Oscar contenders…

I saw a majority of the Oscar nominated films recently. These are my thoughts on them.

Selma: I saw Selma this weekend. It is very timely as today is Martin Luther King Jr day. I have been reading all about people asserting it was snubbed in the acting and directing categories for the Oscars. I went to the film with an open mind and was hoping to be blown away. However, I was not. I was bored throughout most of the film. The acting was average at best. I did not see much transformation by the actors into the characters. It’s a great story and message to tell. However, this movie Selma did not deliver. It could’ve been so much better. I was very disappointed. My grade: C

Foxcatcher: I saw Foxcatcher in the theater with my dad when I was on vacation to Palm Springs. I was incredibly impressed with Steve Carell’s transformation into John du Pont. He was completely unrecognizable which is a testament to his talent as well as the costume department. Channing Tatum did a fine job though I thought he went in and out of his character and wasn’t truly immersed. Mark Ruffalo is always great at whatever he does. As small as her part was, Sienna Miller still delivered. Likewise, Vanessa Redgrave performed well as the disapproving matriarch. The movie was presented with a consistent beat. It kept me captivated in the story the whole time. I was completely thrown by the twist at the end. My grade: B+

American Sniper: I saw American Sniper this weekend as well. The theater was packed to the gills. Bradley Cooper keeps impressing me with all of his work he does. He’s the current heart throb and one would think he’d just be average. His immeasurable talent is what keep people coming back for more. In watching this film, you truly feel like you are with him and you are seeing what he sees through his scope. You feel the gravity of the situations. This is also a testament to Clint Eastwoods amazing directorial skills. When a movie is telling a true story, the filmmakers want to get it exactly right. Especially a movie like this dealing with war. It hits home for all Americans. In this movie you feel the beauty that Chris and Taya have in their love. You feel the tension with her wanting him home and he always having his feet planted on foreign soil. As an American you feel pride for soldiers such as Chris Kyle. You feel the horror when he reaches his untimely death. We as a nation really need to get a handle on how to help these soldiers with PTSD. Walking out of the theater after the movie, my stomach was clenched up and I felt tears pouring all through my body. My grade: A.

Theory of Everything– I believe this is my favorite movie that I’ve seen lately. In the beginning we start getting to know Stephen Hawking and his sharp mind. We see him meet Jane who would be the love of his life. We see them fall fast and deep into love. Then we as an audience and Hawking are jolted when he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease. We see it rapidly progress over time. Jane confidently and assuredly stands by her husband and takes care of him. They have 3 children over the years. Eventually the burden of his disease takes a toll on their marriage. They part ways and both marry other people–though Hawking’s second marriage doesn’t last. His main love has always been his work. He triumphantly proves his disease wrong with all that he is able to accomplish in his career. Eddie Redmayne most definitely deserves Best Actor at the Oscars. Felicity Jones who plays Jane definitely deserves her nomination. My grade: A.

Boyhood- I have always been a fan of writer/director Richard Linklater since the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight films. I knew that I would love Boyhood. Over the span of 12 years, this film follows the childhood of a young boy Mason, played by Eller Coltrane. We also see his parents grow and change. Patricia Arquette plays the mom and Ethan Hawke is the dad. There isn’t anything complex to this story. It is a very natural unfolding of real life: the changes a boy goes through as he ages. In the middle of the story, I admit I felt bored and was wishing for something “to happen”. Then it clicks in me- life isn’t about “happenings”. It’s about the little things. It’s about being present for all the little moments. I definitely want to see Linklater win director of the year. My grade: A-.

Imitation Game- I went to this movie with a friend. It was an engaging film. It has a very interesting story of Alan Turing, the man who invented the first computer. He and his team use his invention to decode what the Nazis were doing during World War II, and therefore help the Allies win the war. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing and he plays it so well. He has excellent timing in his delivery. Keira Knightley did a good job as Joan Clarke. She is always great at immersing herself in the story. The supporting actors did well also. This is a solid film. My grade: A-.

Wild- I went to Wild on Christmas Day. I love everything that Reese Witherspoon is in. She did a fine job in this film, though I feel the standout performance is Laura Dern who plays Cheryl’s late mother. Cheryl journeys through grief as she walks the Pacific Coast Trail. We feel every physical ache and pain she feels. We feel the emotional depth of her heartbreak. I will say the film as a whole moved slowly. My grade: B.

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“WALTER”

walterInstead of getting together over Christmas this year, my family decided to take a trip to Palm Springs, CA over New Years. There were 10 of us total (my brother and his wife were unable to make it). We planned to do some sightseeing around town and just spend time together as a family. In my research of activities around the Palm Springs area, I discovered that the Palm Springs International Film Festival was going to start at the end of our stay there. I spent time reading about and watching trailers for all the films scheduled to show on January 2 (the only day I would be able to attend). The film “Walter” immediately grabbed my attention. Obviously the fact that William H Macy is in it piqued my interest. (because let’s be real, who doesn’t love him?) More than that though, it was the story that intrigued me. Here was a guy, Walter, who believes he is a son of God and has the power to determine if people were going to heaven or hell.

When January 2 arrived, I was so excited. This girl from Minnesota has never done anything like a film festival before. I love all types of movies, but especially ones with unique story lines. I headed to the Camelot Theater early to get in line. The evening air was cold to the native Californians. For me, though, the 57 degrees felt great! When it was time to proceed in, I was incredibly psyched.

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I tagged along with two other girls that were near me in line and sat with them towards the front of the auditorium. I scurried back out to the lobby to make a quick bathroom stop. In the hallway I was awestruck to run into Amber Stevens West and Andrew J West (who plays Walter in the film). They were very pleasant.  After going back into the theater and telling the girls who I had just seen, I went back out to the lobby with one of them to get autographs and pictures with them. It was so so thrilling!

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Then it was time for the film “Walter” to start! So exciting! In the movie, we are introduced to Walter (played by Andrew J West), a theater ticket taker (say that 10 times fast). He is an odd character that has difficulty with social interactions. He shuffles his feet as he walks and keeps his eyes glued to the floor. Walter has a crush on Kendall (played by Leven Rambin), a girl who works concessions. Unfortunately, Walter cannot find the way to express how he feels to her.  Vince (played by Milo Ventimiglia), another theater employee likes to call Walter names like “stupidfuck” and give him crap for his inability to interact. The shift manager at the theater, “Corey” (played by Jim Gaffigan), gives off the impression he would rather be anywhere but there. Walter’s home life consists of a strict routine. He does not get out of bed until all three of his set alarms go off. His mother Karen (played by Virginia Madsen) makes him eggs for every meal. She helicopter-mothers Walter, always asking if he feels okay. She washes, irons, and lays out Walter’s clothes every day.

One day when taking tickets (in the process telling the customers if they’re going to heaven or hell), Walter notices Greg in line (played by Justin Kirk). We find out that Greg is a ghost. He comes to Walter to find out if he’s going to heaven or hell. Walter is unable to get a read on Greg. Supposedly Greg shot himself 10 years prior and has been in limbo ever since. Greg continues to ‘stalk’ Walter and takes him to a church where his wife Allie (played by Neve Campbell) is rehearsing for her wedding to a man named Darren. (played by Brian White). Walter and Allie seem to recognize each other. In a flashback we see a young Walter (played by Nathaniel Semsen) in a hospital waiting room with his dad, Jim (played by Peter Facinelli). Young Walter watches Jim talking to a nurse, who happens to be this Allie. Because Walter is troubled about seeing a ghost, he starts going to a therapist. He goes to Dr. Corman (played by William H Macy). He is an unconventional therapist that seems eager to label Walter as crazy, asking “what kind of crazy are you?”

Through his interaction with Greg, Walter discovers they have a connection. Without revealing too much, the audience then sees Walter come to terms with the past. He goes on a journey of emotions. We see Walter become less isolated and more a part of the world. Walter no longer shuffles as he walks. He becomes more confident and sure of himself. He is able to easily communicate with Kendall. It is also through this transformation that Walter ceases to “judge” people he comes in to contact with.

As a viewer of this film, I found myself laughing many times throughout the movie. When the change in Walter occurs, I found myself crying with empathy. The whole cast is remarkable in this film. While Walter is the lead character, the rest of the supporting roles hold just as much depth and substance. It is through the people around him that Walter is able to go through his transformation. Director Anna Mastro does an incredible job of depicting this story in an authentic way. There is nothing forced. The music selections by Dan Romer also plays a significant role in showing us the story of Walter.

I appreciated that there wasn’t constant swearing throughout the film. The writer, Paul Shoulberg, doesn’t resort to the adage that “sex sells”. This movie soars by having a unique storyline and witty lines. In this day and age of cinema, it takes courage and guts to not rely on cliche elements.  “A film is, or should be, more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” (Stanley Kubrick). This is what I take away from Walter. If you’re not afraid to feel, then you too would love this movie.

After the credits rolled at this screening, there was a short Q&A session. Director Anna Mastro, several of the producers, actors Virginia Madsen, Andrew J West, Pamela Shaw, and Nathaniel Semsen answered questions from the audience.

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After the Q&A, I HAD to go meet Director Anna Mastro, Virginia Madsen, and talk to Andrew J West and Amber Stevens West again. They were all so nice. It was the coolest experience ever. I can’t wait for Walter to be released to theaters and hopefully it will come to Minnesota! Everyone involved with Walter did such an amazing job. It is truly something special to see great art in its purest form.

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(this is just an account of my experience seeing this film. I do not profess to be an expert movie reviewer)

link to movie trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW3eDVmsrkA