Monthly Archives: December 2016

1966: Qui Tacet Consentire

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1966: It was the year Star Trek and Batman debuted on television. Charles Whitman, in the first mass murder in U.S. history, killed 16 people from a tower at the University of Texas. And Adam Sandler, Halle Berry, and J.J. Abrams were born.

At the movies, it was still the era of biggest is better. The number one film at the box office was The Bible: In the Beginning, and second was Hawaii, both almost three hours long. British films were also prevalent, earning many Oscar nominations and occupying a golden age for that country that has never really returned. Two of the five nominees for Best Picture were British, including the winner.

alfie_originalAlfie was one of the British films nominated, and it was the star-making turn for Michael Caine, who plays an amoral cad who seduces a number of women and treats them quite badly. It’s only Caine’s performance that lets us tolerate his bad behavior. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert and written by Bill Naughton, based on his novel and play. It also starred Shelley Winters as what we might today call a cougar, and Jane Asher, who is now best known as being Paul McCartney’s girlfriend while he was in The Beatles. Also known for it’s theme song, “What’s It All About?”

russians_are_comingThe Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is something of an unusual film when it comes to Best Picture nominees–it’s a farce. A Russian sub gets grounded off the coast of Massachusetts, and panic sets in among the locals. It was directed by Norman Jewison, with a script by William Rose, who also wrote It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which bears much resemblance to the tone of this one. Alan Arkin received an Oscar nomination for his film debut as a Russian sailor, and it features a host of other well-known actors, such as Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, and Jonathan Winters. It’s one of my favorite comedies.
the_sand_pebbles_film_posterThe Sand Pebbles is a very typical film of the era, a lumbering road-show picture, three hours in length. Directed by Robert Wise, it tells the story of a U.S. gunboat trying to keep the peace in China in the 1920s. It starred Steve McQueen, who earned his only Oscar nomination. The parallels to the Vietnam War are there if you look for them. Interesting about McQueen–he had a persona as the outcast for almost his whole career. It’s not too many modern stars who played basically the same role over and over again.

whos_afraid_of_virginia_woolfOne of the splashiest films of 1966 was Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, the star-studded adaptation of Edward Albee’s scathing play about marriage. The directorial debut of Mike Nichols, the stars were two of the most famous people on the planet, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as the constantly warring Martha and George. Sandy Dennis and George Segal are the unsuspecting guests that stop in for a nightcap. There is perhaps more drinking in this film that any other ever made. Taylor and Dennis won Oscars for their roles.

220px-a_man_for_all_seasons_1966_movie_posterThe winner for Best Picture was A Man for All Seasons, directed by Fred Zinneman. A very British, very stately, very PBS sort of film, it tells the story of Sir Thomas More, played by Oscar-winner Paul Scofield, as he defies King Henry VIII in his attempt to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. This period of time has been seen in many films and TV shows (such as The Tudors and Wolf Hall) but this was one of the first (other than the sillier The Private Life of Henry VIII). Robert Shaw makes a robust king.

All of these films have something to their credit–there’s no clinkers here–but my vote would have gone for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which still manages to be viscerally exciting fifty years hence.

Other notable films that year that some might think should have nominated were Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup; and, of course, Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

 

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Review: Jackie

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I was born during the Kennedy administration, so Jackie Kennedy (and later Onassis) was always one of the most famous women in the world while I was growing up, until her death in 1994. But she was also mysterious, rarely giving interviews. I remember the first time I heard her speak, in a clip from her ballyhooed television tour of the White House. It was shocking–she had a breathy, baby-doll voice, sounding all the world like an empty-headed debutante. But she was much more complicated.

Jackie is an interesting film, directed by a Chilean, Pablo Larrain, and starring Natalie Portman as the recently widowed First Lady. The framing of the film is an interview by Theodore H. White (played by Billy Crudup, but credited only as “the Journalist”) that Jackie gives him a week after the assassination. It was in this interview that she mentioned JFK’s habit of listening to the original cast recording of the Broadway musical Camelot, thus supplying America a metaphor for his presidency.

On the surface, what he have here is a movie about a woman planning a funeral. The events are from the landing in Dallas to the funeral itself, then the interview, with flashbacks to the tour of the White House. The players are all there: Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Carroll Lynch as LBJ, along with actors representing LBJ’s assistant Jack Valenti (who would for years be the head of the MPAA), Lady Bird Johnson, and Greta Gerwig as the White House social secretary and Jackie’s school friend. Jackie is determined that he not be buried in Massachusetts, but at Arlington, and that there be a procession from the Capitol to the church.

While this is the skeleton of the film, Jackie is really about iconography and legacy. For someone my age, and perhaps those younger, there are many touchstones of our collective memories–the pink suit, bloodied, and the pillbox hat, the caisson carrying the casket, the riderless horse, the image of the Lincoln speeding away, JFK cradled in Jackie’s arms after she instinctively tried to grab a piece of his head from the trunk of the car. I was astonished that Larrain and screenwriter did not include John-John’s salute, which for many Americans was too much to bear.

Through her grief, Jackie is aware that she is molding a legacy. We see her in her private moments, and there is almost a feeling of uncomfortableness. She takes a shower, the blood washing off her skin. She smokes incessantly, though she tells Crudup pointedly that she does not smoke–she has full editorial control of the interview.

The film is short, and is mostly a collage of images, told out of order, a portrait of grief and legacy-building. Portman nails the voice, as well as being very convincing in her duality–the public face, and the private woman who is nobody’s fool.

Jackie isn’t quite the film I expected. It has an experimental feel to it. It’s very talky, with a long scene between Portman and a priest (John Hurt) on the nature of suffering. This film is not cheerful, and is much more thoughtful than entertaining, but for Baby Boomers it will have resonance.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Six

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Kind of a weird week as there isn’t much in the way of new releases or expansions.

I’m not entirely sure when the contest will be stopping because I really would like to keep rolling through the sludge of early January (we MUST have a contest the week Monster Trucks opens!) and the wide expansions of things like Live By Night, La La Land, Hidden Figures, The Founder, etc.  Even January 27th looks like an interesting weekend to tackle.

SCORES AS OF 12/27/16:
James – 32
Jackrabbit Slim – 24
Marco – 22
Juan – 12
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 9
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 30TH, 2016.  

What will Sing earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What % will Passengers fall this week?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Fences earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, December 30th by noon EST.  Good luck!

Opening in Las Vegas, Christmas Weekend, 2016

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I’m in Michigan visiting the family, but most of these films are opening nationwide Christmas weekend across the country.

I just reviewed Fences (78) below. Denzel Washington: great actor, Denzel Washington: director, not so great. Should get a few Oscar nominations for acting.

Passengers (41) is the big team up of two of today’s hottest stars: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and it appears to be a dud. Probably will wait for home video for this one.

Favorite headline this week was the New York Times review of Why Him? (38). “Why Him? Why This Movie?” James Franco has fast become a warning to not see a film.

Jackie (81) is Oscar bait for Nataline Portman as Mrs. Kennedy, and is getting all-around good reviews. On my must-see list.

Lion (68) is the kind of movie I usually avoid–boy is adopted by Australian parents, tries to find his real family in India, but Nicole Kidman (not much of a fan of hers) and Dev Patel have Oscar buzz.

Sing (60) seems to be an aminated version of American Idol, which means I will probably never see it. Lots of big names in the voice talent, though: Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey, and Jennifer Hudson

Worst movie of the week seems to be Assassin’s Creed (36), as we still wait for a good movie to be based on a video game. Topic for discussion: what is the best film based on a video game, or have there been none?

 

Review: Fences

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Here’s what I learned while watching Fences: Denzel Washington is a great actor, and this is one of this greatest performances, but Denzel Washington is not a great director.

August Wilson’s play was years in the making. He wrote the screenplay well over a decade ago (he died in 2005) and insisted that it be directed by a black director. Finally Washington got it made, and it is a showcase of great acting and some brutally powerful dialogue. But Washington’s ham-fisted direction, along with an ending that defies belief (I’ve never read or seen the play, so I don’t know if that was Wilson’s idea) hamper what could have been a great film, but it merely a good one.

Washington plays Troy Maxson, a garbageman in Pittsburgh in the late ’50s. He is bitter, because he was a great baseball player but never got a chance at the Majors (he says that Jackie Robinson couldn’t have even made some of the teams he played on). He has a devoted but weary wife (Viola Davis) and a teenage son (Jovan Adepo), who wants to play college football, but Washington doesn’t trust that football will do right by him (to show how different times were then from now, when a college scholarship for an inner city black youth is like a golden ticket). He also has a son from a previous marriage (Russell Hornsby) who is a musician, which Washington doesn’t approve of.

Washington mostly sits in his backyard, drinking gin and telling tall tales with his friend and co-worker (Stephen McKinley Henderson). He talks about wrestling with Death for three days and three nights. He has also been building a fence for ages. This is the central metaphor of the play and film, signifying the title. Henderson tells him at one point, “Fences can keep people out, or they can keep people in.”

There are some highly-charged moments in the play, dealing with circumstances I don’t wish to spoil, since I didn’t know they were coming. But Washington makes no real attempt to “break open” the play, including only a few minor scenes that are not set in his house or yard. I’m not a person who believes a film based on a play has to be broken out, but Fences seems claustrophobic. Of course, maybe this was Washington’s intention. I’m sure it was not his intention to have strangely framed scenes, with characters wandering off a distance before cutting to a close two shot of them, or characters at the edge of a frame for no particular reason. There is also some instances of weather to heighten dramatic effect, something I find to be lazy.

But as for Washington’s performance, wow! This cements his status as one of the great American actors, ever. He’s made some bad movies, sure, and even possibly some bad performances, but this character is fully realized, and every emotion is etched on his face. He’s a voluble character, but it’s his few quiet moments that ring with me. Davis is no less his match, and surely will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She has a couple of big scenes, letting Washington know where their relationship stands.

The screenplay has some very funny dialogue, too, but a few stagey scenes that don’t work, such as Washington telling his best friend and son how he left home at the age of fourteen. Surely that would have come up before in their relationships, but it needed to laid out as exposition for what would come next. It’s a bit clumsy,

Fences is a crowd-pleaser, and it is great to see a film about the black experience in America by a black director with a black cast. As the film is full of baseball metaphors, Fences is a clean single, but not a home run.

Review: Miss Sloane

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On its facade, Miss Sloane is about the sleazy nature of doing business in Washington. But behind it is an interesting commentary on feminism and the notion of “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It also features a blazing performance by Jessica Chastain, one of our finest actresses.

The subject is lobbying. A lobbyist is a person who, like a lawyer (I think most of them are) takes a client to try to influence lawmakers to give that client what they want. These lobbyists don’t usually care what their client wants, therefore lobbyists are also people who have no trouble sleeping at night. The infantile, very naive part of my brain wonders why there are lobbyists at all–don’t our representatives vote for what they believe in, reflecting their constituents’ will? Boy, am I stupid.

Chastain is a lobbyist and very good at her job. Her firm is being courted by what I presume is the NRA, but the initials are never spoken aloud. They are worried about a bill that would apply background checks to all sales, including within families, etc. (a bill like this just passed in Nevada, amazingly). They would like Chastain to go after the female voter and make guns seem more feminine. She laughs at them–she is personally for gun control. Sam Waterston, her boss, is angry (as he should be) and she is lured away by the firm represented by the Brady people. It turns out she has principles.

So there’s a lot of cross-talk about gun control, but this is only a smoke screen. The movie is really about Chastain and the special character in movies of the hard-driven career woman. She is the spiritual daughter of Faye Dunaway in Network, even to the point where she realizes she will never have a relationship or family, so gets her jollies with male escorts. She also sleeps as little as possible, getting through the day on uppers.

This got me to thinking–would this be the same movie with a male lead? Or would it have been a movie at all? The script is an original one by Jonathan Perera. I assume, given the title, that it was always about a woman. Some movies have changed the genders of the lead, but I think Perera, consciously or not, has written a parable about career women that once again shows the emptiness of the life of a woman who puts all her life into her career. It’s becoming kind of a cliche.

That being said, the film is okay without being great. It is built around a huge twist at the end that I won’t dare reveal but that makes you look back at the whole film in your head and isn’t entirely plausible. It is directed by John Madden, now out of the Exotic Marigold Hotel, with a breakneck intensity that could have had some moments of space–it’s hard to find room to breathe in its pacing.

But whatever plaudits this film deserves all belong to Chastain. She’s had a very busy career, and been in good movies and bad, and I haven’t seen all of them (I’d still like to catch up with her version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie) but she is in firm control here. Though the character is a cliche, she makes her real, and finds moments of authenticity that aren’t in the script.

Miss Sloane, if anything, will make you disgusted to be am American, and compel you to take a shower. Lobbyists, it is implied, are the ones that control the strings of government. They lie, cheat, and blackmail. All of that I believe.

Review: La La Land

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There is a scene in La La Land where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, on their first date, visit the Griffith Observatory (this is after a screening of Rebel Without a Cause, which is also set there). The two have no trouble getting inside the closed building, and operate all the contraptions. Surrounded by a dome of stars, they lift from the ground and dance in mid-air.

This scene says a lot about La La Land, most of it good. It is unabashedly nostalgic, unapologetically romantic, and doesn’t have a bit of gravitas. But it is thoroughly enjoyable, and those who don’t want things to get heavy at the movies will enjoy it more than those who do.

The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, even before he made Whiplash. That film got him some credibility, so it was somewhat easier to get an old-fashioned musical with new songs made. Almost all musicals these days are based on Broadway shows or use well-known songs–Chazelle was taking a huge risk. He also took a risk in using two stars who are not known for their singing and dancing.

The movie starts with a traffic jam in L.A., and everyone starts singing and dancing. Two of the motorists have a little road rage. One is a barista and aspiring actress (Stone), the other is a jazz pianist (Gosling). They will meet cute a few times–once when he is fired from his job for playing jazz at a restaurant and not Christmas carols, and at a party where he is reduced to wearing a red vinyl jacket and play ’80s hits.

He worships classic jazz, even owning a stool belonging to Hoagy Carmichael;she struggles at auditions, enduring rude behavior while she’s in the middle of a crying scene. The two will fall in love while encouraging each other’s dreams, even while the process of achieving them will drive them apart.

In an original music, there are a couple of things that are keys to success. One is the songs, of course. They were written by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. While you may not be humming them after you leave the theater, they are engaging enough, especially a ballad Stone sings during an audition (called “Audition”). Stone is the better singer, Gosling the better dancer, and while the film hearkens back to the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, these two are no match for the old pros. La La Land is more like the French film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, who had an equally musically handicapped Catherine Deneuve.

If Stone is not the greatest singer in the world, she does give the film most of its energy. She is a consummate comedic actress (she shows this every time she hosts Saturday Night Live) and makes us feel the character’s every emotion. Gosling, while not quite as interesting, acquits himself well, especially considering he didn’t know how to play piano before the filming began. The film was supposed to star Miles Teller and Emma Watson, which would have been interesting but not as good.

Chazelle also chooses a very colorful palette. Stone’s dresses, designed by Mary Zophres, encompass almost all of the primary colors, and Los Angeles is depicted as someplace magical (Stone has to walk through Hollywood late at night and not only is there no danger, there are no people–this is not a realistic film). I’m also amazed, and somewhat awestruck, that Chazelle at no time utilizes the Hollywood sign, a major cliche in any film about the place.

Will this film win the Oscar for Best Picture? It might, if voters want to go for something escapist to retreat from the horrible year we’ve just been through. Though there is conflict, and some will find the ending a let-down, it is an ode to how movies have always existed in the minds of dreamers, to take us away from problems, not to put them before us.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Five

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SCORES AS OF 12/19/16:

James – 24
Jackrabbit Slim – 22
Marco – 9
Rob – 9
Juan – 8
Joe Webb – 6
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 23RD, 2016.  

What will Sing earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will Passengers earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Assassin’s Creed earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #3

What will Why Him? earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #4

What will Fences earn on Christmas Day (it opens Sunday) (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #5

What % will Star Wars: Rogue One drop this weekend? (Closest scores 2 points, second closest scores 1 point)

Answers are due on Friday, December 23rd by noon EST.  Good luck!

Opening in Las Vegas, December 16, 2016

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Just a few openings this weekend, but among them are perhaps the highest-grossing film of the year and the Best Picture Oscar winner.

We’ll start with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (65), which was critic-proof anyway. Most of the brickbats are for the script, which apparently offers nothing new, but Star Wars geeks are turning out in droves.

The presumptive Oscar winner is La La Land (92), which I saw last night and will review tomorrow. It is grand, albeit escapist entertainment, with some charming lead performances. Since it is about Hollywood, it probably has a leg up on the competition (see Argo, The Artist).

Finally the bomb of the week is Collateral Beauty (23), getting ripped apart by critics, some who can hardly believe its existence. Topic for discussion: can Will Smith’s career be saved?

Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea may not be the season’s feel-good movie, but it is one of the best, and Casey Affleck will be tough to beat for Best Actor honors come Oscar time.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (it’s hard to believe this is only his third film) the film is a searing look at grief and the ties of family, and even though it is steeped in tragedy, it has a rude humor to it, I am somewhat familiar with the part of Massachusetts where it takes place (and was filmed) and they get that right, too, with the gray skies and serene but forbidding ocean.

The story is pretty simple: Affleck plays a man living a life of quiet desperation in a one-room basement apartment, working as a maintenance man in Boston. One day he gets a call–his brother, who has a history of heart trouble, is in the hospital. By the time he gets up the coast, his brother is dead. He is astounded at the reading of the will to discover that he has been entrusted guardianship of his nephew, a teenager (Lucas Hedges). The boy’s mother is an alcoholic who spent time in a psych ward.

Despite his love for his nephew, Affleck is aghast at this. He doesn’t want to leave Boston, and when we consider that he gets a free house and an income from his brother’s estate, we wonder why. But it is slowly revealed that Affleck has an ex-wife in town (Michelle Williams) and has dealt with tragedy before, and the good times he spent on his brother’s boat with his nephew can’t compensate for his loss.

Don’t let the somber nature of this film scare you away. The dialogue is brimming with humor, especially the sparring of Affleck and Hedges. Affleck discovers Hedges basically has a dream life–he is on the hockey team, in a band, and has two girlfriends. He is sleeping with one, but the other has only progressed to “basement stuff.” In one absurdly funny scene, Hedges enlists Affleck to keep his girlfriend’s mother distracted while he has sex with his girlfriend in her room.

The film is long, but moves by quickly. Lonergan and editor Jennifer Larne have seamlessly intercut flashbacks. In one scene, when a doctor is taking Affleck to the morgue to see his brother, there’s a cut to a scene with the brother (Kyle Chandler) very much alive in a hospital bed, being told of his condition. There’s an initial “wait a minute” moment, but then we understand and after that, without use of changing Affleck’s appearance (it would have been easy to give him a beard or something in flashbacks) we instinctively know when we are in flashback.

The performances are all top-notch. Williams only has a few scenes, but one of them is a doozy, when she runs into Affleck with her baby from another husband and apologizes to him, and he just can’t take it. Hedges, who was in Moonlight Kingdom (thought I don’t remember him in it, but one of his girlfriends is played by Kara Hayward, who was the young lead in that film) is a future star. But it’s Affleck’s movie. I’ve read that Matt Damon was initially to play the part (and direct) and then John Krasinski (who ended up producing) but for whatever qualities they have Affleck is the right choice. He’s a broken man, a shell of himself, and the weariness shows on his face. One particular moment sticks with me. He has at his brother’s funeral and meets Williams’ new husband for the first time. He doesn’t say anything, but they way his eyes wander over his man shows us what he’s thinking. It’s a wonderful performance.

I haven’t seen everything yet, and I haven’t quite sorted out what my favorite film of the year is yet, but it just may be Manchester by the Sea.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Four

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SCORES AS OF 12/12/16:

With two “within 250k” bonuses, Jackrabbit Slim jumps from last to first!

Jackrabbit Slim – 16
James – 14
Marco – 9
Juan – 8
Joe Webb – 6
Nick – 4
Rob – 3

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 16TH, 2016.  

What will Rogue One: A Star Wars Story earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will Rogue One: A Star Wars Story earn from Thursday evening/midnight shows?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Collateral Beauty earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points.  2 bonus points for being within 250k on this one)

 

Answers are due on Friday, December 16th by noon EST.  Good luck!

Opening in Las Vegas, December 9, 2016

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We missed last week, but it was only a second-rate horror film called Incarnate and another bomb, Man Down, which has this priceless quote by Richard Roeper: “Sometimes we talk about seeing a performance so real, so believable, so authentic, it takes our breath away. Then there’s Shia LaBeouf’s work in “Man Down.””

This week offers better choices. I saw Manchester by the Sea (96) today (review on Monday) and you can believe the hype. It’s a film about grief and family, and it’s not the feel-good film of the year, but it’s one of the best. I haven’t seen Denzel Washington in Fences yet, but Casey Affleck has got to be the Best Actor frontrunner.

Miss Sloane (64) is about a controversial subject: gun control. Jessica Chastain stars as a lobbyist taking on the N.R.A. Might not play well in Trump country. I’ve always been fascinated by lobbyists, especially those who work for repugnant issues. Who could live with themself as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry? Someone needs to make a film.

Lighter fare can surely be found in Office Christmas Party (42), which probably brings the raunch, but is strictly a rental (if that) for me. Starring T.J. Miller, whom I’ve never heard of before but gave the film a little extra publicity by getting arrested this week.

Tom Ford gives us his second film after A Single Man with Nocturnal Animals (67). I’ve read about the plot, in which a woman (Amy Adams) reads a novel by her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal), which becomes a story-within-a-story, but some critics are finding the film head-scratching.

On the 15-film shortlist for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is The Eagle Huntress (72), about a Kazakh girl who is trying to break into the male-dominated world of eagle hunting (which looks to be like falconry, but with a bigger bird).

Review: The Founder

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During the 2000s Michael Keaton’s film career had fallen into the abyss. It was a mixture of non-starters and thankless roles in films no one liked much where he played the father of a popular young female star of the time. It appeared the comedic and dramatic talents he’d displayed in 1980s and 1990s cinema weren’t going to be seen on the big screen again.

But out of nowhere he came right back into the spotlight in the past couple of years, getting rave reviews for prominent roles in two consecutive Best Picture winners (Birdman & Spotlight). And his performance in John Lee Hancock’s ‘The Founder’ may be the best work he’s ever done.

In this true story, Keaton stars as Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman in mid-1950s America with a wife (Laura Dern) tired of their struggles and his long absences on the road. His life changes when he is intrigued by a fast food restaurant called McDonalds run by two brothers (Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch) that seems far superior to all the other diners he’s been at throughout the country. In a marvellous extended sequence, the McDonald brothers explain how they came up with a restaurant that delivers burgers faster and more efficiently than anyone else around. Kroc sees the enormous potential and starts up franchises of the format to great success. But soon the McDonalds & Kroc come into major conflict into how the business should be run and Kroc pulls out all the stops to win the battle.

There are multiple reasons as to why ‘The Founder’ works so well; firstly in demonstrating the battle between the McDonalds and Kroc and how they’re a metaphor for how America operated during the 20th century. The McDonalds belong to the first half of that century, utilising hard work and knowhow to develop a successful, well-run business that they can take pride in. For them that’s the American Dream.

But unfortunately for them they’re now in the 2nd half of the 20th Century and a different mindset amongst American business and culture is developing, represented by Kroc. It isn’t enough to be a good stand-alone small business, you’ve got to expand and dominate the market. Not only should you look to expand statewide, but countrywide and then globally.

Kroc is the personification of this mentality. He may not have created the McDonalds concept but he knows how to market and exploit it and in the latter stages of 20th Century America that becomes more significant. Constantly throughout the film we see Kroc chaffing at the restrictions imposed on him to exploit the brand by the old-style, more considered McDonalds brothers and something has got to give. Eventually Kroc transforms into a ruthless businessman who (notwithstanding a large lump sum) takes everything from the brothers, right down to their surname.

For this to convince (even though it’s a true story) we have to be convinced that Kroc is transformed from a likeable, frustrated, battling salesman to the ruthless businessman who will destroy and discard anyone who doesn’t fit into his mindset. It’s a difficult challenge but Keaton is fully up to the task. The role is a great fit of not only his manic comedy energy but the ruthlessness and cold-blooded nature he displayed in his more villainous roles. He doesn’t make Kroc a hero or even entirely a villain but a real characterisation of someone who was sinking in life and decided that to rise above the waves he wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way, not even his wife.

In the early stages of the film I was dreading the domestic scenes between Kroc and his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) as I thought it would go through the standard domestic clichés that films like this do; but here it’s far more interesting. We see in the early scenes when Kroc is struggling that while there’s a level of discontent between the two, they seem to get along fine. If Kroc had remained a battling salesman all his life, they probably would’ve stayed married till death; but this isn’t that story. As Kroc becomes successful and admired for his business acumen, it’s clear that it’s leading to a rift in the marriage because the roles have become reversed. When he was struggling, she could mildly admonish him for not being stable enough for them to enjoy their middle-class existence. But when he becomes a successful entrepreneur, he has desires for an upper-class elite lifestyle and she is stuck in wanting the modest suburban existence. Even though the end for them comes in a sudden and callous manner, it makes sense with how their relationship deteriorated.

Director John Lee Hancock takes an interesting style to the film. Considering there’s pretty ruthless behaviour and devastated individuals during the latter stages, he could’ve easily made it into a downbeat, sombre affair about the ruthlessness of modern American capitalism but instead gives it a fairly breezy, light touch (perhaps because he’s more sympathetic to Kroc’s behaviour than most would be?). In anycase, I think it works well as it treats Kroc objectively instead of one-note monster, and giving insight into how and why he became the ruthless and cruel corporate power he was.

Overall, ‘The Founder’ is an excellent film that amongst its other virtues gives fascinating insight and detail into how McDonalds became the worldwide phenomenon it still is today. And it also contains at its centre an outstanding Michael Keaton performance that might enable him to get the Oscar some thought he was going to get a couple of years ago.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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I’m not sure whether I liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It smelled like a cash grab–of course J.K. Rowling, who wrote the thing, doesn’t need it, but I’m sure Warner Brothers appreciates it. The book upon which it is based is a textbook mentioned in one of the Harry Potter books, but the film is its own creation, spun out of the bestiary that is the book. It is mildly diverting, but has little of the charm of the Potter series. To overuse a phrase, it is “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The plot concerns the author of the book, Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne at his most puppyish) who is visiting New York. He is carrying a suitcase full of magical beasts. It is 1926, and there is an evil wizard about who is trying to provoke a war between wizards and “nonmaj’s” (muggles in England). A few of the creatures manage to escape, and Scamander is arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who will become his ally (and if I recognized the twinkle in her eye, his love interest). There is also a nonmaj baker involved (Dan Fogler) who provides most of the interesting moments in the film.

Having already known there are to be four more films in this series, I kind of felt the weight of the whole project. If it had been a one and done it might have been more psychologically pleasing, but to think that this stretches for another eight hours plus is Peter Jacksonian. We’re not sure who the villain is until the end of the film, and we get a surprise guest as the head bad guy, who says he can not be held. I guess he’s right.

The film is pretty grim for young children. Two people are killed in rather gruesome fashion, and while some of the creatures are cute (the favorite of most would probably the the thing that looks like a platypus and steals shiny objects, or the oversized rhino-thing that wants to mate with Fogler) but there’s not enough of them to make much of an impact. Sitting here two days later after seeing it and I can’t even remember their names.

I’m sure this will tie in more with the Potter series. Album Dumbledore was mentioned as being the only teacher who didn’ want Redmayne kicked out of Hogwarts, but a reason wasn’t given. Maybe we’ll see a young Dumbledore eventually. But keeping all this arcana straight can be headache-inducing.

I imagine Potter enthusiasts will like this film, but I can’t be sure about the rest of us. I’m thumbs sideways on it. I won’t rush out to see the next one, which will also be directed by David Yates. Really, another film where a city is destroyed, and then put back together (see Doctor Strange)?