Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Jack Reacher" Still Entertaining, even if Cruise Falls About Two Feet Short...

Jack Reacher - Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child, starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, and Werner Herzog - Rated PG-13

Jack Reacher is a character many have wanted to see on the big screen for quite some time.  I must confess, I had never even heard of this character from the popular Lee Child novels until this film went into production.  I picked up a copy of the book that the film Jack Reacher is based on, One Shot, and immediately understood why people liked the series and wanted some movies.  Reacher is a fun character because he’s a no-nonsense hulk of a man who can just as easily solve a complex crime as he can beat someone to death with his bare hands.  He stands for what is right and does not care what society or the authorities have to say.  Also, he’s a ghost in a modern world that seems more and more impossible to disappear in.  Needless to say, after reading the book, I too became very excited about this film.
First, the controversy.  Jack Reacher is described as a very large man, and Tom Cruise, shall we say, falls short.  Reacher fans have been very vocal about their hatred for this casting, but it didn’t bother me at all.  I’ve been watching Tom Cruise beat up dudes and do his own stunts for a long time now, so it isn’t that big of a stretch to see him as an action star.  Yeah, he’s not tall, but so what?  Nothing in the film ended up being improbable just because of Cruise’s size.  Though I am not sure fans of the book can forgive the casting because they’ve probably pictured a character that looked nothing like Cruise all of these years whereas I knew Cruise was cast when I read the book, so I was picturing Cruise the whole time and it didn’t bother me.  I imagine when tiny Tom Cruise replaces the imagined beast you had created for Reacher, it is a bit upsetting.  A quick reminder, though, Reacher creator Lee Child approves of Cruise.
Casting aside, everyone should give Jack Reacher a chance.  It is a smart, funny, tense film that follows through with the premise that Reacher is a man who does whatever he wants.  But the story of Reacher has some unfortunate timing (which may be indicative of its middling box office thus far).  The movie begins with a mass shooting portrayed with methodical, cold detail.  It’s impossible (at this moment) to watch that opening scene and not think of the recent mass shooting in Connecticut.  Of course, this is no fault of the film, just a very bad coincidence.  Movies are meant to be, for the most part, escapes from reality and Jack Reacher unintentionally shoves reality right back into your face about five minutes in.  If you can keep watching after that moment, though, the film really pulls you into the case.
The shooting seems like an open and shut case with plenty of evidence to prove that the shooter is a veteran sniper who was very quiet and unassuming (typical mass shooter description).  What’s strange is that the shooter, before he is put into a coma from a beating he takes in custody, asks for Jack Reacher, a former military police detective.  As it turns out, the shooter had done this before, and Reacher almost had him.  So basically Reacher shows up to make sure this guy pays for his crimes.  This is important because the typical scenario would make Reacher an old Army buddy who was there to expose a conspiracy.  Reacher’s desire to bury the suspect makes it that much more interesting when he decides to look deeper into the case.  Of course, there is more to the shooting than meets the eye. 
As a detective story goes, Jack Reacher is interesting and even a little fresh.  The recreations and the way revelations occur are handled in effective ways.  The noir qualities of the film are fun, too.  Reacher does everything his own way, interrogating and intimidating whomever he needs to.  Oh, and he can fight.  The action sequences in the film are all handled very well.  The action is easy to follow, and it never feels like it’s there just to kill time.  Often, violence and action are used for a bit humor.  It is also used to show a bit of brutality.  A tough balance to keep, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie found a way to pull it off. 
Story and action are great, but it really helps when the cast is up to it.  Cruise, as I stated earlier, is fine.  This is nothing new for Cruise, but that’s no big deal.  This is a role he’s perfect for.  If you’re not a fan of a typical Cruise film, this one won’t change anything.  As for the rest of the cast, there are some great supporting actors in this one.  Rosamund Pike portrays Cruise’s main ally, but she basically just gets to react to shocking revelations.  Her low cut shirts make a bigger impression than her performance.  (Seriously, the amount of cleavage shown by her character starting midway through the film seemed to come out of nowhere.  No major complaints here, though.)  David Oyelowo serves as good competition to Reacher as the cop who wants the open and shut case to remain that way.  Oyelowo is one of those actors who can do a lot just by giving an intent stare, and he uses that for all it’s worth in this movie.  Richard Jenkins is as good as always as the DA.  And Robert Duvall provides some good comedic relief in the third act as an unlikely ally. 
The film’s best supporters are the villains.  Jai Courtney does a great job of creating tension in what could have been a very plain Thug Number One role.  German director Werner Herzog turned out to be the best unlikely casting of 2012 as the Zec, a disfigured, sadistic mastermind.  He had too few scenes, but he made each one vastly interesting with his ghostly gaze and trademark accent.  Plus, as a cinephile, it was great to see the famous auteur acting in a blockbuster.
Jack Reacher has a lot going for it.  While it is pretty much exactly what you would expect for a Tom Cruise action flick, it also provides plenty of interesting and entertaining elements that set it above most thrillers.  Try not to let the headlines or controversial casting decisions keep you from enjoying this fun movie.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
With the book fresh in my mind, I was definitely looking for differences, especially since the location was changed from a smallish city in southern Indiana (my area of the world) to Pittsburgh.  I would have preferred the location stay the same for a couple of reasons.  1. I'm from Indiana and this is a pretty forgotten chunk of America, and it's always nice to see something take place in the state. 2. The smallish city aspect of the plot makes a bit more sense for why everyone knows everyone and people keep bumping into each other and whatnot. 
The location change did allow for a funny moment for those who have read the book.  First, there is the problem of the redhead hitting on Reacher at the bar.  She says something about him being new in town.  That's a bigger red flag than her expecting his name to be Jack Reacher.  How much of a soak do you have to be to notice a new face in a packed bar in a large city?  There are probably multiple new faces every single night.  Why the change made it funny, however, is the fact that she says that she works at "the" auto parts store.  At first, I thought this was a slip up.  How could Pittsburgh just have the one auto parts store.  When it turned into a joke, it made me okay with the change.  I really liked the fact that the auto parts store ended up being called "Default Auto Parts."

Friday, December 28, 2012

Despite the Idiotic Title, "Silver Linings Playbook" Is Worth Watching

Silver Linings Playbook - Written and directed by David O. Russell, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok, and Chris Tucker - Rated R
Writer/director David O. Russell made one of my favorite films a couple of years ago with The Fighter.  I was impressed with the style, the music selection, and, most importantly, the story that was ingrained with the location.  Oh, and the great performances helped a bit, too.  Now with Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has created a movie on the same level as The Fighter, though Silver Linings is a bit weaker than that great film.
Before a critique of this film can truly begin, I have to mention the idiotic title of this film.  Silver Linings Playbook.  When people hear or read that title, they have no clue what you’re talking about, even if they’ve seen the previews.  It’s just such a needlessly stupid title.  This is not as bad as Russell’s other effort, I Heart Huckabees, but it’s close.  The problem with these quirky titles is that it drives people away.  Hell, the title made me want to hate the movie before I saw it.  There’s a very easy fix for this.  Drop the Playbook part.  Yeah, football factors into the film quite a bit, but this film could just as easily been called Silver Linings and lost nothing.  You can tell the film company felt the same way because in every preview I have seen, the narrator drops Playbook from the title, and the word is extremely smaller than the other words on the poster.
Title aside, this is a fun, touching film.  Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher who has a mental breakdown when he catches his wife cheating on him.  He’s recently out of a mental hospital and is trying to get his life together in the hopes of rekindling his marriage.  When he meets fellow troubled person Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), things get a bit more complicated. 
This is a film that hinges on performances, as both leads are mentally unstable.  Cooper does a very good job with a character that could easily become infuriating to watch.  He gets into these rapid verbal trains of thought that can be tiring, but he handles them quite well (the direction from Russell helps).  He has this natural charisma that makes it impossible to hate him no matter how rude or exhausting he becomes.  It is truly one of the year’s best performances. 
Jennifer Lawrence continues her streak of great performances with Silver Linings.  She doesn’t get to do as much as Cooper here, but she has plenty of emotionally heavy scenes that she carries with ease, and she complements Cooper quite well.  The rest of the cast, including Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, and Chris Tucker, is fine, but this film belongs to Cooper and Lawrence.
Writer/director Russell makes it an easy film to watch, too.  This could be a darkly serious tale of mental health, but Russell is beginning to trademark this serious-funny element.  In The Fighter, Christian Bale’s addiction was treated seriously, but there were also moments of comedy.  It’s awkward, but it’s life.  Plenty of times I found myself laughing during Silver Linings even though I knew it was kind of wrong, and I think that was the intent of the filmmakers.  Also, Russell has developed this style of following the characters with the camera that is very effective, especially when you’re dealing with mentally troubled characters.  When Pat is about to lose it, the camera swirls around him as he tries to rein things in, only to lose control.  It’s not in-your-face style or anything; it creates a sensation similar to what the character must be going through.
If Silver Linings ever loses anybody, it might be with the slightly goofy plot.  The film’s final moments hinge on the result of a football game and a ballroom dancing contest.  As weird as that is, it gets even goofier as the characters plan out these moments and literally root for their side to win.  I suppose it was meant to be figurative as they cheer for their sports but are actually cheering for their loved ones, but it still felt a little stupid at times.  Also, the plot element with the police officer who shadows Pat felt a bit incomplete and, at times, ridiculous.  I would have to spoil a few things to get into that point, so just look to the end of the review if you’ve seen the film and want to know what I’m talking about.
Aside from those shortcomings, Silver Linings is a fine film.  It’s not going to make my top ten list or even my honorable mention (it just didn’t grab me like The Fighter did), but it’s certainly one of the better films to come out this year, and it deserves a larger audience than it has gained so far.  If you get a chance, check it out.  You’ll laugh, maybe cry, stare in bafflement, get annoyed, you know…life stuff.  Just try to ignore that stupid title.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
All I want to get into here is that cop, played by Dash Mihok.  I enjoyed Mihok's performance and everything, but I was left very confused by the character's presence.  So the cop is set up as this neighborhood officer who is supposed to keep an eye out for Pat since he's just been released from the mental hospital.  First off, does that actually happen?  Is Philadelphia such a safe city that police officers can be assigned to body guard duty for random citizens?  That rung completely false to me.  Things get extremely strange when the cop just happens to show up every time Pat starts to mess up.  if it's at his house, fine, but how was the cop so close to Pat outside the movie theatre that he could step in so quickly?  Was he really just following Pat around?  It got to the point that I thought the cop was part of Pat's subconscious and the cop represented his mind physically attempting to calm the situation down.  Maybe that is the case, but it's certainly never explained that way, and I feel that there should have been more explained concerning the cop.  But maybe it's just me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"This Is 40" Minutes Too Long, but It's Still Pretty Funny


This Is 40 - Written and directed by Judd Apatow, starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, and Chris O'Dowd - Rated R

Judd Apatow has become a comedy juggernaut, though he has only directed four theatrical releases.  Many people were lukewarm (including me) to his last effort, Funny People, which was a bit more serious than his previous work.  With This Is 40, Apatow is definitely aiming for more comedy than drama, though there are still quite a few “real” moments in the film.  This isn’t going to replace Knocked Up or The Forty Year Old Virgin as his funniest film, but fans will most likely be pleased with this lengthy comedy.
This Is 40 is a spin-off from Knocked Up as it follows the married couple from that film, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), as they deal with aging, money, parenting, and everything else in life.  This is a stand-alone film, however.  You do not need to watch Knocked Up to appreciate it.  In fact, if you don’t pay close attention, you’ll miss the lone reference to the main characters from that previous comedy.  That was fine with me because I found the couple to be immensely funny in Knocked Up. 
Pete and Debbie basically go through one issue after another in this film, and it is usually handled in a funny, though serious, way.  The dialogue and references are all sharp and rapid, and most of the jokes work.  Paul Rudd is one of the best comedic actors out there and he continues his winning streak with this film (though I still think his earlier 2012 comedy, Wanderlust, is the funniest film of the year).  Leslie Mann has her moments and has great chemistry with Rudd.  Her character is also more sympathetic this time around, as she came off as kind of a shrew in Knocked Up.  Apatow’s kids (who he has with wife/star Leslie Mann) play the couple’s children, and they do a fine job, rarely drawing attention to the fact that they are only there because their parents made the movie. 
The supporting cast is pretty great, including Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Robert Smigel, and plenty of others.  Chris O’Dowd (the cop from Bridesmaids) stood out the most, and Melissa McCarthy had a great scene as a concerned parent.  There are some cameos, as well, most notably Graham Parker, an obscure, aging rock star.  I honestly had never heard of Graham Parker before this film, and I found it odd how much of the film was devoted to him, although he does have a funny moment at Pete’s studio. 
As you can tell from the list of actors, This Is 40 kind of takes the kitchen sink approach and just throws a barrage of funny at you.  Most of it worked for me, so I can’t fault it.  But it can grow tiresome after two hours.  Yes, the same complaint that everyone has about Apatow’s other films is applicable here: it is too long.  I suppose Apatow just falls in love with certain scenes and can’t bring himself to cut them, but that’s what the DVD is for.  Of course, he’ll probably release an even longer cut when this comes out on DVD.  (I get the feeling Apatow won’t be happy until he has released a three-hour comedy.)  Two hours plus is really pushing it for a comedy.  I understand that he wants to keep the more serious moments that provide the real meat of the film in there, but if he wants to do that, he has to lose a bit.  One example, don’t have multiple performances from Graham Parker in your film.  Another example, Jason Segel’s personal trainer character was largely pointless.  A few laughs will be lost, but so will fifteen minutes. 
Overall, This Is 40 is a funny film, and it makes you care about the characters and what happens to them.  Is Apatow breaking new ground?  Absolutely not.  (He even relies on a fevered bike ride at the end of this film á la The Forty Year Old Virgin.)  But he doesn’t need to do something new and inventive if the characters are likable and they say more funny things than not.  I enjoyed it, and I think most people will, too.  You might be checking the time that last half-hour or so, but too much of a good thing isn’t that big of a problem.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"The Hobbit" Isn't the "Lord of the Rings" Movie I Wanted, but It'll Do

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Directed by Peter Jackson, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage - Rated PG-13

In the battle of the geek trilogies, I’ve always fallen on the side of Star Wars.  Lord of the Rings is great, don’t get me wrong, but part of me agrees with Randall from Clerks 2 when he laments, “even the trees walk!” in those movies.  The Rings trilogy did feature a lot of walking.  But it also had some of the best battle scenes ever, the most impressive CG of the time, and very likable, funny characters.  I may be a Star Wars geek through and through, but I also love the Rings.  If there is one element of that trilogy I found a bit boring, however, it was the hobbits. 
I once tried to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was in high school, and I had to stop after a few pages.  I was reading a section about hobbits and I just couldn’t take it.  Author J. R. R. Tolkien was going on about pipe weed and all kinds of other nonsense, and I just did not care about any of it.  When I watched the films, I felt the exact same way.  I did not care a bit about Frodo and Sam and their boring walk through the mountains.  I wanted to see humans, elves, dwarves, and all manner of evil creatures do battle. 
So when I heard about The Hobbit moving into production, I was not that excited.  I was afraid it would take all the elements I hated from the trilogy and focus only on them.  It turns out I was only slightly correct.  The film’s star is definitely a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins to be exact (played by Ian Holm in the trilogy, and by Martin Freeman here), but there are plenty of other characters, maybe too many. 
The Hobbit is essentially about a group of dwarves (I won’t even attempt to list all of their goofy names) led by the sullen Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).  They are on a mission to reclaim their home from a dragon.  Of course, it isn’t an easy journey and pretty much every step forward leads to two steps back.  It is a bit frustrating to deal with another trilogy set in this world in which the characters have to slowly travel to a specific location.  It’s really infuriating when you know that Gandalf (Ian McKellen) can just call on those birds from the trilogy whenever he wants.  It’s also a bit maddening when you know that this trilogy is based on one short book rather than a lengthier work like Rings.  It all feels a bit drawn out, and, to be honest, the film felt like the necessary first part that will lead a far more entertaining second and third film.
That said, this is still a Lord of the Rings film directed by Peter Jackson.  Believe it or not, I truly liked it.  I just feel a little disappointed when I compare it to the other films.  I suppose that’s not fair, but how can you help it?  If you liked the trilogy, you should find some, if not all, of this film quite enjoyable.  There are beautiful locales, goofy creatures, Gollum, Gandalf, the elves, a slight mention of Sauron, plenty of action, etc.  It’s a good time at the movies, and it’s certainly worth your money.  The Hobbit is easier to nitpick than the other films, but when you stop judging it against the other, superior films, you realize that it is very entertaining. 
I did find myself slipping into a negative mindset as I watched, however.  The dwarves were more annoying than amusing.  Gandalf’s vague proclamations were a bit more maddening than usual.  Bilbo’s whiny, reluctant hero was a bit too familiar.  The action at times felt too cartoonish.  I was thinking of all of this and imaging how I was going to write this up in a review that would be middling heading towards downright negative.  As you can see, I did start to do just that.  But as I let the film sink in and I thought about it a day or two later, I came to the conclusion that I was being a bit of a snob.  Perhaps this isn’t very critical of me, but I decided to forgive The Hobbit its flaws because once you get past all of them, this is a fun first film that can only lead to bigger and better things.  Now, if the next two Hobbit films fail to blow me away, then you’ll get to read a full-on negative geek meltdown.  I hope that’s not the case (although that does sound fun to write…).  Until then, just accept The Hobbit for what it is: a lesser work in an amazing series of films.  That is still much better than the usual crap you’re subjected to on a regular basis.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
Seriously?  The giant birds again?  Why does Gandalf only use them as a last resort?  And why couldn't they just fly them all their destination?  Why strand them on what appeared to be some very precarious rocks?  Those birds bothered me in the first trilogy, and I'll be damned if Jackson didn't roll them out at the beginning of this new trilogy.
The goofiness of the film was annoying.  The singing dwarves were boring and stupid enough, but did we need a scene of them tossing dishes around?  Jackson can justify all he wants about making this into a trilogy, but when I see dwarves doing the dishes, I think that he's adding a bit too much. 
That goblin king thing was way too similar to Boss Nass from Episode One.  Nothing else to say, really, it just seemed too cartoonish.
With the introduction of the hillbilly wizard, I am now convinced that all wizards in Middle Earth are weak stoners.  Why does it seem like Gandalf has no powers other than yelling and whispering to birds?  And shouldn't the bird whispering be a skill exclusive to that animal loving wizard?  I'm just wanting to see Gandalf let loose. 
Randall has new ammo for his Rings argument because even the mountains walk in this movie!  Still wondering what that was about, and why the mountains didn't take part in the battle for all of Middle Earth sixty years later...
Finally, the battle scenes were weak at times.  There are some great moments, sure, but it seemed as if the dwarves just had to run into their enemies to defeat them.  Most of them are designed in such a way that physical battle is impossible, so I suppose Jackson's hands were tied there.  I'm just saying action for action's sake is fine if the action is interesting.  When it's there to add twenty minutes to a film, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

You Should Watch "Anna Karenina" and Skip "Les Miserables." Hear me out on this...

I know this is the opposite of what most critics would tell you, but having watched both, I cannot understand how someone could tell a moviegoer to watch Les Miserables (the accent over the e is not worth the trouble, by the way, so I'll just go with unaccented throughout) when Anna Karenina goes all but ignored by nearly everyone.  Both are films that depict a story from classic literature told in stylish, ambitious ways.  The difference?  In Anna Karenina, the characters speak to each other…like normal humans in films do.  In Les Miserables, the characters…sing…everything.  Okay, you got me; I do not like musicals.  Unless it’s funny or on a stage in New York or something, I don’t want to hear the characters sing their dialogue.  I couldn’t stand Chicago, barely got through Sweeney Todd, and I cringed through Les Miserables.  So if you like musicals, don’t listen to me.  You’ll undoubtedly love Les Miserables (I refuse to shorten the title, by the way) if you enjoy any other musicals.  It’s long, it’s expensive, and it has a lot of star power.  Almost all of the other critics are salivating over it, but I don’t get it.  I am not really going to review the musical, but I have to put this out there: Russell Crowe cannot sing.  He can’t.  He sounded weird, unnatural, and generally terrible in this film.  I would call it laughable, but I found myself to perplexed by his voice to actually laugh.  Okay, on to Anna Karenina, and why, if you’re on the fence about musicals or hate them as I much as I do, you should watch this film when you get the chance.
First, for those of you who hear all of the hoopla over the musical (as I will refer to it from here on out) and think, “I don’t really like musicals, but everyone says it’s soooooo good,” don’t lie to yourself.  If you don’t like musicals, there’s no way this one will change your mind.  If you find it silly for someone to sing lines of dialogue describing exactly what you are watching them do, then you will still find this film silly.  It looks great, don’t get me wrong, but they still sing.  Anna Karenina (or AK as I will refer to it hereafter due to my difficulty in typing Karenina over and over) provides all of the melodrama and visual flair that the musical provides, but it doesn’t leave you asking yourself, “Why were they singing the whole time?” 
AK takes a classic tale of forbidden love and injects it with the amazing style that director Joe Wright is known for.  I began to truly pay attention to this director after his last effort, Hanna, because he uses style perfectly.  It’s not in your face, yet it’s still impressive.  The style calls attention to itself, but feels natural.  If he can take a dense Russian novel and turn it into a stylishly entertaining film, then this is a director worth paying attention to. 
I don’t want to get into the story all that much, even though playwright Tom Stoppard did a fine job condensing the novel into less than two hours, while also keeping the tragedy and depressing comedy of it all intact.  I want to focus on Wright’s take on this film.  He sets it up as if it is all happening on a stage, even to the point that there are set changes from scene to scene at times.  It was the perfect way to tell this story.  Is AK not a story meant for the drama of the stage? 
I acknowledge the contradiction of hating one film because it is meant for the stage and praising another because it was filmed as if it was on a stage.  I am not being unfair, though.  The musical is meant for the stage and it should stay there.  AK would work on the stage, but it is endlessly more entertaining to see it filmed as if it were on the stage.  AK is meant for the stage in that it is melodramatic and there is an inherent musical quality to the proceedings.  Musical in the strictest sense of the word in that classical music is utilized amazingly well, and the characters never feel the need to join in with the music. 
If I haven’t convinced you to check one out over the other at this point, I highly doubt that I will.  But perhaps a bit about the performances will help.  Keira Knightley, of course, is great as the title character.  She was simply born to play the miserable character of a Russian novel.  Jude Law was impressive as her cuckolded husband.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson (of Kick-Ass fame) continues to show his range as Vronsky.  And Matthew Macfadyen was a bright spot in a supporting role. 
The true star of the film, as you may have guessed, is the director.  I have not been very specific with any of the “style” of the film, but that’s because it is better seen with very little knowledge.  I had no idea what I was in for specifically, so when I saw it the first time it impressed me and kept me hooked throughout.  If you want a musical story without all the nonsensical singing, then Anna Karenina is definitely the movie for you.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Indiana Film Journalists Association announces 2012 Awards

This is obviously not a new review, but the critics' group I belong to has released their 2012 awards.  I did take part in the voting and even a few of my selections won.  The main story from our group is the fact that Safety Not Guaranteed won Best Film.  This is definitely an original selection and I for one think it's pretty cool to be part of a group willing to go in that direction.  That said, I did not vote for that film.  Sorry, I am one of those lame, predictable critics who loves Lincoln and The Master.  I can't help it.  Anyway, I don't have my end of the year stuff ready yet, so you'll have to wait and see if I'm completely boring and predictable in my personal picks for the year.  Until then, check out the awards and try to check out Safety Not Guaranteed, if you haven't already.  I may not have voted for it, but I still really enjoyed it.
The Indiana Film Journalists Association, an organization of journalists dedicated to promoting quality film criticism in the Hoosier State, is pleased to announce its annual film awards for 2012.


"Safety Not Guaranteed" took top honors, winning Best Film as well as Best Original Screenplay (Derek Connolly).


"Beasts of the Southern Wild" was the runner-up for Best Film and also won the Original Vision Award, which recognizes a film that is especially innovative or groundbreaking. Eight other films were named Finalists for Best Film.


Quentin Tarantino took Best Director for "Django Unchained." Stephen Chbosky won Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."


Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for "Zero Dark Thirty." Anne Hathaway was named Best Supporting Actress for "Les Misérables."


In the Best Actor category, Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook" and Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" tied for winner. (This was the first time the group has experienced a deadlock that could not be broken after multiple rounds of voting; members elected to declare a tie with no runner-up.) Tommy Lee Jones was named Best Supporting Actor for "Lincoln."


"Rise of the Guardians" was named Best Animated Film, "Searching for Sugar Man" Best Documentary and "The Raid: Redemption" Best Foreign Language Film. Thomas Newman won Best Musical Score for "Skyfall."


The Hoosier Award, which recognizes a significant cinematic contribution by a person or persons with Indiana roots, went to Jon Vickers, Founding Director of Indiana University Cinema.


In a few short years, Vickers has established IU Cinema as a major hub for serious consideration of film as an art form, scheduling an ambitious program of film screenings, retrospectives, festivals, traveling exhibits and topical programs. He has also attracted prominent guest lecturers, including Werner Herzog during the past year. Previously, Vickers served as managing director of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame.


The following is a complete list of honored films:


Best Film

Winner: Safety Not Guaranteed        

Runner-Up: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Other Finalists (listed alphabetically):

Django Unchained

Les Misérables


Moonrise Kingdom

The Perks of Being a Wallflower       

The Sessions

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty


Best Animated Feature

Winner: Rise of the Guardians

Runner-Up: ParaNorman       


Best Foreign Language Film

Winner: The Raid: Redemption         

Runner-Up: Amour


Best Documentary

Winner: Searching for Sugar Man

Runner-Up: Room 237


Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Derek Connolly, "Safety Not Guaranteed" 

Runner-Up: Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"


Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Stephen Chbosky, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Runner-Up: David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"


Best Director

Winner: Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"     

Runner-Up: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"


Best Actress

Winner: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Runner-Up: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"  


Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables”

Runner-Up: Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”


Best Actor

Winners (Tie):

Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”


Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

Runner-Up: Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"


Best Musical Score

Winner: Thomas Newman, "Skyfall" 

Runner-Up: Mychael Danna, "Life of Pi"     


Original Vision Award

Winner: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Runner-Up: Django Unchained


The Hoosier Award

Winner: Jon Vickers, Founding Director of Indiana University Cinema

(As a special award, no runner-up is declared in this category.)


About IFJA: The Indiana Film Journalists Association was established in February 2009. Members must reside in the Hoosier State and produce consistent, quality film criticism or commentary in any medium.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Underneath all that Shiny Visual Goodness, "Life of Pi" Is a Great Human Story

Life of Pi
- Directed by Ang Lee, written by David Magee, starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, and Rafe Spall - Rated PG

I've been on a mission to read the books to as many adaptations as possible lately.  I read Team of Rivals before I watched Lincoln, I burned through Cloud Atlas as fast as possible for that film, I finished One Shot for Jack Reacher, and I'm in the middle of On the Road at the moment (sorry Anna Karenina, I'll just stick to the movie).  When I read that Life of Pi was based on a book, I got a copy as soon as possible.  I was pleased to find that it was in the young adult section, meaning a quick read.  As I read the grisly details of the story of a young man stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger, I started to wonder about that young adult label.  I also started to wonder how I had not heard of the story before, as it made an emotional impact on me.  I was so crunched for time that I actually had to finish the book in the theater parking lot before I went in.  I cannot recall a time that a book was so fresh in my memory as I watched an adaptation.
As an adaptation, I feel that Life of Pi should please the readers.  The gore of the book is toned down a bit (I honestly believe this film would be rated R if it was a completely faithful adaptation, but the spirit of the novel is not.  Once you get past the gimmicky plot synopsis (a boy and a tiger) and the over-lauded visuals (this is not as impressive, visually, as Avatar, no matter what the ads tell you), Life of Pi is a truly human story of survival.  I don't want to spoil anything, but trust me, this is not a film just about a kid avoiding a tiger for two hours.  I finished the book and it worked for me completely.  I had the same feeling as I walked out of the theater.  If that's not a faithful adaptation, I don't know what is.
Now back to those visuals.  Yes, I claimed that the praise is exaggerated, but that doesn't mean the film isn't beautiful.  In fact, it is certainly one of, if not the, most impressive film of the year, visually speaking.  First off, that tiger isn't actually there, of course, but you'd never know it from watching the film.  Ang Lee impresses most, however, with his use of water.  Water, traditionally the bane of filmmakers, is used to mesmerizing effect here.  The storms and whatnot are impressive and all, but the those moments of tranquility in the middle of the ocean allow for images beautiful enough to belong in a museum.  As for the 3D (another aspect of the film that has been highly touted), I'm starting to think that I'm one of those rare people who can't grasp the full effects of the gimmick.  Some moments were kind of neat, I suppose, like when Lee messed with the ratio so fish seemed to be flying out of the frame, but for the most part it added nothing to the overall visuals of the film.  And it certainly didn't make the story any more or less effective. 
The visuals and themes of a film can work on their own, but a good performance can elevate it all, and Sharma and Khan, playing the title character of Pi Patel as young and older respectively, handle the role well and create an emotional core to the film.  Let's face it: if you don't care about Pi as a character, how could this film be effective in any way at all?
All in all, I found Life of Pi to be one of those rare, emotionally resonant films.  It's also a good enough adaptation that I feel confident telling people to skip the book and just check out the film.  It doesn't hurt that it happens to be stunningly beautiful as well.  I know it's been a few weeks since it has come out, but this one really needs to be seen on the big screen, so check it out if you can.  And certainly watch it when it comes out on video, because behind the visuals there is a touching story about humanity that is very uplifting.  Please disregard that last sappy sentence and check this movie out.