IanTheCool's Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Apr
06

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The first Captain America movie was certainly one of the weaker movies in the Marvel catalog, but its sequel The Winter Soldier has proved itself to be one of the strongest. It is probably the Marvel film that is most focused on story, that’s for sure. In Winter Soldier, Cap must investigate into a plot within SHIELD to compromise its organization, and from there comes many twists and turns which will keep the audience intrigued.

Captain America may not be the most showy superhero, but he worked well in this movie. The fight scenes were well choreographed to his abilities and were exciting, and his steadfast boy scout antics worked as well. He’s an easy character to follow and like.

Some of the action highlights were:
- the fight on the ship
- Nick Fury’s car chase (and I normally dislike car chases, but there was more to it than just the chase)
- the elevator

All in all, a pretty awesome comic book movie. Its right up there at the top with Avengers and the first Iron Man.
Its solid, however, not perfect. Mind you, most of my complaints are nitpicky, so take them with a grain of salt.

Ian’s Nitpicks
- Shield’s futuristic gadgetry and tech: I really hate this stuff. Things like the “ground melter” the “face changer” etc. They feel out of place in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on, and they are awful plot devices. They are such a catch-all deus ex machina that its a joke. This is the reason I couldn’t watch more than 5 minutes of the SHIELD tv show.

- The climactic fight was a little drawn out – This is a problem I have with almost all action action movies. It might have something to do with the fact that I know where point B is at that point in the movie and its frustrating which it takes so many villains getting back on their feet and jumping back in the way to get there.

- The actual Winter Soldier – his back story, and the impact that follows from that, felt shoehorned in slightly. But he was cool in the fight scenes.

- I want to stress the gadgets again.

There, now that that’s off my chest.. Winter Soldier. Its good.
8/10

Mar
29

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This story of a tough rodeo man who contracts HIV and begins smuggling AIDS medicine into the states to sell it to other patients is pretty straight forward but captivating nonetheless. Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodriff, who is certainly a strong lead character and proves to be deeper than he originally seems. At the beginning of the movie you really feel sorry for him, since his deisease isolates him from anyone he knows and you realize he really has no one. It really makes you want him to succeed.

The story really works because its not just a telling of this man’s story, but a good study on a human being’s right to fight for his or her life when it is threatened. Woodriff is not a character to bow into the night and he struggles to survive, even when it seems like he doesn’t have much to really live for other than himself. I do however think that the movie really villifies the FDA, when I think this movie could have had an even deeper level to it if they presented more of an importance of drug trial for all vs. patient’s own right to survive debate. It really just shows the one side, albeit it shows it well.

McConaughey is excellent as Woodriff and really provides an emotional anchor for the audience. Jared Leto plays his cross-dressing business partner, and while its probably the best role he’s ever done, I still couldn’t help feeling like he won the role because he put a dress on and lost some weight. But his character did provide some levity and some emotional stakes for Woodriff. Jennifer Garner as the doctor who struggles with Woodriff’s self-medicating is really not that great. She hasn’t really seemed to grow much since her Alias days.

All in all, a good movie and worth watching for a strong lead performance, an interesting look into the AIDS epidemic, and for the theme of a patient’s rights. The ending is slightly protracted, but the first hal fis paced well enough to make up for it.
8/10

Mar
16

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12 Years a Slave is a movie that its hard not to compare to Schindler’s List. They both tackle two relatively recent human atrocities while also attempting to be a watchable and memorable film. And while the two movies are certainly different in story structure, I believe that 12 Years a Slave still succeeds in this goal.

The world of slavery is seen through the eyes of Solomon Northrup, a free man who is tricked into slavery and taken from his family. Through his eyes we see the injustices done to the black population and get a strong sense of the scope of this issue. What director McQueen does well is to not only show the physical torture they were put through, but he also focuses on how their dignity was destroyed as well, through scenes like the auction.

Why 12 Years a Slave works is because it doesn’t over-sentimentalize the drama that is being played out. It is more of a window into what was happening. And the fact that the technical aspects, the costumes and production design and cinematography, did such an amazing job of establishing both the time and the place only reinforced this notion. The excellent performances by almost the whole cast also added to this sense of realism. As a result the movie feels genuine, and not just a typical heart-string tugger.

Of course we all intrinsically know about the horrors of slavery, but just like with Schindler’s List, once you are watching it play out in front of you, there is a visceral response that really makes it real. This is part of the power of film, and 12 Years a Slave holds that power well.
9/10

Mar
14

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The Impossible tells the story of a family separated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and who struggle to find each other again. What results is a movie showcasing the devastation left in the wake of this real life disaster, a powerful reminder of the true might of nature.

I have heard criticisms of this movie as being over-sentimentalized and emotionally manipulative.  And while there are certainly hints of that, I personally didn’t find it t be that much of a problem.  In fact, I found some of the big moments near the end to be really strong emotional payoffs, especially the scene with the brothers outside the hospital.  There’s also a scene with the boy who was not from the family, Danial, that I found quite touching as well, though I can still see how it could be viewed as manipulative.

The tsunami scene was just as intense as you would expect it to be.  It was visually stunning and frightening in how dangerous those waters seemed.  The inital tidal wave and the build up to it were very well shot.  Some of the overhead shots of the rushing water did look a tad unrealistic, but the close up scenes of Lucas and his mother drifting downstream were very convincing.

As Lucas (who is probably the center of the film) and his mother set out on their journey to get to safety, what we see is a series of events and mishaps, some of which work and some of which don’t.  But what their adventure dos do is provide us with a view of what it was like after the disaster, the chaos as well as the survival and aid efforts, which I enjoyed seeing.  There were some cheesy moments, like when Lucas is trying to find survivors in the hospital, and when the father tries phoning home, which do seem disingenuous.  But for the most part it was a captivating story.

 

Mar
02

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And so we have another batch of Oscar winners added to the list.  I would comment on Ellen as host, but honestly I missed her opening monologue as we got home from dinner late.  But from what I saw she seemed to be pretty comfortable, sometimes a little shaky though.

So last year I only had a 54% prediction rate.  How well-tuned was my ESP skills this year?

BEST PICTURE:

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

My Pick: 12 Years a Slave

Gravity could have been the dark horse here, but I think that this had too much power going into tonight to lose.


DIRECTING:

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

My Pick: Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

I am surprised but pleased.  I find it really weird that they did a split two years in a row, and I didn’t predict either after making a split prediction almost every other time I’ve done these predictions.

Gravity really cleaned up tonight.


ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Winner:  Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club

My Pick: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club

Yeah, he had this one wrapped up.  And he nailed the speech.


ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Winner: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

My Pick: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Her Oscar has been a long time coming, and this was pretty clearly going to be hers.


ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Winner: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club

My Pick: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club

I can’t believe Jared Leto has an Oscar…


ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Winner:  Lupita N’yongo

My Pick: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Yeah, she certainly had the momentum, and I should have been able to predict this.   But I just had a gut feeling Lawrence was winning again.



ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Winner: Her

My Pick: Her

Well, it wasn’t gonna be Woody Allen!


ADAPTED  SCREENPLAY:

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

My Pick: 12 Years a Slave

Man, that guy was intense!


FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Winner: The Great Beauty

My Pick: The Hunt

I really thought The Hunt was winning, but that’s mostly because its the only one of these nominations I really heard anything about.


ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

Winner: Frozen

My Pick: Frozen

This was a very popular movie, I’m really not surprised at all.


PRODUCTION DESIGN:

Winner: The Great Gatsby

My Pick: Gravity

Gatsby? Really?  Hmm, weird.


CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Winner: Gravity

My Pick: Gravity

Lubeski’s first win, and well-deserved.  He should have won for Tree of Life 2 years ago as well.

COSTUME DESIGN:

Winner: The Great Gatsby

My Pick: 12 Years a Slave

I am genuinely surprised.

FILM EDITING:

Winner: Gravity

My Pick: 12 Years a Slave

I am surprised, but pleased.  I love this film.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Winner: 20 Feet from Stardom

My Pick: The Act of Killing

Showing the lack of guts the voters still suffer from.  I suppose I should have seen that this idea of trying to be famous would appeal more to them.

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING:

Winner: Dallas Buyer’s Club

My Pick: Dallas Buyer’s Club

Another point for me!

ORIGINAL SCORE:

Winner: Gravity

My Pick: Gravity

I really, really wanted Gravity to win this, and thankfully it did.

ORIGINAL SONG:

Winner: Let It Go – Frozen

My Pick: Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

In hindsight I should have seen this coming, but I guess it just seemed like too generic of a pop song to me.  Oh well.  Good acceptance speech though.

SOUND MIXING:

Winner:  Gravity

My Pick: Gravity

Yeah!

SOUND EDITING:

Winner: Gravity

My Pick: Gravity

Woohoo!

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Winner: Gravity

My Pick: Gravity

I was gonna riot if this didn’t win.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:

Winner: The Lady in Number 6

My Pick: Facing Fear

I underestimated the Academy’s bias towards Holocaust films, still going strong after all these years.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Winner: Mr. Hublot

My Pick: Mr. Hublot

Looks interesting.

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:

Winner:Helium

My Pick: Just Before Losing Everything

I heard too late that this was the favourite.  Oh well.

MY SCORE: 14/24 = 58%

There were some easy ones I should have gotten, like best song and supporting actress.  Oh well, still did better than last year.

Feb
21

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Dominion is one of the most expandable games out there in the market, and this quality has certainly been taken advantage of. There have been 5 big box and 3 small box expansions so far, but not all of these expansions were created equal. Some of these packages have clearly stood above the rest, and one of these top tier expansions is certainly Prosperity.
Prosperity doesn’t do anything wildly different than Dominion, it simply extends the game beyond its limits. The biggest additions are the 10 point Colony cards and the Platinum treasure cards. By using these to extend the card costs of everything else, it had blown open the palace doors to a plethora of new possibilities. It makes a surprisingly big impact and really allows Dominion to meet its full potential.

Additions

As I previously stated, the biggest additions this set offers is the 10 point Colony cards, which gives an even bigger goal for players to reach other than the Provinces, and the value 5 Platinum, allowing you to be even richer than having a bunch of gold in your deck. These two cards allow everything else in this box to be possible because they allow for more powerful cards worth cost 6 and 7 to be available and worth buying, and they give a purpose for players to build decks in which it is worthwhile to try to go beyond having 8 treasures to use in any given hand.
Prosperity also provides us with a treasure trove of great new cards, many of which are new kinds of treasure. The Bank is worth a coin for every treasure in play, the royal seal lets you put the new card you buy on your deck, and so on. Nice little touches. There are also cards which allow you to gain point tokens (which are nice, metal pieces) which won’t clutter up your hand, including Monument and Goons (hired goons!).
Then there are the expensive cards which are just awesome. Hoard lets you gain gold when you buy a victory card. Expand lets you trash a card worth 3 more. And my personal favourite of any Dominion card in any set: King’s Court. King’s Court lets you play an action card 3 times. This is huge! And ripe with different possibilities and combos, making the card new every time you use it. It’s amazing.

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Critique

Prosperity may be Dominion’s best expansion. I keep flip flopping between this set and Seaside, which also has some spectacular new cards. The difference may be that Prosperity allows for more breathing room and opens up the game with those Colony and Platinum cards, which is probably why this is the Dominion expansion I would recommend above all others. This is Dominion’s high point, here the game’s true potential is finally reached. If you are a Dominion fan, don’t forget about the wealth waiting for you in Prosperity.

Expansion –
Base Game –
Base Game & Expansion –

My Expansion Ratings
-- The expansion improves upon the original base game.
-- The expansion provides a differing experience than the base game but neither improves or detracts from the base game.
-- The expansion is effective and provides an interesting new aspect, but the base game is still preferred.
-- The expansion detracts from the base game.

Feb
16

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I love lego. When I was a kid, opening up a new pirate ship or castle set was one of the biggest thrills of Christmas morning. I had buckets of lego pieces, half-built sets scattered around my room. I still have a collection of every annual Lego catalogue throughout the 90s. I once recreated the plot of Honey I Shrunk the Kids with lego. My online avatar is the lego version of myself. We even had a lego-themed cake at our wedding (with a custom bride and groom set given to us for free from Lego).

However, even with my well-documented love of Lego, I was skeptical about a Lego movie. It had to be more than just having fun with animated bricks. In order to be successful, the movie would have to encapsulate what makes lego as a toy so special. Lego stands out from all other toys and has proven itself as perhaps the greatest children’s toy in over half a decade for a reason; it thrives on the creativity of the kids who use it. Lego allows for imagination to take hold and personality to thrive by giving kids the tools to build and make whatever they want. And even though Lego ironically exists as a major force of commercialism in many ways, fundamentally it rebels against commericalist ideals. And therefore, a movie based on a toy with so much depth needs to have this same spirit. Luckily, it did. And it was awesome.

The story of Emmet, a regular construction worker, inadvertently becoming the hero who would stop Lord Business from “ending” the world contains this theme of individuality vs. conformity (cleverly symbolized by strictly following the instructions) in its very fabric. It the message used to beat you over the head? Yes, but in this case that’s okay, it works. And it only goes further as the movie goes on and extends into areas you wont expect.

But don’t worry, its not just a message movie. Its fun! Its a whole lotta fun, in fact. Visually, its a wonder and exactly what anyone who has ever linked two blocks together would hope for. There are so many clever details in the animation, from the way characters move to water splashes being tiny bricks. They have really embraced the world of Lego in every detail of every frame. There are some silly “kids movie” details, like that weird cat character, but for the most part this is a world that could only exist in a Lego-themed universe.

And its funny too! Lego has always had a quirky, unique sense of humour showing up on the illustrations in the catalogues and boxes, and more prominently in the recent line of video games. And it shows up here in spades. There are a lot of witty, clever jokes which have a charming sense of innocence to them while still being genuinely hilarious. There’s a great mix of quippy dialogue and visual gags which ensure that you will have a great time the whole way through, including a hilarious capper at the end.

It may seem like I am biased towards this movie, and perhaps I am. But I was genuinely surprised at how great of a job they did with this film. Every peg was in place, every piece fit. Lego did not disappoint; it seems they never do.
9.5/10

Feb
08

10. Prisoners

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I liked Prisoners a lot more than I thought I would.  Its one of those engrossing thrillers which is rarely pulled off well,  The mystery was one that was easy to get wrapped up in and the acting is top notch, especially by Jackson.  Its dark and brooding to be sure, but sometimes that’s needed to take a basic kidnapping thriller like this to the next level.

9. Rush

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This rivalry sports story manages to avoid feeling like a cliched sports movie, even though the story structure pretty much is.  I think the reason it avoids it is because so much focus is put on the two characterizations of Niki Lauda and James Hunt as well as the very well-played rivalry between them.  This movie was a lot of fun, and any time these two squared off was great.

8. American Hustle

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I will confess I’m not a big David O’Russell fan and I had very low expectations for this film.  But it won me over with its interesting plot and fun characters.  Jennifer Lawrence won me over more than most of them, but I thought Bale was also quite excellent as the anchor to the story.  There are some quirks I don’t relaly like, such as a certain cameo scene later on and some non-sequitur song numbers, but overall I had quite a lot of fun with it.

7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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I really liked this movie.  I know I was one of the few, but it won me over completely.  I found the character of Walter really likable and loved how he was able to break out of his routine life and start living.  Yes his adventures were ridiculously exaggerated, but realism was not the point of this movie at all.  And I really liked the reveal of what the photo for the last issue of LIFE was.  A nice, uplifting little movie.

6. The World’s End

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Edgar Wright’s latest film had me skeptical upon seeing the trailer.  I love Shaun of the Dead, but this felt like it might be getting a little to close to that.  And it was in a sense, but still managed to be its own movie at the same time.  The dynamics between this group of guys reuniting after years of growing up (or not) was quite interesting.  And when they begin to learn that their old town has been replaced by alien robots, this movie only intensifies.  And oh yeah, its funny. Really funny.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

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When I first heard about Scorsese’s new movie Wolf of Wall Street, this was not at all the kind of film I had imagined.  This is a ridiculous, comedic romp,rather than the stuffy corrupt business drama I was expecting.  Its nuts!  No holds barred, and both Leo and Jonah Hill are downright hilarious.  It does suffer from an overlong ending however, otherwise this may have been higher on the list.

4. Star Trek: Into Darkness

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My fanboy pick of the year.  When Star Trek came out in 2009, I was completely won over by how fun and fresh the movie was.  I had expected simply the MTV or CW version of the popular series, and while there is a hint of that there, it was a genuinely great action adventure.  But even though I loved that movie, I still had doubts about the sequel.  But once again, it won me over as well.  I really liked the retro-twist in the middle, which caught me by surprised, and it didn’t bother me at all like it did many others.  There are some really goofy aspects, I can acknowledge that (like the tribble thing, and of course the inexplicable Spock-Uhura relationship which doesn’t need to be), but these don’t bother me all that much.

3. Captain Phillips

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Greengrass does it again.  This real life conflict is not nearly on the same level as that in United 93, but its still a fascinating tale shot with a lot of intensity.  This is a great movie.  The crew of the liner feels very natural, and you really get a sense of them as professionals who know what they are doing even in the face of a crisis.  Hanks is brilliant in the best role I’ve seen him in in years.  And Barkhad Abdi is also great in the role of the head pirate.  This was certainly a thrill ride.

2. Before Midnight

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Before Midnight has the advantage of having two previous films before it providing a lot of the emotional context that this film capitalizes on so well.  For movies like these, those previous films seem to add more than for your average sequels, since they are about a relationship growing over twenty years.  And you feel that depth in these characters.  This is a great film which went to emotional places I wasn’t sure they would go.  Some times its great to see a movie with lots of spectacle (like the upcoming #1 on my list) and sometimes its great to just watch two hours of engrossing conversations.

1. Gravity

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I’m probably the only person to have Gravity as their No. 1 film of the year!  Or not…

Without a doubt in my mind.  The best movie experience I’ve had in years.  Nothing this year comes close.

Feb
06

Now I finish my predictions with the “big 6″: the acting categories, director and of course Best Picture.

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BEST PICTURE:
American Hustle (Sony), Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
Captain Phillips (Sony), Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features), Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
Gravity (Warner Bros.), Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
Her (Warner Bros.), Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
Nebraska (Paramount), Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
Philomena (The Weinstein Company), Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight), Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount), Nominees to be determined

Looking at all of my predictions so far, it would seem to make sense I’d predict Gravity to win best picture.  And though I do think it has a shot, I think the more likely candidate is the apparently powerful 12 Years a Slave.  It has the appearance of being Oscarbait, but the caveat that its actually really good from what I hear.  It appears to be the front runner, so that’s what I’m going with.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

DIRECTING:
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

I always seemed to predict a BP/BD split with my reasoning that it was due to happen again.  Except for last year, when it actually did happen.  So now we are no longer “due”, so I think that if 12 Years wins Best Pic, then McQueen will also win for this one.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

This is a good field this year.  But lets face it; McConaughey’s time has come.  He has been incredibly hot right now, with Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and his stint in Wolf of Wall Street, not to mention his new HBO show taking off.  Its his year.

Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

I’ve heard great things about Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine.  And she seems like an Oscar-worthy actress that they are probably just chomping at the bit to recognize with a statue.

Prediction: Blue Jasmine

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

I dont really know with this category….  Abdi was great in his role, but I can’t see him winning.  Cooper likely wont either, nor will Hill though he was hilarious.  I think it comes down to Jared Leto and the Fass.  And since Leto won the SAG, he’s probably got it.  Its too bad, I havent seen the movie but I really can’t imagine a scenario where Jared Leto out-acts Michael Fassbender.

Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Jennifer Lawrence was the best part about American Hustle, and she is far and away Hollywood’s “it girl” of the moment.  She has a strong chance of winning.  However, Lupita Nyong’o has a very good chance also, with an acclaimed performance and a SAG award.  But somehow I still think this is going to Lawrence, I just can’t shake that feeling.  So I’ve gotta go with my gut.

Prediction: American Hustle

Feb
05

The third part of the predictions involves the storytelling through screenplays, editing, and then I threw in cinematography and the music categories just so they fit somewhere. Lets take a look!

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
American Hustle, Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Written by Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack
Her, Written by Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Written by Bob Nelson

This may be a long shot, but I think they’re going to actually go with the weirdest story concept of the bunch.  I believe that Spike Jonze is going to take the statue home for Her.  He took home the Golden Globe, so why not the Oscar too?

Prediction: Her

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Before Midnight, Written by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Captain Phillips, Written by Billy Ray
Philomena, Written by Jeff Pope & Steve Coogan
12 Years a Slave, Written by John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Written by Terrence Winter

I do like to see Before Midnight here, and it probably should win based on how it was able to so convincingly create this complex relationship.  (But I do wonder, what is it adapted from?) However, I think that 12 Years a Slave is the most likely winner since it is also a strong contender for BP.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Philippe Le SourdThe Grandmaster
Emmanuel LubezkiGravity
Bruno Delbonnel - Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon PapamichaelNebraska
Roger A. Deakins - Prisoners

Deakins nominated yet again, alas I do not believe he will get his win this time either.  Its gonna be pretty ahrd for them not to give the award to the masterfully filmed and beautiful Gravity.

Prediction: Gravity

FILM EDITING:
Jay Cassidy & Kevin Tent – American Hustle
Christopher Rouse – Captain Phillips
John Mac McMurphy & Martin Pensa – Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Sanger & Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Joe Walker – 12 Years a Slave

Okay, I honestly don’t know.  Two of these movies I have yet to see, so I can’t personally speak to their editing.  American Hustle, good movie though it is, still had some bloat to the story.  Gravity is likely going to clean up on the technical awards, but I’m not sure this one will be included in the bunch.  Captain Philips managed to keep a lot of tension throughout the entire movie. so it has a good chance.  On the other hand, 12 Years a Slave is likely a front runner for best picture, and editing is a big part of the overall movie experience. Umm… I think I’ll go with that line of reasoning.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

ORIGINAL SCORE:
John Williams – The Book Thief
Steven Price – Gravity
William Butler & Owen Pallett – Her
Alexandre Desplat – Philomena
Thomas Newman – Saving Mr. Banks

This doesn’t seem like a powerhouse year for scores, but I really hope Gravity wins.  I know its a long shot, since its a bit more atmospheric rather than orchestral, but I’m not sure which of the others to pick, so I may just go with it.  From what I’ve heard of the 12 Years score, I’m surprised its not here.

Prediction: Gravity

ORIGINAL SONG:
“Alone Yet Not Alone” from Alone Yet Not Alone
Music by Bruce Broughton; Lyric by Dennis Spiegel
“Happy” from Despicable Me 2
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” from Frozen
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from Her
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

The obvious choice is Let It Go from Frozen, since that movie won a lot of people over.  And yet U2′s Mandela song is going to be tempting for Academy voters, especially since Mandela’s recent passing.  And after just listening to all the nominees, I have to say that the Frozen song is pretty uninspired.  I think this one may belong to the more meaningful U2 tune.

Prediction: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Feb
02

These next categories are usually the categories I am most interested in when watching the Oscars, because they can have a tendancy to honour films that would usually be overlooked in the more prominent categories. These are the categories which focus on the video and audio details of the film.

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VISUAL EFFECTS:
Gravity, Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
The Lone Ranger, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
Star Trek into Darkness, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

As awesome as Smaug looked, Gravity accomplished the pure goal of VFX; to immerse you into the experience of the film.  And with Gravity, we felt like we were actually in space with them, so I don’t see how it can lose this.

Prediction: Gravity

Production Design:
American Hustle, Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
Gravity, Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
The Great Gatsby, Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
Her, Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
12 Years a Slave, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

This one may go to Gravity again, just because everything was so details and felt so authentic.  The space stations, the shuttle, all of it.  But Gatsby has the flash, and 12 Years a Slave has the historical authenticity.  But…   I think its gotta be Gravity.  There’s just so much going on with those sets, especially when you take the zero-g factor in.

Prediction: Gravity

COSTUME DESIGN:
Michael WilkinsonAmerican Hustle
William Chang Suk PingThe Grandmaster
Catherine MartinThe Great Gatsby
Michael O’Connor - The Invisible Woman
Patricia Norris12 Years a Slave

If there is a chance for this award to go to a film set in a historical time period, that’s where it will usually go.  Victorian era is preferred, but I think the slave days of America may work in this case.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

MAKEUP And Hairstyling:

Dallas Buyers Club, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Stephen Prouty
The Lone Ranger, Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

There are some jokes to be made about American Hustle not here for hairstyling, I just don’t know what they are.  I just can’t see them giving an Oscar to Jackass, though you never know.  And Lone Ranger… not really a Hollywood darling due to its complete lack of BO success.  But Dallas Buyer’s Club probably is the most likely choice.

Prediction: Dallas Buyer’s Club

SOUND MIXING:

Captain Phillips, Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
Gravity, Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
Inside Llewyn Davis, Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor, Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

The sound in Gravity was outstanding.  When you take into account that most of it had to be mixed just right so that it came though the comlinks only, since there is no sound in space, it was truly well done.  A masterpiece.

Prediction: Gravity

SOUND EDITING:
All is Lost, Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips, Oliver Tarney
Gravity, Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Brent Burge
Lone Survivor, Wylie Stateman

For much the same reasons as above, Gravity should win this again.  Its been a while since a film dominated the technical categories in the way I’m predicting (probably not since Return of the King), but if any film of the last few years can do it, its Gravity.

Prediction: Gravity

Feb
01

Wow, I’ve been doing this for 5 years now?  Crazy.  I didn’t even realize my blog was that old…

Well here we go, another year another Oscars.  Lets see what predictions I can make this year.

Part 1: The Outliers
This group is made up of the categories celebrating whole films which are not up for Best Picture.  These involve the shorts and the special full-length features.  These can usually be the toughest predictions to make, considering the films are not that well known.

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
The Croods (DreamWorks Animation), Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco
Despicable Me 2 (Universal/Imagination), Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Ernest and Celestine (GKids), Benjamin Renner, Didier Brunner
Frozen (Walt Disney Animation), Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
The Wind Rises (Walt Disney), Hayao Miyazaki,Toshio Suzuki

This hasn’t been  a strong year for animation, but Disney did score a lot of points in December with their hit Frozen.  This may be Oscars chance to declare that “Disney is back” after denying their last few efforts the award, such as Wreck It Ralph and Tangled.

Prediction: Frozen

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Tribeca Film), Belgium
The Great Beauty (Janus Films), Italy
The Hunt (Magnolia), Denmark
The Missing Picture, Cambodia
Omar (Adopt Films) , Palestine

I still haven
‘t nailed this category down.  Do they give it to the most notorious of the nominees, or try to go more obscure.  The last two years went to Amour and A Seperation, but before that the lesser known In a Better World won over Biutiful.  But if I don’t go with the most notorious, I don’t know which other film I’d pick.  Therefore I’m going with the Denmark film The Hunt, which I’ve heard great things about.

Prediction: The Hunt

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
The Act of Killing (Drafthouse Films), Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer (RADiUS TWC), Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars (IFC Films), Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
The Square (Noujaim Films), Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
20 Feet From Stardom (RADiUS TWC), Nominees to be determined

I’m pretty sure Act of Killing has this wrapped up.  I’ve seen a number of Best of 2013 list on which Act of Killing on on the top (and thats not just out of docs, out of all films of the year).  And with the lack of the more well-known docu-hits Blackfish and Secrets We Tell, Act of Killing seems to have a clear path to victory.

Prediction: The Act of Killing

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:
CaveDigger, Jeffrey Karoff
Facing Fear, Jason Cohen
Karama Has No Walls, Sara Ishaq
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Edgar Barens

This is a tough one to pick.  Looking at the subject matter, there are a few Oscarbait picks here to choose from.  Karama is about the Arab Spring, but that has began to leave the minds of Westerners by this point unfortunately.  Then there’s The Lady in Number 6, which is about both a 109 year old woman whose also a Holocaust survivor?? Oscar voters must be chomping at the bit.  However, then there’s Facing Fear which tackles Homophobia.  And lets face it, gay rights is a huge issue right now.  The Oscars snubbed Brokeback 9 years ago, but perhaps they will make up for it in some small way here (in a category almost no one pays attention to…).

Prediction: Facing Fear

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
Feral Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden
Get a Horse! Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim
Mr. Hublot Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
Possessions Shuhei Morita
Room on the Broom Max Lang and Jan Lachauer

I don’t know… I don’t think Disney will win two years in a row.  And with Frozen probably already going to win, it may be too much to also give the short that came before it (Get a Horse) a statue as well.  I have heard that Mr. Hublot is quite Pixar-like however. And the Oscars love Pixar…

Prediction: Mr. Hublot

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) Esteban Crespo
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything) Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
Helium Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
The Voorman Problem Mark Gill and Baldwin Li

I’m guessing here based off of a strong review I read for Just Before Losing Everything.  I really have no idea.

Prediction: Just Before Losing Everything

Jan
25

The Wolf of Wall Street

This movie is insane! And as a result hilarious. Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street is the story of a stock broker who gets rich young, builds his own company, and eventually implodes. Its a typical rise and fall tale, with no holds barred. Seriously, none. This isn’t some stodgy crime drama, this is a roller coaster of energy and antics.

I was surprised by how genuinely funny this movie is. Leo DiCaprio is great as Jordan Belmont, the title character, and his supporting cast is all top notch as well. From Jonah Hill (who channels Joe Pesci…perhaps a little too much), to the stunning Margot Robbie, all the way down to the schmoes who he started the company with, the cast hits every note and stride.

There is some great comedy here. Matthew McConaughy kicks things off, and then the ball keeps rolling. The manic energy of this ridiculous workplace is fun to watch. And there’s a scene where Belmont tries to get into his car after… well, let just say you’ll know it when you see it. All in all, this is a wild, unapologetic romp.

However, a problem arises with the ending. And I think this is true of most “rise and fall” movies, is that the downfall just isn’t as interesting as the rise. And that is certainly true here. I was not feeling the length of this movie until the downfall began. At this point, the movie really dragged out and I was ready for it to end. Because lets face it, the way things wrapped up was a pretty stereotypical “end of an empire” sequence of events. This is a problem I think is prevalent in a lot of Scorsese’s movies, and may be a reason that I am not as drawn to him as other people are. If he had just tightened up the ending, or made it more interesting, this would have been a solid comedic masterpiece.
8.5/10

Jan
19

One of the biggest problems that blu-ray collectors face is the future of physical media in the face of digital technology.  With the popularity of netflix and the growing VOD market and digital downloads, not to mention illegal pirating, the future of the blu-ray/DVD market is certainly in jeopardy.  Many people wonder what the point of having physical copies of movies is anymore.  Well, I am here to put up a fight for the seemingly losing side of physical media.

Also, I want to make something clear:  I do not fundamentally believe that Netflix and other streaming services are a bad thing.  There are a lot of advantages to them, including the instant watch and low-cost.  It also provides good exposure to lesser known films people may not have checked out otherwise.  I even had Netflix myself for a couple short periods of time, and I would not necessarily rule out signing up again at some point.  My main issue here is more with the idea of streaming services completely replacing physical media such as Blu-ray.  That is the issue I am dealing with today.

Lines have been drawn and people are starting to take sides.  The problem is that most people are absent-mindedly taking the digital side.  Why?  Its simple: convenience.  Movies are there to be accessed right away.  Not to mention that monthly subscriptions are cheap.  These are certainly bonuses to movie-watching habits.  But if I had to sum up streaming video in one phrase it would be convenience over quality.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I prefer the other way around myself.  Here are my main arguments on why I take the side of physical media.

1) Video and audio quality

Streaming quality in the sight and sound of our favourite films is improving, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to the type of quality Blu-ray provides.  Take Netflix for example, a service I tried out once I got my HDTV and stuck an ethernet cable into it.  It lasted for about a month before I was fed up with the poor, choppy picture.    Compared to a beautiful, crisp Blu-ray disc, its disgusting.

Now I’m sure you’re saying “But that’s Netflix Ian.  There are other, better HD streaming services out there.”  Well, I dont bother with the other services, so personally I cannot add my two cents.  But through research, I found this comparison of the main streamers, in which none of them lives up to blu-ray.  According to the guy who did the tests, they were all “roughly equivalent to an upscaled DVD.”

“But Ian, surely streaming is the way of the future.  Advancements in streaming technology technology will only get better.”  I wont deny this.  But Blu-ray has a big advantage that streaming services have a long, long way to make up for: lack of compression.  Blu-ray discs come with a lot of space, up to 50 gigabites (almost 10X what a DVD offered) which gives the picture and sound a lot of room to breath.  As a result we get a smoother picture and fuller audio.   If you don’t believe me, listen to the Balrog roar on the LOTR Bluray compared to the DVD.

However, the very nature of streaming services means that it has to get to your TV (or whatever device your using) somehow.  That “somehow” is bandwidth.  And with bandwidth comes compression.  Streamers need to compress the video and audio files small enough to meet the bandwidth speed, which definitely affects the quality of the movie.  And there’s not much that companies like Netflix can do about that.  Blu-ray quality is still leaps and bounds above streaming, and because of compression likely always will be.

If you are looking for a more technical explanation, this webpage can provide you with far more details than I.

2) Availability

This is a big issue for collectors in the digital vs. physical debate, and what it comes down to is control.  Who has control over your movies? And its really quite simple: if you have the physical disc on your shelf, you have control (barring theft, or fire, etc.).   Your favourite movies are always available for your viewing pleasure.  If you are streaming from an online catalog, or even if you have digital films stored in a cloud, you simply do not have control over what movies are available to you at any given time.

“But Ian, don’t you think you’re just being a paranoid conspiracy theorist?”  Not at all, not when distribution/subscription licenses of major studios are in the balance.  Its already happening.  This link has a story from before Christmas where a Disney movie was pulled from Amazon Prime, despite the fact that customers paid for the digital version of the film.  Not to mention the widely fluctuating online library of Netflix, your accessibility to films you love is dubious at best if you leave them to any form of digital storage that can be influenced by these companies.

This is where my worries really take hold.  If these streaming companies have control over what films are available, wont they just pander to the masses?  And if this is the case, does that mean that older classics, important films in the history of moviemaking, will be left behind?  If you want to read more, check out this AV Club article.

3) The Collector’s Woe

Now to get a little more personal, I simply like having a collection.  I like saying “this is my personal canon of films I feel are important and great”.  And I like knowing that the option of watching them isn’t dependent on an internet connection and on the whim of licensing distribution politics.  I like knowing that I have the best available product when I slip that disc into my Blu-ray player.  I do not look forward to the day that goes away.

I am not completely naive.  I know who is ultimately going to win this war, and I know that I am on the eventual losing side.  I have been accused of living in the past.  “Ian, streaming is the future.  Just get on board.”  No, not yet.  I’m not going to choose an inferior pathway, when the superior is still available to me.  And I’m going to continue to speak for quality and accessibility.  But when I see people willing to watch a great Hollywood epic on a device that is the size of their palm, I know its a hopeless fight.  Convenience over quality experience.  That’s the world now.

If digital is the future, what I hope will happen is that streaming is simply a stepping stone to personal digital libraries.  Granted, this will require a lap in digital storage to maintain a collection of downloaded movies, but that shouldn’t be a problem.  What I am worried about though is that the cloud option dominates (again, because of the convenience of not having to use your own storage), and we collectors will be forced to give over control of our access to this wonderful world and history of film.

Jan
18

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

I’ll be honest and say that I went into this movie with very low expectations. I find David O’Russell to be one of those over-hyped directors that just doesn’t do anything for me. I found The Fighter an annoying affair and was let down by the hype surrounding Silver Linings Playbook. The trailers and posters for American Hustle had a strong scent of pretension around it, and once again the hype started building and building by my fellow cinephiles.

But it won me over. I got caught up in the plot of a con man being forced to work for the FBI, and also got caught up in the romance between him and his con artist girlfriend (although I was admittedly less interested in that aspect). There were parts of the story which didn’t work, like the gangster aspect, but I did like the way it all wrapped up.

The real star of American Hustle however is the performances. Christian Bale is great in the lead and does a great job of making you like him even despite is smiley criminal nature. Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams are also spot on (though the whole thing with Adam’s character and her British accent was lame). But the highlight was the supporting performance of Jennifer Lawrence, the “it girl” of present day Hollywood. Even though it was slightly over the top, she lit up every scene she was in and made you anticipate her next appearance.

American Hustle ended up being rather fun. It has less of the O’Russell quirks (like Cooper’s character with his mother) than his other films. For some this will be a plus, others a minus. For me its a plus. Some parts in the story go no where (again, like the gangster idea) and sometimes they dwell too much on the troubled romance, but otherwise an enjoyable film.
8/10