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the-oscars-and-social-media-by-the-numbers-630dfbfb1c2012 was a terrific year for film.  Of course, the general box office might not think so and many fans of specific movies might be unhappy with the Oscar picks as they are nearly every year – but really, believe me when I state that this year’s Oscar candidates really reflects the high caliber of film that hasn’t been seen for a few years if not more.  Because of this, a lot of categories are interestingly going up in the air in terms of who has the better expectation in terms of winning.  We’ll find out tomorrow the results.  Here are my predictions for 2013: [And a good quick note, like every year, I miss a few categories simply because I lack the expertise in the specific category or I haven’t been able to watch most of the films in that category, such as Best Animated.] 

Original Screenplay:
Amour
Django Unchained
Flight
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

du-ac-000125_lg_620x350Most Likely to Win: Django Unchained
Django Unchained has been riding a huge tidal wave of success starting from it’s Golden Globe win to the BAFTA. The WGA was it’s only major loss (since it wasn’t nominated) and so going into the big Oscar week, it seems that many in the film community would like to honor Tarantino’s latest with a few awards, especially in two of it’s strongest areas starting with it’s witty and fascinating screenplay.  The only other two that could usurp it could be Zero Dark Thirty or Amour – one for it’s win at the WGA and the other because of rising emotional momentum.

Wie’s Choice: Moonrise Kingdom
It’s an utter shame that this category is the only nomination for Moonrise Kingdom which is hindered by both it’s summer release and quirky output. It also most likely has little chance of winning, but in my mind, Wes Anderson’s screenplay actually has a lot in common with the most likely winner, Django.  Both harken back to a specific nostalgic genre and play with those aesthetics to create it’s world and emotions.  However, I do feel that Moonrise is the more genuine out of the two and takes more risks that payoff in building it’s child-to-adulthood storybook plot, written with as much intelligence and fun as any other contender this year.

Adapted Screenplay:
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook

argoMost Likely to Win: Argo
Much like the majority of this predictions list, Argo has the biggest momentum moving into the Oscar night.  The film really capitalized on it’s early Oscar buzz more than any other film and with both wide exposure and a film that doesn’t do too much to offend and enough to excite – it looks like the clear frontrunner to beat.  Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook seem to be the next films that could have a chance, the latter with a BAFTA win.

Wie’s Choice: Silver Linings Playbook
However, personally, the best screenplay goes to Silver Linings Playbook with Lincoln close behind.  Silver Linings lives and dies by it’s writing and character interplay – an element that is clearly a big help thanks to the well-written screenplay that could have left the fairly typical under trappings into mediocrity.  With such a huge element of success and love put into it’s screenplay, there’s no denying that Silver Linings Playbook is one of the most heartfelt screenplays on the list.

Visual Effects:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

121121_MOV_LifeofPi.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeMost Likely to Win: Life of Pi
Life of Pi seems to be the clear frontrunner here, winning the most awards and most critical praise.  Sure there are some spectacular visual set pieces and some clear work done with the effects.  It most likely is the tiger, however, that really distinguishes the work above it’s competition – a feat that is all the more impressive when most audience members cannot distinguish between the real and the fake.

Wie’s Choice: Prometheus
However, admittedly, one of my most disappointing films of the year was still quite a pretty choice indeed.  Prometheus was both artistically beautiful and visually strong with consistently large and gorgeous set pieces and constant effects that never seemed to run out of steam.  The film itself may be quite weaker in comparison but the work done on the effects here should be recognized as some of the industry’s best of the previous year.

Music – Original Score:
Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

argo1Most Likely to Win: Argo
Music has been a bit all over the place this awards season with various winners from Skyfall’s BAFTA win to Life of Pi’s win at the Golden Globes.  Call it strange but I believe because of Argo’s lack of nominations or surefire wins in most other categories I believe the Academy will award Argo and it’s fairly interesting score a prize here.

Wie’s Choice: Life of Pi
However, I do believe Life of Pi, although the dominant winner in my eyes, is one of the more unique soundtracks of the year.  Both Eastern and mystical in it’s musical trappings, in a film where the players do not change as much on screen, an important component became the musical backdrop to truly push the film along with it’s beautiful visuals – something that the soundtrack has done.

Film Editing:
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

121011_MOV_Argo.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeMost Likely to Win: Argo
The editing category here has gone to quite a few different movies this season.  However, much like the reasoning with the Music Score, I believe the Academy will go similarly here with editing and award it to Argo, both creating consistency with it’s eventual lead-up to bigger awards and because it does have some momentum in terms of other wins as well.  Zero Dark Thirty and Life of Pi are the most likely other choices.

Wie’s Choice: Silver Linings Playbook
My choice falls alongside an interesting choice – Silver Linings Playbook.  I believe the film was at it’s strongest with it’s pacing and frenetic energy helped by a tremendous job in the editing room.  The film was quick and all over the place yet still had a foundation and weight that kept it all level – something that the editing here really succeeded at I believe more than the other film contenders.  However, Silver Linings doesn’t look to be the top choice here in the final night.

Cinematography:
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

life-of-pi02Most Likely to Win: Life of Pi
Life of Pi is the clear frontrunner with both the critical acclaim and the awards lead thus far – a not too surprising choice given some of the beautiful camera moments that really push the wow factor of the film’s big set pieces.  With little to slow it down other than a surprise upset from Skyfall or Anna Karenina, two of the artier cinematography films nominated, Life of Pi has little to lose here.

Wie’s Choice: Skyfall
However, I was more impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Skyfall.  Although it lacks some of the more abstract moments of Life of Pi, this latest Bond flick encompasses some beautiful camera decisions that result in one of the best looking Bond films yet that really take advantages of the locales Bond visits.  From a beautiful pan out fight to the death under the ice to a Shanghai fight against the neon lights, Skyfall is my pick amongst these candidates for Best Cinematography.

Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

1500_les_miserables_anne_hathawayMost Likely to Win: Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway is the easiest acting role nomination to pick because she has swept every single category she has been in.  From the Golden Globes to the SAGs, there hasn’t been a major award that Hathaway hasn’t won.  Hunt’s role is probably too miniscule in comparison to Hathaway along with Weaver.  Adams had a terrific performance that played against her usual roles but still was not as dominating and Field, although an Oscars favorite, may have tried to dominate in Lincoln but still clearly overshadowed by her bigger-than-life Day-Lewis/Lincoln husband.

Wie’s Choice: Anne Hathaway
But that being said, Hathaway really dominates in her role all-around, as short of a period as she is in the movie for.  With ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ as her big solo moment and the story of Fantine making up the big transition to the halfway point in the movie, Hathaway’s role was really either a take-it-or-leave-it moment and Hathaway did the role justice.  It helped that Director Hooper chose to really be intimate during the songs and hone in on the characters, giving them a musical-like moment to be judged and reviewed.

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

christoph-waltz-django-unchained-1Most Likely to Win: Christoph Waltz
Here’s a category that initially seemed like an easier category to predict but has gotten a bit unsteady throughout the weeks.  Waltz was the frontrunner at first with a win at the Globes and another at the BAFTA.  However, Jones and Hoffman have also each received an award for their equally powerful performance in their movies and some pundits believe that De Niro and Arkin are both deserving of an award as well.  However, Waltz seems like the most likely winner amongst the group simply due to the stats.  We’ll see.
Wie’s Choice: Christoph Waltz
This category is also filled with heavy hitters in nearly every spot.  Jones and Hoffman are very much deserving of the award – the former for his earnest candor that really focused on working his acting chops and the latter really being a bombastic middleman that kept the Master together.  However, it really is Waltz that stole the Django show with a performance that shone as witty and dramatic.  How does a German cowboy work in an exploitation Western?  Simply watch Waltz work his magic.

Actress in a Leading Role:
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

amour-riva_2448292bMost Likely to Win: Emmanuelle Riva
What was once a clear-shot win for Lawrence has started swaying in the other direction for Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva since her win at the BAFTA’s.  Pundits are predicting that the stars are aligning correctly for the actress along with appealing to the majority of the Academy’s older voters.  Furthermore, it’s her 86th birthday during the Oscar’s – a great birthday present and story that the Oscar’s would seemingly love (and her role in Amour itself is critically acclaimed and a nomination well-deserved).

Wie’s Choice: Jennifer Lawrence
As much as I cherish and respect Riva’s role though, my favorite performance of the year is still Lawrence.  Silver Linings Playbook is heavily reliant on it’s actors to convey the quick-paced, nearly-schizophrenic plot and Lawrence has been the biggest force to lead the charge in the film.  Continuing to diversify her roles and showcase, her role here is one that is very stalwart yet emotionally frail – confident yet filled with holes.  Her chemistry on screen and her ups and downs throughout the film was a thrill to watch and my pick for the Best Actress of 2012.

Actor in a Leading Role:
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

daniel-day-lewis-lincoln4Most Likely to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Here is probably the easiest category to choose of the night unless there’s some sort of hard upset that – Mr. Day-Lewis has been picking up pretty much every major award up to the Oscar’s with little momentum shifting away from him.  Hugh Jackman is probably the only one with a bit of hype on his side with his Golden Globe win but little else in their other confrontations.

Wie’s Choice: Daniel Day-Lewis
The choice though is fairly sound, even amongst such heavy competition.  Day-Lewis truly embodies Lincoln both as a fantastic storyteller and a strong but flawed leader.  Spielberg’s style throughout the film leaned heavily on Day-Lewis as well for nearly the entire film with quiet moments telling an intimate story to an emotional fight with his wife that again, Day-Lewis perfectly balanced.

Directing:
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

2088_life-of-pi-ang-lee-640Most Likely to Win: Ang Lee
Here comes the strangest award of the night as three heavy-weight directors that were nominated in Best Picture are not here including heavy favorite Argo.  So what in the world happens then?  Pundits seem all over the place here with the fight being a three-way match between Spielberg, whose film is leading in terms of nominations, Russell, who has swept the nominations for the acting categories, and Lee who has been a late favorite among many.  Without any clear award indicator from before other than the critical rumblings, I would have to agree with Lee in this case – a film that truly blossomed into a fascinating contender later in the game.

Wie’s Choice: David O. Russell
Again, however, the nominated directors here showcases the strength of this past year’s films.  Nearly all of them deserve some kind of recognition but my personal favorites come down between Haneke and Russell, the latter of which I will tip my hat to.  As I’ve described previously in other choices, Silver Linings Playbook was an achievement thanks to many moving cogs – a film that could have easily slipped into a typical rom-com and held together to become something much more significant thanks to Russell and his great work in building his characters – an achievement that out of this list I believe he accomplished best.

Best Picture:
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Argo-1Most Likely To Win: Argo
And so comes the big last award of the night, which will most likely go to Argo.  How come?  The momentum behind this film is huge since it’s release.  It has been a Hollywood darling, winning nearly every major award since the awards season started and really scratching the backs of making Hollywood feel like it’s a hero.  Additionally, with no nomination for Best Director oddly, that should solidify it’s Best Picture win all the more unless a crazy upset happens from Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, or Lincoln.

Wie’s Choice: Zero Dark Thirty
It really was a great year for film as this list encompasses, with nearly every film on here really deserving it’s spot.  However, my favorite of the year is Zero Dark Thirty – what I thought to be a much more focused and emotionally nuanced political/historical thriller than Argo.  As I described in my favorite films of 2012 post, Zero Dark Thirty pushes a fascinating and grueling tale about the capture of Osama Bin Laden from the perspective of a lone wolf agent.  Unafraid to explore touchy subject matter such as torture and intelligence, Zero Dark Thirty is a great film all-around and my choice for my personal Best Picture Oscar.

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11167541_detThis year has culminated in a series of fascinating historical and political dramas that shows the different sides of war and intelligence.  Each has brought a different facet, style and tone to each of their proceedings and interestingly, we end with the most modern historical tale of all – the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with Zero Dark Thirty.  The question becomes where this film will stand amongst the heavy proceedings of all the others.  The answer, luckily, is that Zero Dark Thirty is a meticulous and well-thought out film that is not only a great historical mystery thriller but thoughtful in it’s themes of the costs of modern warfare and solitary confinement, even with some emotional holes.

Zero Dark Thirty follows the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. What ensues is a decade long search with the film mainly focusing on one task group based in Pakistan.  Several members of this group are introduced including Dan (Jason Clarke) and Joseph (Kyle Chandler) who are capturing suspected members and using various psychological and torture tactics to try and get more information before more attacks happen.  Soon, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is added to the team, for her extensive knowledge and relentless attitude.  The chase will take Maya and the rest of the team around the Middle East until the final debate on Bin Laden’s final location.

The weakest sections of Zero Dark Thirty deal with character complexity and emotional depth along with some glossed over narrative elements.  The film is definitely heavy with lots of names, locations and proceedings.  However, because of the depth of the narrative, the characters are mostly not given much room to grow for the most part and are fairly simplistic.  Unfortunately, some of these simpler characterizations also lead to moments within the story that feel not genuine or emotionally weaker.  Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) is one good example of this problem and her character arc.  This situation bleeds a bit into some of the lack of depth in terms of the logic of how these situations proceed.  Because of the high nature importance of the mission, seeing how these politics go through sometimes seem a bit too amplified to be logical such as an argument with Maya versus her superiors.  Again, much of this seems due to the amount of plot material the film has to get through but are still apparent points to make.  Some of the music as well seems inconsistent – although some of the more Middle Eastern soundtracks are intriguing to see, when it changes to a more Western, traditional orchestra, the transition seems a bit too jarring and out-of-place.

However, these problems definitely do not outweigh the terrific pace and thoughtfulness put into creating a complex but comprehensible and exciting narrative arc.  The film is definitely very dense, as previously mentioned, with lots of names and movement, yet it is presented in a fashion in which audience members will remember and understand each step of the proceeding without feeling bored or overwhelmed. It’s a well-paced script that feeds information out without dumbing down the proceedings too much.  This narrative is also given some depth as well in terms of presenting a fairly unfiltered view of interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering methods and letting the audience make the ultimate judgement on what is morally right and not.  This thinking is extended onto Maya’s character who benefits the most from the script (at the expense of other characters) who is actually given some interesting characterizations both as a parallel to audience reaction and her own persona growth thanks both again to the script and Chastain herself.  All of this is wrapped in a weighty atmosphere that always feels on the cusp of another explosion or suicide bomber and does not shy away from darker moments from both the opposition and the US forces. It becomes a fascinating look at the pros and cons of the intelligence process and more or less, just a great piece of storytelling.

Zero Dark Thirty is an intense dramatic thriller that may be short on emotional depth but intricate and engaging in the rest of it’s package.  Yes, there are some simple characterizations that seemingly ‘dumb down’ some of the plot proceedings and little complexity in terms of the sides that people stand on.  However, this lack of complexity and depth luckily does not apply to the core plot and narrative movement as Bigelow and her team weave an intricate narrative of mysteries, red herrings and politics mixed in the search for Osama Bin Laden.  People may rightly question how many of the details are accurate and what ultimately yielded the final results.  However, as a film, Zero Dark Thirty is not only well-told and well-executed but also a thoughtful piece on the war against terror and the heavy toll it brings.  

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Rated: R
Running Time: 157 Minutes

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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11166394_detThe historical drama is definitely not an uncommon sight, especially given some rich and great movies surrounding some of these spectacular true events.  One of the interesting debates that come with a movie format though is how to approach the historical figure.  Will the director/writer/crew take on the entire lifespan or a good chunk of timeline or narrow down to a few events?  Lincoln takes on the issue by going the latter route, focusing squarely on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency.  The decision turns out to be for (mostly) the best as Spielberg and his fairly strong team of actors and crew members really churn out a very historically vivid picture that focuses much on the politics of the situation although the film suffers from the slow pace that emotionally isn’t always consistent.

Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just been re-elected and he has made a choice to try and pass the the constitutional amendment to ban slavery before the Civil War is over, since the Southern States would never accept such a key component of their original plan of secession.  However, the key people in his life are having doubts such as his wife, Mary (Sally Field), Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) and his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt).  Also not helping matters is a fired up opposition both in the South and the House and even in his own party such as with one of the leaders of the Radical Republicans, Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and his own cabinet.  Lincoln has to make several crucial decisions before time is too late.

Lincoln’s best strengths come forward within it’s acting troupe and the atmosphere and approach to the subject matter.  As stated previously, Spielberg’s choice of narrowing down the film’s focus to Lincoln’s last few months proves to be to the benefit of the plot.  The plot really can focus on Lincoln’s character and poignant character interactions within this smaller time frame while still elaborating on other important life points in passing conversation.  The film is at it’s best when it allows Lincoln to simply speak to his intended listener and juxtapose the situation with another emotionally charged scene of a different nature.  From a personal storytelling session to his cabinet to a fiery argument with his wife, the film really feels like a play in it’s presentation because of how focused on conversation and expressions the film looks towards.  Additionally, the beautiful lighting and the great look of the set pieces and costumes help sell the setting and place.  Lincoln playing with his younger son with the light shining from the morning light is simply gorgeous and does not feel overly forced.  Finally, there is, of course, the actors themselves.  There are some terrific performances here that are so important because of the focus on the dialogue and emotional output.  The best two come out to be Day-Lewis and surprisingly, Jones.  Jones is a surprise because his character at first appears to be fairly meek and nominal for Jones’ types of characters.  However, it grows to not only be somewhat sarcastic and strong but flawed and moving.  His monologues on the House floor are a highlight.  Day-Lewis, of course, is the star of the show and really embodies Lincoln as not only the president but also as a well-liked but political strategist that plays with his power.  He brings a moral question into his actions and shows the struggles he faces on all sides.  It’s a fascinating performance that is striking and memorable in not only the look and mannerisms but the range of emotions that evokes a much more complicated president that many may be surprised to see.

That is not to say, unfortunately, that the film is not without it’s flaws from it’s pacing to it’s trappings.  Sure, the film is two hours and thirty minutes long.  However, many films are of comparable lengths and do not suffer from the pacing problems found here.  Although ‘Lincoln’ really focuses on these few months of Lincoln’s life, there are scenes that feel both unnecessary or simply too dragged out.  For instance, many scenes with Robert and the President feel strangely out of place as emotionally, Robert’s place feels unnatural and unnecessary for much of the film’s themes and purposes.  Another part that makes the film feel strange is it’s strange emotional changes such as in it’s use of comedy.  Several comedic characters are played to make the scenes regarding lobbying the Democrats more lax and change up the emotional draw of the film.  Unfortunately, these scenes jar heavily with the heavier emotional scenes and it’s heavy usage by the climax feels very unrealistic with the film’s goals.  Other elements as well do not help the film such as, surprisingly, the usually strong Williams’ soundtrack which lacks a memorable melody or strong overtones.

Lincoln is filled to the brim with powerhouse performances and a very focused theme, diluted somewhat by it’s overly methodical pacing and overly lingering plot.  Yes, the film’s pacing is definitely not impeccable as it really slowly scans over the intricacies of Lincoln’s plot in this two month window and some of the side stories feel unnecessary or over-glamorized.  That being said however, there has been lots of care taken with the film’s quality with a beautiful look and an appropriate Spielberg touch to the proceedings that make the film’s time period and actions work to the film’s benefit – all of this bolstered by a very strong actors, especially from Jones and Day-Lewis who both are given ample time to give rousing and well-rounded performances.  More or less, although Lincoln doesn’t perfectly give audiences all of the trials and tribulations of Lincoln’s presidency, the film is a well thought-out piece on the struggle of presidential power and political choice in even the darkest of times.  

Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 150 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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Existential films always have a fine line to balance in their pursuit to find the reason for human purpose.  The beautiful aspect about this ‘genre’ of films is that they can fall under any really as they weave and explore different aspects of the human life to find meaning and reason.  Few, however, touch the complexity found in Cloud Atlas, a very daring adaptation of an equally daring fictional book.  Although it’s own ambitions is simply really too enormous to fit into one film unto itself, there is no denying that there is an absolutely fascinating pull to what Cloud Atlas has to say as a containment for film and a fascinating expose of the human life and beyond.

Cloud Atlas follows six storylines among a continuum of time starting from the late 1800s to the far-flung, unknown future.  The stories range from a lawyer who is sick at sea and must deal with a stowaway; a conniving musician who is inspired to finish a grand music piece under the guidance of a great composer; a mystery thriller in which a reporter is trying to uncover the importance of a power plant; an elderly man who must try to figure out a way to repay his debts; a future with a replicant who has a personality; and a far-flung future in which man has returned to the wilderness.  The main actors, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, and Donna Bae, play a variety of roles throughout these storylines.

Cloud Atlas both struggles and thrives on it’s ambitious concept with many of it’s detractors also being it’s core strengths.  This statement seems unfair for any film since it doesn’t offer a definite critique, but because of the nature of Cloud Atlas, there is no simple way to approach a straightforward analysis and review.  For instance, the film’s choice to use it’s main cast of actors (and some side characters as well) in nearly all of the storylines is daring although not always effective.  Some of the character changes are quite dramatic and effective, creating for some fairly fascinating moments of disbelief in an impressive usage of makeup and acting prowess.  Unfortunately, some of these changes are not as effective as certain storylines take place in specific parts of the world which even some of the best makeup cannot change (the future storyline with Somni is most affected). The acting also gets put on full blast because of this decision and once again, the mileage varies.  For the most part, the acting troupe works fairly hard to make their characters work and feel fairly distinguished with special mentions going out to Tom Hanks, in one of his most challenging series of roles, and Ben Whishaw, who delivers some of the film’s most interesting moments. All-in-all, in my opinion, the thematic implications of utilizing this mechanic is understandable and gives the film more weight – playing on the core of the film’s concepts about destiny and karma that could resonate in any person regardless of race, gender, sexuality or more.

Speaking of these themes, Cloud Atlas also will be heavily looked at because of it’s deliberate focus on these existential and philosophical musings and it’s structure.  Unlike the book it’s based off of, the film adaptation feels free to really play with the editing heavily.  This means that the plot really frees itself to go back and forth from storylines with what seems like at first, reckless abandon.  However, the trio of directors try to utilize the film medium to really make comparisons in the storylines much more apparent as well as try to convey the themes a bit more openly.  Timelines are transitioned into one another at times and direct comparisons are made on a frequent basis.  The end result is intriguing to watch unfold although will most likely baffle most audiences.  Much of this is due to how well the stories are explained and fleshed out.  Some of the stories on their own do not seem to hold as much weight or just don’t play out as interesting whether it’s due to the lack of changes or changes made from the original novel or where it is placed on the narrative thread.  Some may also be bothered by the frequent monologues that really try to reiterate the themes as much as possible.  What I believe most people will agree on is that the idea itself is unique to see play out – six stories that have their own unique genres and (mostly) set of characters that are linked more by abstract ideas and concepts, and the mileage on which it is effective may vary on how much an audience member may understand what transpired on film and once again, pays close attention to the thematic qualities of intertwining fates.

The film’s aesthetics, for the most part, are something that is a bit easier to approve of.  The music, in my opinion, is one of the strongest parts of the film.  It gracefully transitions from scene to scene, really embodying each of the six separate storylines with it’s own strong melody while still being able to connect the entire film as well.  The camera work, for the most part, is also a delight to watch with some great action and dramatic set pieces set up to again, repeat that theme of similar historical beats and interconnecting lives.  It’s a beautiful marriage of careful planning and kinetic force.  Finally, the special effects work in itself is not exactly groundbreaking but the overall production still feels polished with little to really nitpick on and conveying the stories’ time periods well.

Cloud Atlas is nothing short of astonishing in many ways.  True, it’s filled with many imperfections, weighed down both by it’s ambition and attempts to wade through the twisted tangled plot threads with too much of a overly preachy thematic set.  However, although many will be bogged down and turned off by these inconsistencies (and it’s long running time), the final product is an absolutely fascinating piece of cinema.  Full of symbolism, meaty themes, rapid tonal shifts and some of the strangest performances and make-up work in any film thus far this year, the film bombards the viewer with it’s fairly kind adaptation of the equally complicated (if not more so) book it’s based off of.  It doesn’t always work or resonate, but there is no denying in my mind that Cloud Atlas stands as a unique piece of art and an existential piece on our lives and trying to comprehend death, love and connections throughout space and time.  I’m glad a film like Cloud Atlas exists to continue to explore the nature of film in absolutely bizarre and engrossing ways.  

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Running Time: 172 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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Time travel films fall into an interesting and ironic dilemma fairly unique (although not completely) to their genre – they must figure out how to explain and rationalize the concept in an efficient method while maintaining sense and flow.  It’s a difficult proposition and has been tackled in various ways throughout the years whether as a mere plot device that is used sparingly (ala Men in Black III) or in zany ways that is explained along the way (ala Back to the Future).  In the end, the best of these films try not to be bogged down too heavily with the concept and surround it with other strong fundamentals.  In many ways, then, Looper does a fascinating job at maintaining sense and intrigue by not worrying too heavily on the origins and semantics of time travel and turns out a solid film about morality and justice although unfortunately, it does not do enough to satisfy with some loose and unpolished parts and potential that isn’t reached.

Looper follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a Looper, a person who has been hired to kill captured prisoners of gangs from the future who are sent back via time travel, which has been invented thirty years later.  Doing this allows Joe to obtain wealth and power in a dystopian world with only the rich and the poor.  However, loopers have on condition in which due to the nature of the work, they must at the end of their tenure kill their future self who is sent back in a similar way.  Unfortunately for Joe, he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) sooner than expected but is outsmarted by him.  Now, the younger Joe needs to clear his name while on the run from his employer, run by Abe (Jeff Daniels), while figuring out how Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) play into his older self’s plan.

Looper is at it’s best when it focuses on it’s atmosphere and builds an intriguing background behind it’s characters.  The film has a beautiful look about it that is grounded in the present day yet feels free to mix itself a bit with sci-fi elements here and there such as hoverbikes and mutant abilities.  It also creates a world that lacks a middle class – simply a very impoverished world versus a rich and powerful one.  Utilizing mostly dark and gritty overtones while sprinkling in actual urban and suburban (and rural) neighborhoods, the dynamic is immediately set as an interesting one, especially mixing in the loopers and their role within the world.  Much like it’s world, the main characters, Levitt and Gagnon, are quite noticeably well-rounded and well-acted.  The characters may seem well far and apart but there is an interesting dynamic not only between the two but also within each of their own arcs.  Gordon-Levitt continues his march as a steady lead with a role a bit darker and focusing less on his charisma and more on his gritty attitude.  Personally, the prosthetic make-up wasn’t much of a distraction and his mannerisms to Willis are pretty spot-on to make the case that the two are one and same but even further, he pulls off a character that audiences will both stand behind yet still double-back on as his motivations aren’t exactly pure.  The other surprise standout is Gagnon as well who shows off a mature and smart child set in the middle of several disputes – it is a fine performance that holds up against other veterans actors on set.  Finally, the plot as well is fairly well-written and well-paced to match.  It’s noir styling mixed in with both a sci-fi and gangster setting makes for a good mix that doesn’t rely too heavily on one genre yet does not forget it’s elements as well and to it’s credit, doesn’t worry about having to explain the mechanics of it’s world such as how time travel came to be since the plot needed no such explanation.  The culmination to it’s climax also deserves a good mention as it comes off as very solid.  One final mention needs to go to the cinematography work that (at least early on) is frenetic and fascinating to watch unfold.

The disappointing foils to these positive, however, come within the film’s devaluation of it’s other characters, some underwhelming special effects and all-too-convenient plot devices and arcs.  On one level is the simplistic characters.  Other than the main characters mentioned prior, many of the other characters’ motivations are fairly simplistic and one-dimensional.  The villain for instance (Jeff Daniels) is created to be a very hardened, no-nonsense character yet never really is touched on other than supposedly frightful moments of anger.  Even Willis is relegated to his usual gruff action role and is only given some context thanks to the time travel mechanic (along with one terrible transition shot that tries to establish a connection with Gordon-Levitt and Willis that is almost laughable).  Just as strange is the special effects which unfortunately is in stark contrast to the beautiful atmosphere.  Futuristic elements like the hover bike seem poorly thought out and it’s the film’s benefit that there isn’t too many special effects heavy scenes.  Finally, much like the side characters, although the ideas are clever along with the plot direction, some of the plot devices seem too obvious and out in the limelight that most audience members should notice before the actual reveal – more of a shame as some of the interesting back-and-forth moments are dulled by these revelations that come too early and too plainly.

Looper is a solid and fairly clever sci-fi time travel film that still felt like it didn’t live up to it’s full potential.  The Blade Runner-esque noir world created here is fascinating in it’s creation surrounded with a good dichotomy between Levitt and Willis along with some clever twists along the way.  However, there are noticeably cracks in terms of fairly one-note characters, some underwhelming special effects and plot devices that are too evident.  Make no doubt about it – it was a pleasure watching Looper from start to finish topped off with a satisfying ending, but when the concept of a film is so strong, it’s disappointing to see it not go even further and tighten up the loose cogs that made the film merely good rather than great.

Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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Films can elicit different emotions for various purposes whether it is a dooming bell to a happy farce.  It’s job isn’t just to entertain but to make sure the audience understands the purpose it’s trying to reach and it’s eventual conclusion.  At times, films can be frustrating affairs as the audience tries to peel back it’s layers and grasp what the director was trying to say only to be succumbed back to square one.  This eternal struggle forces an audience member to either give up in frustration or continue the epic back-and-forth mind game of understanding.  And so comes this review of The Master, a film by the always fascinating Paul Anderson and explores cults and it’s followers in detail.  The eventual end product is that same struggle of understanding where the pieces fall in place and why but for better (or for worse), it will take a bit more than a single viewing to fully ascertain all the detail.  In the end, however, the film’s overly long and pretentious methodology fights with some brilliant acting roles and beautiful aesthetic qualities that oddly end up as a fairly good view of the oddities of cults in itself.

The Master follows Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran of World War II who suffers from PTSD.  After his return from the war, his troubles continue to haunt him as he deals with alcoholism and fits of extreme anger.  He tries to acclimate to society in different occupations and roles but continues to find trouble until he hides in a boat and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who created a fervent following based on his own book.  Soon, Freddie meets the family including Lancaster’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), and the small growth of the cult versus society and has to battle his own demons along the way.

The Master is at it’s best when it lets it’s actors flow in a scene with strong cinematography, score and lighting all helping to set the tone.  The acting ensemble here collectively are a phenomenal group.  The supporting cast has some great moments, especially an underutilized but controlling role from Adams in one of her darker roles.  The way she controls and sits in the back of her husband is always intense to see and fascinatingly strange.  On the other hand are the two leads, Hoffman and Phoenix who bring such intensity and ferocity to their characters in similar yet so different ways.  Hoffman commands a well-spoken man that has both severe anger issues and jovial outbursts as the cult leader while Phoenix acts like a trickster, brashly moving onto his next move yet so intrigued by Hoffman’s character.  Watch the scenes that simply include the two of them in one room (there’s many opportunities for this) and see them both explore and stay fascinated with one another in an interesting game of cat-and-mouse.  Supporting these actors is gorgeous cinematography that loves to pull back in rapid cuts and let the landscape and the character(s) be seen in relation to one another.  Additionally, the lighting has such a 1950s’ quality to it that perfectly sets the tone along with a musical score that parallels it’s characters well, especially Freddie’s broken clarinet theme.

However, the film will deeply divide many on whether or not it’s narrative does much with the characters and strange plot devices that it languishes in.  Anderson sets up the stage between the meeting of an outsider, Freddie, and the cult that Lancaster holds together.  However, the film does not deviate much from this interaction and creates a bit of a repetitive tempo that revolves around this circle in which Freddie despairs, finds solace and then rediscovers the despair and breaks.  This pattern may happen at different intensity levels and moments in the history of the cult but the beats all seem to remain the same, even puzzlingly near the end with few answers and a breadth of questions.  Personally, although the problem was apparent, the themes did seem to resonate in why such a pattern was occurring in terms of who was the master of the other and in control along with the personalities and inner demons that seem to be commonplace among the cultists and Freddie.  Still, there is no denying that Anderson has little care to explain the purpose or reasoning behind the character motivations which could have created a possibly clearer picture of the situation or that the better narrative, in terms of Lancaster’s cult, is given less time to grow than the strange tale of Freddie.  This film is set up more as a symbolic and abstract piece that has fascinating pieces with a narrative that doesn’t always connect.

The Master is a film that completely knows its purpose, even at the expense of it’s narrative, but still ends with a fine acting ensemble and cinematic piece.  There is no denying that the film is bound to infuriate and confuse much of it’s viewing audience with the overly long narrative and plot cycle that rotates in circles more than pushes forward.  However, for audiences that can understand it’s purpose and look past such strange plot devices, there is much to be found from some brilliant performances from Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams along with a great musical composition, beautiful cinematography and a fascinating sense of cults.  Although it may be illegible at times, The Master is a fascinating film that challenges it’s audience to come to terms with it’s character, just as much as they try to become masters of one another.  

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
Running Time: 137 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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There is no exact rule for what a film can and cannot do (granted, if we dig deeper, there are intrinsic elements that people do expect but for the sake of the review, I wanted to focus on this general aesthetic).  Instead, it has a sense of purpose in what it wants to try and accomplish.  One of the most important elements I believe a film has to prove before the film ends.  However, even after trying to generally prove it’s central purpose, the said film needs to make the purpose worthy of discussion and prove that it brings a unique insight into the table, especially one that challenges the audience with a powerful question.  So comes Compliance, a film based on true events, that falls very much into the center of this category.  It asks and presents a large moral dilemma, but unfortunately falters when trying to give meaning and purpose behind it all.

Compliance follows Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a call from a police officer one day that one of her employees, named Becky (Drema Walker), had been caught stealing from another person and needs to be detained until police could arrive.  Sandra detains Becky into the back and thus begins a long ordeal between the police officer, Sandra, Becky and a host of other people connected to the incident in the film including the person on the other line, Officer Daniels (Pat Healy).

Compliance’s strong suit is in the good aesthetic value of the fairly simple story.  Very little of the plot happens outside of the fast food restaurant and the interior is not exactly filled with interesting set pieces.  The problem that creeps up is simply all the attention of the film being put onto other elements of the film other than the scenery and a close inspection of context and narrative.  At least on a purely aesthetic level, the film is fine.  The colors are muted and dark to reflect the tone of the film while the actual actors seem to fit their roles in terms of appearance.  Compliance also sets up interesting ideas and themes with it.  The narrative explores obedience and power in different facets whether it is over a faceless medium or a manager and her employee.  It also asks about what common sense would be and the levels of relationships that affect the final outcome.  The fact that it is based on a true story definitely adds a bit more at stake to what may seem like an outlandish premise.

The problems, however, creep up in terms of how much one buys the premise and the lack of little else other than the conflict.  Although the film opens up in gigantic letters that it is based on a true story, the film does little to provide the audience with much context and conflict.  Instead, it gives out little morsels of character exposition and is too set on telling the plot straight than trying to imagine and think about more of the relationships of these characters inside and outside the fast food restaurant.  Personally, the lack of this context was a strong factor in feeling that the film did not do enough to explain itself and ended up more ridiculous than shocking.  Showing the audience the perpetrator as well felt as more of a scare tactic than much usage of trying to explain his motivations.  Under the film’s current guidance, hiding the perpetrator under a veil would have serviced the story much better.  Yet the presentation style and the film order felt so by the books that it did not do the end product enough justice.  Such a laid back approach felt to skew the film with more questions than answers – questions that the film could have either filled with it’s own assumptions or at least give scenes of provocative thought to.  The best scene in the film perhaps is in it’s final scene between the manager and another character, discussing the events that had transpired – a scene that had some weight in terms of character development and thoughtful questions on it’s subject matter.

Compliance is a tough pill to swallow, not exactly because of it’s subject matter but the decisions made in it’s presentation and characterization.  The central tale of Compliance is told fairly clearly with little room for the imagination and in that sense, makes for an interesting character study and moral issue of obedience to authority and personal sensibility.  However, personally, the film’s stand as an omnipotent passerby feels inadequate for the subject matter, only subtly hinting at why characters may have acted in a certain way.  This slight glance at the characters’ back story only fuels more of a desire to see how characters acted in different situations compared to the moral challenge presented in the film and to present more characterization that seemed lacking.  The end result is a fairly sad ordeal into those that abuse power and those that don’t do more to recognize such abuse but failing to put much substance behind the spectacle.   

Director: Craig Zobel
Rated: R
Running Time: Approx. 90 Mins.

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

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