Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013 Best Picture Oscar Reviews, by a Mormon

   One of the reasons I started this blog was that I realized that what Hollywood or the Film Industry sees as great entertainment, does not always coincide with what Mormons might feel is great entertainment.  Over the years  with Best Picture nominations like Black Swan, The Reader, and Brokeback Mountain, (although they lost, they won in other categories) I thought maybe it would be good to start a review site that discuses movies based on the values we hold and the entertainment we seek.  You know, movies that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Django Unchained (2012): Mormon Movie Review

One of the first westerns I ever saw was The Outlaw Josie Wales.  Ever since then I have been a pretty big fan.  I guess I am intrigued by the idea of dealing out Justice (and sometimes Revenge).  In The Fellowship of the Ring when Galdalf tells Frodo, "many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment."  I always think, "I could."  But I am a pretty judgmental person.  Speaking of Judgmental, some of you may be thinking, "wait, if this is a Mormon Review site, why is he reviewing an R Rated movie?"  Well, I spoke to that in a past blog post in more depth, but for not I will leave it at this.  If you choose not to see Django based on it's R Rating, then the MPAA has done it's job.  But if you choose not to see it based on the content I review for you, then i have done mine.

   Django (Jaime Foxx) is a slave recruited by Bounty Hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to track down outlaws that only Django can identify as they were employed by his former master.  Dr. Schultz offers Django his freedom in return for his assistance as well as an offer to help him rescue his wife; who was sold to another plantation owner in retribution for the two falling in love and attempting to run away together.

   I think Quentin Tarantino is a brilliant film maker, as long as you can get past his exaggerated sense of history, need to edit out of order, and intentionally dated cinematography.  Luckily none of these issues get in the way in Django.  One story telling method that shines out right away is that this is a tale of a  Hero's Journey (Highlight for Possible Spoiler).  It was evident to be about the end of the first act, and Tarantino stick pretty close to the formula.  

   Although Jaime Foxx is the top billing, Christoph Waltz is star of this movie.  His characters are so endearing and likable, it made it hard to hate him as a Nazi in Inglorious Basterds.  In Django Unchained his Bounty Hunter looks for men wanted by the law for heinous crimes.  While his mandate is to take them Dead or Alive he most often goes with the former to make things easier for apprehension and to ensure swift justice is done.  His dialogue is so cleverly done you can't help but smile as he outsmarts and ridicules those he talks to, with out their even realizing it.  

  Django Unchained is probably Quentin Tarantino's best film to date.  It has his witty banter he is known for.  Like an scene where a lynch mob argues about how they cannot see out of their cowls, thus offending the man whose wife made them all.  It also brings to light the atrocities associated with slavery.  After having just reviewed Lincoln, the outcome of that movie just seems all the more sweet. 

  Django is a revenge movie and is very graphic in the way it portrays the offenses of the villains and the form or retribution by our hero.  On a visual scale the film is very bloody.  Every bullet fired seems to illicit a geyser of blood.  But what is more shocking in the mental imagery.  Leonard DiCaprio's character is vicious slave owner who deals with his property with extreme savagery. He employs his slaves in the most likely fictional Mandingo Fighting (barehanded fights to the death between slaves).  There are scenes of torture and mutilation of these slave, and while it often takes place out of frame, the sound and reaction of the characters troubling.  

  The language is crude with many uses of the F-Bomb and lower curses.  There is also a large amount of uses of the N-word, although it sometimes slips into it's hip hop variant and that was a little odd.  These is some quick nudity of a woman's breast as she is removed from place of detention and we see a man's butt as he hangs upside down.  There may have also been a frame or two of what seems to be a man's genitals, but they were very so fast it wasn't noticeable and I didn't care to go back and still frame it.  None of it is shown in a pornographic or alluring context, but it could have just as easily been out of frame and just implied.  But if this type of content isn't for you we completely respect that. Luckily for you, friend of the Blog, the Mormon Movie Guy, shared his list of 25 of the Greatest Family Friendly Westerns as an alternative!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lincoln (2012): Mormon Movie Review

  Our next picture in our 2012 Best Picture Nominee review series in Lincoln.  On Christmas day we went to see Les Miserables.  I was amazed that while our line did have a wait that led out of the theatre, Lincoln also had a queue that led out the door; even though the movie had been in out over a month!  Today on Martin Luther King Day I am honored to share with you my review of where is all began.

   Lincoln is an emotional and political drama.  In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience; end slavery or end the war.

The Many Faces of Daniel Day-Lewis
   Daniel Day-Lewis is superb in his character acting.  Although I really have only seen photos of President Lincoln, his portrayal is everything I would imagine.  Thin wry voice, his gait and walk of someone uncomfortable with their exceeding height.  I did not see Daniel Day-Lewis, I saw Abraham Lincoln.  Lewis is fantastic at this transformation.  You take his biggest roles side by side and you almost cant tell they are the same person.  Heck you compare them to his actual picture and you would not think so. 

   Tommy Lee Jones is the anti-Day-Lewis.  If you want a gruff, straight shooter, is a soft spot in his heart that get revealed by the end of the movie you cast him!  If you made a montage of all his movies from the neck up, I'd challenge you to tell them all apart.  Except for maybe Batman Forever, that's what happens when he strays for what he is good at.  In Lincoln he is right in his wheelhouse.  As Lincoln tries to win votes from congressman with opinions all over the spectrum Jones plays Congressman Stevens, who not only wants abolition, but equality.  Struggle to hold to his ideals, yet temper them in the name of progress is enjoyable.   

   The rest of the cast is immense, yet full of great actors.  Household names like Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader and a mass of others you might not remember the name of, but you know you have seen them in something else.

   Part of this disguise comes from the brilliant costuming.  I am always impressed with the wardrobes of period films because you know that was probably all made for the movie.  The sets are the same way, with period lighting, decor, and furniture.  It was very easy to be immersed in the time setting.

   The unfolding of how votes are obtained was very interesting to see as some votes were not quite above board.  I did have a bit of trouble following the whole process.  There is a lot of monologue in Lincoln, and while moving, more explanation to the whole situation would have helped.  While the end does the resolve does seem to make sense, you may have to take that on faith in the beginning.    

   See Lincoln while it is still in theatres if you can.  It will be far worth it, but brush up on your history a bit so you don't get lost.  Although I haven't seen all the movies yet, I am starting to lean towards Lincoln for by best picture winner.

  Most of Lincoln consists of conversation, speeches, and debate.  Most the language is appropriate and the house debates scenes has some extremely clever insults.  There are a few more coarse phrases used at time, including one F-word. Which I always call the "PG-13 Obligatory F-Bomb."  The opening of the film is a very gritty battle that comes down to bayonets and bare handed fighting to the death. There are also two scenes that show the aftermath and human toll to such battles.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Mormon Movie Review


   With the upcoming Oscars we are reviewing each of this Year's Best Picture Nominees.  We have already reviewed Les Miserables from when it came out, but surprisingly I had not seen the other 8 movies.

   Going into Beasts of the Southern Wild totally blind as to what the plot was about was tough.  I couldn't figure out if it took place in some post apocalyptic world, or if this was how people actually lived in our day.  The story takes place in a community known as "The Bathtub."  It is on the wrong side of the levies that protect more the civilized part of the south.  Life in the Bathtub is harsh.  Homes are made of driftwood, corrugated aluminum, and whatever other scrap materials people can find and built on precarious stilts above the ground to prepare for frequent rising floor waters.

   We see the world though 7 year old girl Hushpuppy, Quvenzhane Wallis.  Her understanding of things is a bit skewed as her only point of reference is her alcoholic father, and the community school house teacher who teaches folk lore and myths.  It reminded me a bit of The Water Boy.  Quvenzhane does a fantastic job in her role.  Most of the films dialogue is hers as she narrates the film.  Most of the other characters are very one dimensional.  I do not know if that is poor acting, or brilliant art direction as most children do see the world as black and white.  

   I try my best to rate movies for you based on the genre they belong.  For example, our recent review of Rise of the Guardians got 4 stars. Not because it was an amazing film in it's own right, but because as far as children's animated features go, it was very entertaining.  If I were to watch it again, it would be with my kids and not alone or with other adults.  

   I try to do the same when it comes to Independent Films.  I am for the most part, not a fan of Independent Film.  They are usually not very narrative driven when it comes to plot and usually leave me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable.   They are like the anti-romantic comedy.

   Beasts of the Southern Wild is the same fare.  The two main plot lines are Hushpuppy's Father's failing health and a Katina like Hurricane that comes through and devastates the community.  The pacing is odd though as most of the plot elements are revealed though scenes that play out like montages.  Quentin Tarantino could have edited the movie all out of order Pulp Fiction style and we really wouldn't have a clue.

   One thing that was amazing though was scenery.  I would never think that people lived in such squalor.  I served my mission in parts of the Ozarks and it was never this bad.  It really makes you reflect on the blessings you have.  It is amazing to think something that seems post apocalyptic to me is a reality for some.  I am not sure if this community was created for the movie or if it was shot on location.  It is extremely life like and should get credit as an additional character in the film.  Another thing that impressive was the sound editing.  There was always the light sound of wind and impending storm and while in any of the shanty town buildings there was constant creaking and moaning.  It made me unsettled and I think it helped transport me to Hushpuppy's world of always being in turmoil and unrest. 


   With a harsh environment live this comes character engaged in some hard livin'.  The language is crude with on probable and one definite F-Bomb.  There are also many feline related expletives.  Hushpuppy's father and many in the community are frequently inebriated and this is carries over to a theme of child abuse in the film.  Although these behaviors are not glorified, it is a gritty realization that places a lot on weight on the viewer.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is available now on iTunes and Amazon
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