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The Descendants (2011) Review

14 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Fox Searchlight Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

This was the final film that was a major contender in this year’s awards season that I had yet to see.  In retrospect, though an enjoyable flick, I’m not upset we missed this one in the theaters.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a real estate attorney who lives in Oahu, Hawaii.  More importantly than his profession, however, is that he belongs to a family who has a long-line of land ownership on the Hawaiian islands, specifically on Kauai, that has been set up in a trust for years.  The large land ownership is what is left of a royal inheritance his great-great-great grandmother received in the 1860s from her lineage in the Hawaiian royal family.  With just seven years until the trust is absolved and being the primary beneficiary, Matt, along with his cousins, are planning a sale of the lands that will make all of them multimillionaires.  During this process, however, his wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), is put into a coma from a boating accident, which leaves Matt to also deal with raising his semi-estranged children, Alexandra(Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller).  Around the same time that he learns of Elizabeth’s imminent death because of her will, which states she doesn’t want to live in a persistent vegetative state, he also learns from his daughter that his wife was having an affair and planned to leave him anyway before the accident.  All of these personal events begin to reshape his perspective as he tries to cope with this newfound knowledge.

I have a love/hate relationship with Alexander Payne’s movies.  There are some that are just totally boring to me, like About Schmidt; then there are others that I absolutely adore, like Sideways.  This film fell somewhere in between.  As a whole, it was an enjoyable and interesting character study set in the beautiful Hawaiian islands, but I have to admit that there were several times I looked at the clock during this film.  As with most of Payne’s adaptations, the film did have a tight script and actually won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Payne’s second in that category.  Clooney’s performance is a high point in the film as he manages, quite successfully, to transcend his movie star persona and is very believable as every-man Matt King.  The inner turmoil of the character plays out nicely and, as an audience member, its quite easy to feel the empathy needed for his character that makes the film itself succeed.

Personally, I could have shaved 15 minutes out of the third act and been happier with it, but all-in-all, it was a solid production with a great performance by Clooney in the lead.

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Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Review

12 03 2012

Copyright 1979 Columbia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Maddie had never seen this film and it had been probably 7-10 years since my last viewing, so we decided to fire it up on Netflix Instant Watch on Saturday night to wind down the evening.

Dustin Hoffman plays Ted Kramer, an NYC art director at a Madison Avenue advertising firm, who his quickly climbing his way up the corporate ladder.  At home, he has his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep), and son, Billy (Justin Henry).  After learning he has just scored a huge account with the company that could be his ticket to success, his wife announces that she is leaving him and Billy.  At first, he thinks it’s some kind of a joke, but soon realizes that Joanna is serious about deserting her family, leaving him to raise their six-year-old son.  For a man who has constantly focused on his occupation, the added responsibilities of raising Billy are a hard-learned process.  However, as time passes, he and Billy grow quite close and their relationship blossoms.  After nearly a year and a half away, Joanna decides to return to New York from California, and wants to take custody of Billy.  Having now built a life with his son, Ted refuses to had over custody and the issue ends up in court, where many settlements are given to the woman out of gender stereotype alone.

This is a very solid film.  By synopsis, it might sound simple, but it is the sum of the parts that make this film such an enjoyable and wonderful experience.  The unobtrusive direction and tight script by Robert Benton, amazing performances by Hoffman, Streep and 8-year-old newcomer Henry, and naturalistic cinematography by Nestor Almendros, all intertwine beautifully in creating this touching movie.  Henry became, and still is, the youngest nominee for an Academy Award in the competitive categories for his Best Supporting Actor nod, though he didn’t win.  Among other nominations, the film did win Best Picture, Best Actor for Hoffman, Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, and Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Robert Benton.

There is nothing grandiose about this picture; it is simply a small film with the basic elements of telling a story visually.  However, it succeeds on such a level that I think nearly any audience member would enjoy Kramer vs. Kramer and find it immensely entertaining.  It goes to show how important a good story and solid characters are in motion picture production and makes me long for more simple, yet concrete stories like this one to come back to the forefront of American cinema.





2012 Oscar Nominees Announced!

24 01 2012

The 84th Annual Academy Awards Nominations go to:

Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
George Clooney in “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”

Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis in “The Help”
Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer in “The Help”

Directing
“The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
“The Descendants” Alexander Payne
“Hugo” Martin Scorsese
“Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
“The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick

Best Picture
“The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
“The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
“The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
“Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
“Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
“Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
“The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
“War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Animated Feature Film
“A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
“Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
“Kung Fu Panda 2” Jennifer Yuh Nelson
“Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
“Rango” Gore Verbinski

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
“Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
“The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
“Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
“Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
“Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
“Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
“A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi

Art Direction
“The Artist”
Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”

Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan

“Hugo”
Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo

“Midnight in Paris”
Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil

“War Horse”
Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

Cinematography
“The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
“Hugo” Robert Richardson
“The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
“War Horse” Janusz Kaminski

Costume Design
“Anonymous” Lisy Christl
“The Artist” Mark Bridges
“Hugo” Sandy Powell
“Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
“W.E.” Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature)
“Hell and Back Again”
Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner

“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

“Pina”
Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel

“Undefeated”
TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject)
“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”
Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin

“God Is the Bigger Elvis”
Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson

“Incident in New Baghdad”
James Spione

“Saving Face”
Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”
Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing
“The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
“The Descendants” Kevin Tent
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen

Foreign Language Film
“Bullhead” Belgium
“Footnote” Israel
“In Darkness” Poland
“Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
“A Separation” Iran

Makeup
“Albert Nobbs”
Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng

“The Iron Lady”
Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)
“The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
“The Artist” Ludovic Bource
“Hugo” Howard Shore
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
“War Horse” John Williams

Music (Original Song)
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)
“Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
“La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
“A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
“Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)
“Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
“Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
“The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
“Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
“Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing
“Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
“Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
“War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson

“Hugo”
Tom Fleischman and John Midgley

“Moneyball”
Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin

“War Horse”
Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson

“Hugo”
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning

“Real Steel”
Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier







A Man for All Seasons (1966) Review

11 04 2011

* I saw three films over the weekend, so as not to get backlogged, I am going to post two of my reviews today.  Also, I wanted to take a moment to address my review factors as I’m sure some of you might be wondering why I don’t have any one and two star reviews as of yet.  I try to avoid films that I think could or will be disasters.  With as many movies as I have seen and the many more that I want to see, I find that there is no reason to waste time on watching what I consider a bad film.  Of course, every so often, I do run into one and there will be a bad review for it.  However, for the most part, I try to avoid such films at all costs.

Copyright 1966 Columbia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Anyway, let’s get on with the actual review for this film.  My girlfriend is going to kill me for what I rate this movie, as we had very differing opinions.  To be fair, however, I will say that this is definitely the type of movie that you have to be in the mood for to enjoy.  Not every day is a day for a strict drama set in the 1500s, just as not every day is right for a romantic comedy or intense thriller, etc.

A Man for All Seasons swept the 1966 Academy Awards.  In addition to its Best Picture win, it won awards for Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Paul Scofield, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Costume Design (Color) and Best Adapted Screenplay, among receiving nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Robert Shaw and Best Supporting Actress for Wendy Hiller.  The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, Day of the Jackal, Sophie’s Choice) and was adapted from his stage play of the same name by Robert Bolt.

The story revolves around Sir Thomas More, played by Scofield, who stands up to King Henry VIII (Shaw) on moral grounds regarding the king’s decision to renounce the Royal Catholic Church.  Henry VIII was originally married to Catherine of Aragon; however, she was barren and unable to have children.  So, the King began an affair with Anne Boleyn.  Yet, at this time it was unlawful to get a divorce in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.  Despite many efforts to lobby against the church, the king finally decides to renounce the church and start the Church of England, so as to be granted his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  In doing so, he makes it parliamentary law to take an oath recognizing his decisions that he is head of the Church of England and that his marriage to Catherine was annulled.

More, a lawyer, is a man of devout judicial and religious beliefs.  In his heart he cannot accept that what the king has done to be right.  For this betrayal of state, he is locked away in prison and eventually beheaded.  This is a story of a man standing up for what he beliefs to be right, no matter the consequence.  The epic stature of the film with England during the 1500s as a backdrop, creates an interesting contrast to the deeply personal story of More.

Everything about this film works.  The story is excellent, the direction is perfect, the cinematography is beautiful and, first and foremost, the acting is exemplary.  Scofield, as More, is amazing.  Every scene he is in, he is able to command a presence; it is a very deserving win for Best Actor.  The supporting cast which includes Wendy Hiller, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw and a very young John Hurt, are also a joy to watch.

Like I said, this is a movie you have to be in the mood for.  If, however, you feel like an amazingly moving story of one man’s beliefs and convictions against the heads of state set against an epic, sprawling backdrop – then they don’t get much better than this.








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