically pleasing. Each scene is perfectly set and usually symmetrical. The colors are rich and the costumes fit the scene to a T. His style is immediately recognizable and it truly makes you get lost in the story. Moonrise Kingdom is the perfect film to bring you back to the good ole days of first loves and summer camp.
Written by: Natalie Clapp, Vidette movie blogger & Illinois State student.