Virunda

When Americans think of national parks, we tend to think of forest land, park rangers, tourists, and possibly Yogi Bear. That is not the vision that comes to mind when watching Virunda. Virunda is the name of a national park in the Congo which is the focus of this documentary. At first glance it would appear that this film is about the efforts of area park rangers to maintain and protect the mountain gorillas that live in the park’s forest. Of course, due to poachers and others trying to exploit animals and the natural resources of the park, these Rangers look like a small militia.

This Academy Award nominated documentary feature combines the plight of these animals with issues related to the civil unrest in the Congo. The official government army is working with various rebel forces including the newest rebel group, M23. Into this mix, add an international oil company which obtained the rights to determine whether there is oil in Lake Edward which is in Virunda National Park. I forgot to mention that there are villages within the park that depend upon the lake for their livelihood. And also that, although the oil company has the government permission to be in the park, it is still a violation of both the laws of the country and international law. If this were a scripted movie, there would be an attractive woman journalist who is investigating the dealings between the corporation and the rebel army – wait, there is.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It was worthy of the nomination.  If it were truly fictional, it would be an enjoyable movie that has action suspense and amusing animal stories. As a documentary, it shows that truth is stranger than fiction. 

My verdict: Rent it!

Two Days One Night

Such a simple premise but a complex movie. Sandra works in a small department of a manufacturing company. She recently was out of work after a bout of depression. It is not clear how long she has been back at work, but it has become apparent to management that the department can get just as much work completed by 16 people as it did 17 employees, So they are all given a choice, they can each receive a very large bonus or Sandra can remain as an employee. When the movie starts, there has already been one vote and Sandra lost. however a co-worker is able to convince a co-worker to have another vote on the next business day. so Sandra has one weekend (the titular 2 days and 1 night) to convince the majority of her colleagues to let her stay and forgo their bonus. Setting aside that she really had 2 days and 2 nights to canvas her co-workers, it is still a great movie. It really gets people thinking about what they would do in that situation. Almost everyone of Sandra’s co-workers need the money. They are all just barely surviving on their wages. some actually work additional jobs on the side. This question of whether someone would put the needs of another before themselves divided families.

Marion Cotillard gives a wonderful performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination. This is one movie that is worth seeing. The only drawbacks that I found were – the use of subtitles in white instead of the easier to read yellow lettering. Also, some of the translation from French into English seemed a bit stilted. These are things that it is very easy to overlook.

Begin Again

This movie would not have been on my radar if it were not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. With a movie that involves musicians, one would hope that there is some good music in it. If you enjoy your pop music a bit more on the folk/singer-songwriter side, you will probably enjoy the songs.

begin Again has the potential to be a great movie for “six degrees” and similar games. Keira Knightly, nominated for supporting actress for the Imitation Game, stars as Greta, a young singer-songwriter, who was the girl friend of an up and coming musician/actor named Dave portrayed realistically by They break up as Dave’s career sky rockets. Greta’s music is heard by Dan, a down-on-his luck record executive portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, nominated for supporting actor for Foxcatcher. They decide to get a group of musicians together, including Greta’s friend, Steve, portrayed by James Corden, who is in “Into the Woods”, which has several Academy Award nominations itself. Add Cee-Lo, Mos Def, Rob Morrow, and Catherine Keener (who was nominated for 2 Academy Awards in her career) to the cast and there are some great six degrees connections.

It is a nice, feel-good movie. Boy gets girl at the end, though it may not be the pair you would necessarily anticipate. The movie takes some jabs at the commercialism of the current music industry without being overly cynical. There are no amazing acting performances, but the movie is an afternoon’s entertainment.

The movie is definitely worth a dvd rental.

Into the Woods

First off, if you are a parent with young children, please think twice before bringing young children to see “Into the Woods”. Although this is a wonderful movie musical, it is based on a Broadway musical, not just based on the Disney versions of well known fairy tales. Some of the themes are more adult and it is much darker in tone than the usual animated Disney fare. The performances were very good. Meryl Streep can sing quite well and she always gives so much to her roles. The only drawback that I felt to the story was that I wanted a bit more about some of the characters’ stories. For fans of the show, I think you will enjoy it.

Gone Girl

I have seen several movies since my last post. I just did not feel inspired to post about them (although I should have). Anyway, I recently saw Gone Girl with Ben Affleck. This movie was not as I expected. I expected it to be more courtroom/procedural – Law & Order-esqe. But it was not. The story had some great plot twists in it. I must admit, however, that I was not a huge fan of the acting. If I was not a fan of the story, I would not have like it as much as I did.

Amazing Spiderman 2

It has been a while since I posted a movie review – or commentary which is what I think my posts are more like.  I have seen several movies, but none really inspired me to offer any commentary – until now. I recently saw the Amazing Spiderman 2.  I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but I did have some problems with the film. First, if my memory is correct, super-hero films with more than one film tend to be horrible. Let;s add to that by having one movie serve as origin movies for 3 villains. I get that the groundwork was being laid for a future battle between Spidey and the Sinister Six. However, I found the origin of Green Goblin to be a bit too contrived and too much of a departure from established Spidey canon – if you saw the first trilogy of Spiderman movies, you are already familiar with the origin of the  Green Goblin. Rhino seems like he was thrown in at the last minute.

Now let’s talk about Electro. Glad to see that they did not use the comic book costume. While the comic book origin may have seemed unbelievable by any stretch of the imagination, the origin in the movie was a bit too similar to Spidey’s own origin.  I get that the character is supposed to be a “loser” before becoming Electro – but he did not have to be so so terrible stereo-typical: bad dresser and a really bad comb-over?!? It was more like Jamie Foxx was channeling Eddie Murphy;s character in Bowfinger.

Leading up to one dramatic scene, bio-science wizard – Gwen Stacy – claims that she can figure out how to reset the power grid because she saw the plans.  Plans the Electro designed (before he became Electro) and were used to masterful power the city in a single grid (not a smart move if the power foes out)  At first blush, this strains credibility. How simple could those plans have been. It turns out, my disbelief was misplaced – all Gwen had to do was break a single lock and press one button. Really?

The movie does a pretty good depiction of Amazing Spiderman #121. It is not the same exact story, but it is similar enough not to disappoint most comic fans.

 

 

JOBS

We watched Jobs on DVD last night (Netflix rental). I thought Ashton Kuchner really looked the part. This movie tells a bit about the origins of Apple Computers and its iconic founder, Steve Jobs.

I hope there are some very scenes from the movie that ended up on the cutting room floor because sometimes the movie seemed a bit disjointed. For example, early on in the film, we see Jobs at college. We see him as a barefoot, drug using college-drop out. We have no indication of the technical genius. One does get hints of his being a real visionary. At least one school college professor/administrator wanted to see him enrolled at the school, but one can’t understand why. Jobs comes across as an egotistical bastard. As stated in the movie, he was so focused on the particular product that he was working on that he didn’t care about the loss of his own relationship or the important relationship between company and consumer. While the movie does highlight the fact that Jobs was an innovator and visionary, one walks away with the feeling that he was a really big jerk.

The Grandmaster

I wish I saw the Grandmaster in the theater. I love a good martial arts film. This was an epic martial arts film. Lots of action, a decent story. Many martial arts tales take place in some medieval time in the some Eastern country. This movie is firmly rooted in history taking place from the late 30’s to the early 50’s in Japanese-occupied China as it tells the story of Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee in martial arts.

When the opening credits started, I assumed the movie was not in English; so,. I turned on the captioning. How was I to know that the movie was dubbed in English (or at least it appeared that way)? There was a slight disconnect between what was being said and the captioning. It was not a word-for-word translation of what was said; rather, it was more often an interpretation of what was said. The meaning was there, if not the exact language.

The film was nominated, but did not win, two Academy awards: Best Achievement in Cinematography, and
Best Achievement in Costume Design. With regard to the latter, any period movie, which this was, that is decent usually gets a nomination for costume design. As far as the cinematography goes, it was well filmed. However, at times, it seems like a final exam for film school – where someone would have to identify the type of shot that was used in the film. MANY MANY close-ups, MANY MANY “zoomed-in” shots. It was obvious when the film was slowed down and when it was sped up. It almost felt like every possible technique was being used in the film. to me it took away from some of the movie.

I think it was definitely worth renting.

Carrie (2013)

I recently rented through Netflix the remake of Carrie. I think the movie was updated well. The use of social media as a way to tease Carrie in high school is consistent with what one would expect in a current movie. The character protrayed by Julianne Moore, Margaret White, was given an additional personality quirk which added to the weirdness to the character.

There are two problems that I had with the remake. First, in the original movie, you always got the sense that Carrie was acting our of anger and fear. At some point in the remake, Carrie appears to be acting out of spite. She became similar to the mean girls that teased her in school. So, I lost some of the sympathy for the character. The best indication of this is Carrie’s reaction to seeing the car being driven by Billy toward Carrie. In the original, the response is more reactionary – Carrie lashes out partially in surprise. In the remake, her response is much more brutal.

Second, there is the final scene of the movie. For those of you who saw/remember the final scene, Sue who tries to befriend Carrie brings flowers to her grave. In the original, it is not a cemetery to which she goes, but the land where Carrie’s house was sitting. The “For Sale” sign forms a cross and spray-painted across is the phrase “Carrie White Burns in Hell”. Here is a link to the final clip. In the remake, Sue goes to a cemetery and the same phrase is painted on the tombstone, but the ending is different. Despite the increased violence and better special effects, the ending in the 2013 version is tamer than in the original.

It was an evening’s entertainment, but the original is, in my opinion, the better movie.

Prisoners

Prisoners is nominated for an Academy Award for Cinematography. The  American Society of Cinematography defines cinematography as:

a creative and interpretive process that culminates in the authorship of an original work of art rather than the simple recording of a physical event. Cinematography is not a subcategory of photography. Rather, photography is but one craft that the cinematographer uses in addition to other physical, organizational, managerial, interpretive and image-manipulating techniques to effect one coherent process.

I prefer to think of it as how the film looks. How is the mood conveyed in the film other than through the script and the acting.  With that “lens”, I can not say that I understand why this film was nominated. Don’t get me wrong. I think the movie was fine, but I do not know why it would have been elevated above other movies from 2013.  Maybe it was because the movie seemed long. Part of the way through the movie, I stopped caring about whether or not the “villain” was apprehended. I will admit, though, that I the revelation of the “villain” was a surprise to me. Maybe there were clues that I did not catch because I lost interest.

The film has a well known cast, including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo. 

It was an afternoon’s entertainment.