Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have each landed nominations for the American Cinema Editors' (ACE) Eddie Awards. Cuaron's behind-the-scenes work on his space disaster movie has earned the Mexican a nod for Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic), alongside 12 Years a Slave's Joe Walker, Chris Rouse for Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks' Mark Livolsi, and Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan for Her.
Meanwhile, the Coen brothers have scored a mention in the Comedy or Musical category under their moniker Roderick Jaynes for Inside Llewyn Davis. They will compete against American Hustle's Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten, August: Osage County's Stephen Mirrione, Kevin Tent for Nebraska, and Thelma Schoonmaker for The Wolf of Wall Street.
The nominations will give Gravity and Inside Llewyn Davis big Oscars boosts - the winner of either the dramatic or comedy/musical film Eddie categories have gone on to claim the Oscar for Best Picture in seven of the past 11 Eddie Awards shows, while the Eddie victor in the best edited dramatic feature shortlist has gone on to win the Academy Award for editing in nine of the past 11 years.
The 64th annual ACE Eddie Awards will take place in at the Beverly Hilton in California on 7 February (14).
Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
You expect a bit of schmaltz from a movie about the making of Mary Poppins. But schmaltz doesn't entail a sentiment lathered so thickly that it's feels like an anti-depressant commercial, or material so broad that it's insulting to believe that audiences above the age of five can relate to the emotionality onscreen. Saving Mr. Banks takes for granted that its viewers are fans of traditional Disney, seeming to confuse Disney fans for Disney characters, and insinuating that we bear the intellectual sophistication thereof.
The real victim, of course, is the character of P.L. Travers (Emma Roberts, charming as she can be with this material), who incurs a fraction of a storyline about overcoming (or learning to live with?) her latent childhood traumas. As a young girl in Australia (as we learn in intermittent flashbacks — by and large the dullest part of the movie, but such a hefty piece of it), young Travers adored her merry, whimsical alcoholic father (Colin Farrell, playing a character that feels as grounded in reality as Dick Van Dyke's penguin-trotting screever Bert), enchanting in his Neverland mannerisms while her chronically depressed mother watched the family crumble into squalor.
Forty-odd years later, the themes of Travers' childhood inform (sometimes directly, right down to presciently repeated phrases) her resistence to allow her novel Mary Poppins to take form as a Disney movie. In the absence of a reason for why she might have a sudden change of heart about a feeling to which she has apparently held so strongly for two decades, Travers opts to fly out to California to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, wading through the script without any of the energy we know he has in his back pocket) and discuss the adaptation process.
When it's not insisting upon clunky "melting the ice queen" devices — like nuzzling Travers up to an oversized stuffed Mickey Mouse to show that, hey, she's starting to like this place! — the stubborn author's time in the Disney writer's room is the best part of the movie. Working with (or against) an increasingly agitated creative team made up of Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak, Travers protests minor details about setting and character, driving her colleagues mad in the process. It is to the credit of the comic talents of Whitford and Schwartzman (who play reserved agitation well beside Novak's outright hostility — he's doing mid-series Ryan in this movie, FYI) that these scenes offer a scoop of charm. But Travers' gradual defrosting poses a consistent problem, as it is experienced over the slow reveal of her disjointed backstories in a fashion that suggests the two are connected... but we have no reason to believe that they are.
The implications of the characters' stories — depression, child abuse, alcoholism, handicaps, and PTSD — are big, and worthy of monumental material. But the characters are so thin that the assignment of such issues to them does a disservice to the emotionality and pain inherent therein. A good story might have been found in the making of Mary Poppins, and in the life and work of P.L. Travers. Unfortunately, Saving Mr. Banks is too compelled to turn that arc into a Disney cartoon. And much like Travers herself, we simply cannot abide that.
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With spring well on its way, it's getting time to start thinking about the Easter gifts you're hoping to receive and/or give out. If you're looking for ideas, nothing says "fun-loving" quite like Cameron Crowe's We Bought A Zoo, which is arriving on Blu-ray and DVD April 3. The all-star cast includes Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomas Haden Church in a sweet-natured tale about a guy who decides to change his family's lives forever by moving away from the hassles of the city and into the arms of nature by buying a zoo. It's fun, uplifting and great to put on during an Easter get together with the family.
And if you're one who loves to hear all about the creative process behind the camera, the Blu-ray combo pack includes commentary with director Cameron Crowe himself, along with J.B. Smoove (The Sitter), and film editor Mark Livolsi. If you're really looking for something with a ton of extra features, this film has got it in spades. The Blu-ray is loaded with over 2½ hours of special features that includes a hilarious gag reel, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, and 20 deleted/extended scenes in the film such as:
Elevator EmpathyA Gift From RonnieLife is ElementalThank You, RhondaRosie Names Her PeacocksQuick LearnerJust Can’t Get a Handle On ItSo Much BloodshedBuster is LooseUtterly Free / Nobody DiedI Make My Own HoursThe Stuff is AliveWe’re Living The StoryDisaffected YouthIt’s Their Zoo, TooGoodnight Big MacSuch a ClichéSorry About the RainBenjamin’s Big SpeechOpening Day
All-in-all, a great Easter gift which is sure to put a smile on anyone's face. Remember to buy it in stores starting on April 3!