Category Archives: 2016

The 89th Oscars: The (Correct) Envelope, Please

Standard

To get to the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the flub first. It will overshadow anything else from this Oscar ceremony, the 89th, and is right up there with Sacheen Littlefeather and Robert Opel, the streaker, in terms of Oscar moments of sheer nuttiness.

To recap, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde (both looking fresh from the plastic surgeon’s office), presented Best Picture. To that point, La La Land looked like the film to beat, picking up six awards (though it did not win near as many as some people thought it would). Beatty opened the envelope, and appeared to be vamping, checking to see if there was something else in the envelope, and looking like he was just teasing the nominees. Dunaway, taken aback, chided him, so Beatty handed her the envelope and she said, “La La Land.” General pandemonium, and two of the producers managed to give acceptance speeches. Beatty hung around, though, and the third producer said, “We lost.” The producer at the mic, Justin Horowitz, announced there had been a mistake, and that Moonlight had won Best Picture. To prove he was not joking, he held up the right card. Gasps, and the La La Land crowd exited the stage and was replaced by the Moonlight contingent.

Host Jimmy Kimmel, at first blaming Steve Harvey (who famously mixed up the name of Miss Universe) found Beatty there to take his lumps. The star realized something was wrong, as he had the Best Actress envelope and card, but instead of pointing it out to someone who could so something about it, he simply handed the envelope to Dunaway, who read out the name of the film on the card.

PricewaterhouseCooper, the accounting firm that has had the Oscar account for 83 years, will now have some explaining to do, and there will doubtless be tense meetings between them and the Academy in the coming days. The best guess as to what happened: there are two envelopes for every award, one at each end of the stage, locked in cases. Each of the holders of those cases know every winner. In error, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the extra Best Actress envelope (as Emma Stone pointed out, she still had the original envelope in her hand while she was addressing the press). Beatty did not notice that the envelope said “Best Actress” on it (a close-up verifies this), and the confusion resulted.

So, why didn’t Beatty ask for help, and after Dunaway, really quite innocent in all this, read the wrong name, why didn’t the PwC person immediately come out? Two minutes went by, and it was a stagehand that pointed out to the La La Land producers that a mistake had been made. Methinks a head or two will roll at PwC, and the Academy may seriously question the continued connection.

There have been mix-ups before, but nothing on this scale. In 1933, Will Rogers presented Best Director and upon opening the envelope said, “Come on up and get it, Frank.” Frank Capra started for the stage, but unfortunately for him it was Frank Lloyd who won. In 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong envelope, but it was caught in time. Davis quipped, “Wait until the NAACP hears about this.”

This brouhaha overshadows what I consider the biggest upset in the Best Picture race since 1982, when Chariots of Fire bested Reds. So how did Moonlight do it? It was, adjusted for inflation, the lowest-budgeted film ever to take the top prize. It is the first film solely about black America (I don’t recall any white faces, maybe some teachers in the school), and it’s the first film with a gay protagonist to win (when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, it was thought the older voters couldn’t tolerate a gay-themed film. Finally times have changed). It is also a critic’s darling–it was second on both the Sight & Sound and Film Comment polls for best film of 2016 (La La Land was 16th on Sight & Sound’s poll, and didn’t even make Film Comment’s). To put it simply–it is the most indie-ish, to create a word, film to ever win Best Picture.

It has become almost routine for Best Picture and Best Director to be split. While it usually happened about once a decade from the mid-’20s to the mid-’90s, it has happened eight times in the last nineteen years, close to a fifty-percent rate (that’s even considering a stretch from 2006-2011 when they matched). Clearly, the younger voters have no problem splitting their ticket, as is usual at festivals like Cannes, when they never match. La La Land won some technical awards, some musical awards, Best Actress and Best Director, but was not judged Best Picture. Why?

Certainly there may have been some that simply thought Moonlight was better, and may have voted for director Barry Jenkins as well. But what about those who voted for Best Director winner Damien Chazelle (now the youngest director ever to win, breaking an 85-year-old record) but did not vote for La La Land? I am not in the industry and know zero Academy voters, but I can surmise that it was a market correction–after last year’s bad press over #Oscarssowhite, some voters were determined to make sure this Oscar ceremony showed diversity. There was a Black person nominated in each acting category (two of them won, for only the second time) and perhaps voters figured they’d honor La La Land’s artistry but show they aren’t prejudiced by voting for Moonlight. There may be also a bit of anti-Trump backlash, as well. The first Best Picture of his presidency is about gay black men.

I began to sense an upset early on, when La La Land lost both sound awards and then editing. But it began to pick up steam, and though it lost Original Screenplay, that was expected. Once Chazelle won I thought it was in the bag. I was wrong.

Other than that, the show was the usual bloated affair, clocking in as the longest in about ten years. Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host–he was not to blame for the snafu in any way, so I hope he is invited back. His only cringe-worthy moment was bringing in a bus-load of tourists into the theater. In what I’m sure was meant to be charming, the stunt came off as “Look, watch the great unwashed interact with their betters,” and went on too long. The parachuted candy worked much better. The Matt Damon trolling was brutal but, I admit, funny. He must be a damn good sport.

Some Oscar tidbits: Casey and Ben Affleck now become the 16th pair of siblings to win Oscars. Affleck had ceded favorite status when he lost SAG and his sexual assault charges hovered over him. But the SAG win was over-rated for Denzel Washington; he had never won one, but had won two Oscars.

Kevin O’Connell, a sound mixer, received his 21st nomination this year. Sounds great, and it is, but he had never won. He did this year, for Hacksaw Ridge. In his acceptance speech he looked like he would explode with relief. Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations without a win, was nominated for 13 Hours, but was removed when he got caught campaigning. It would have been a delicious irony if the film had won but he didn’t get a statuette.

Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim to win an Oscar. All told, I count five Black people who won Oscars, which I think must be a record. Coupling that with Moonlight’s win (although the three producers of that film are white) is really the story of the night–the Academy has tried to be more diverse, and it seems to have worked.

Advertisements

Review: Bright Lights Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (TV) (2016)

Standard

fisher_reynolds

When a documentary on the famed mother/daughter combination called ‘Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds’ was in the works last year, it already promised to be a notable event.

Reynolds and then Fisher both had been part of pop culture for over 60 years and had rather similar careers; both had one film that defined their lives, both were multi-talented enough that when their film careers stalled they were able to successfully branch out into other areas (Fisher with screenwriting, Reynolds on Broadway and cabaret) and both had messy private lives that often played out in public

But when they tragically died almost simultaneously late last year, this documentary carried extra weight and poignancy to it and its release was brought forward due to public interest.

The documentary isn’t a traditional biography on Reynolds & Fisher; it’s more a potted history of them mixed with fly-on-the-wall observations of their lives interspersed with old home movies. Also, while this documentary is portrayed as a joint Reynolds/Fisher take, it really is largely from Fisher’s point of view and is mainly her story and her perspectives on her mother and life in general.

As a take on Carrie Fisher’s life, the overall impression one gets is that she was finally at peace with herself and the life she had lived. She was at peace with the tumult of her childhood when her father Eddie Fisher left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor which became a huge international story. While it isn’t directly said, clearly the whole saga had a major impact on her psyche for decades; how could it not?

We see Carrie at peace with her relationship with Debbie, which had at times been on rocky ground in previous decades. We see them live next door to each other with both of them bantering and conversing like they’re an older version of the mother/daughter from The Gilmore Girls.

Also, we see Carrie at peace in her relationship with her father Eddie Fisher. In perhaps the most poignant segment of the documentary, we see Carrie taking care of Eddie only months before his death in 2010. To see Eddie – once one of the most popular singers in America – sickly and incapacitated sharing tender moments with a daughter who’d he had a difficult relationship with, is genuinely moving.

And we see Carrie at peace with her eternal fame from the Star Wars franchise. We see her at a fan convention (something she only took to late in life) signing autographs and conversing with people of all ages who see her as a heroic figure. Fame overwhelmed her when it hit in the late 70s (especially as she had no desire to be an actress) but as she discusses after the convention she clearly has come to terms with how much her role and performance have meant to others.

A great asset of the documentary is the plethora of home movie footage it shows of Reynolds/Fisher in the early years right down to Carrie at The Great Wall Of China in the 1980s. The most significant home movie footage from a Reynolds cabaret show in the early 1970s where a reluctant Carrie is brought on to stage to impressively sing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. To then see Reynolds in the present day get emotional at how Carrie never wanted to sing publicly is touching.

As for Reynolds, we get to see her perform in the present day in her one-woman shows. It’s rather sad in one way as she clearly struggles at times (her health problems are a constant theme throughout the documentary) but the admiring older audience at the shows don’t seem to mind and are glad that she’s still performing after so many decades.

As a documentary, ‘Bright Lights’ is rather frustrating at times. It jumps about in time constantly and feels a bit messy, although the closing stages surrounding Debbie receiving a SAG Lifetime Achievement award helps give it focus. Also, one feels that the documentary might’ve had better structure and purpose if the documentary had been told from the perspective of Carrie’s brother Todd (who does provide observation & narration on occasion).

But perhaps ‘Bright Lights’ is better served by its rather messy style than being a more traditional style as it isn’t about providing a comprehensive analysis of Debbie & Carrie’s lives, but capturing what made them tick and observing the chaos and contradictions they lived through. And especially with Carrie, it does seem to capture her essence as a personality and what made her so appealing to the public during her life.

Overall, ‘Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds’ is a worthy celebration of two remarkable lives.

Review: The Founder

Standard

Founder.jpg

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.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Three (or Two)

Standard

HAGEBOC

Someone STILL needs to come up with a new logo

Juan – 6
Joe Webb – 6 (or 2)
James – 5 (or 3)
Nick – 4 (or 2)
Rob – 2
Jackrabbit Slim – 2
Marco – 1

HAGEBOC – December 2-4, 2016:

Predict the #1 film & gross of the weekend.

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within $500k earns 2 extra points.

BONUS

  1. Will Jackie’s per theater average come in ABOVE or BELOW Natalie Portman’s last opening weekend average (A Tale of Love & Darkness, $18,585)?

LOGO BONUS: Come up with a HAGEBOC 2016 logo. 1 point per entry per person (maximum of 1pt).

Answers are due on Thursday, December 1st by 11:59 pm blog time, except the logo which is due by Monday December 5th 12:00pm blog time.  Good luck!

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Two

Standard

HAGEBOC

Someone needs to come up with a new logo

Joe Webb – 4
Nick – 2
Juan – 0
Jackrabbit Slim – 0
James – 0
Marco – 0
Rob – 0

HAGEBOC – November 25-27, 2016:

What will Moana gross Fri-Sun? Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 500k.

BONUS

Guess the top 3 – in order – movies on Thanksgiving Day only. (1 point awarded for each correct answer)

Answers are due on Thursday, November 24th by 10:00 pm blog time.  Good luck!

Films that opened in the USA Oct 21-23, 2016

Standard

Boo! A Madea Halloween (IMDB rating 4.8) – I’ve never seen any of the Madea films but I wouldn’t be alone here in Australia as afaik none of them have ever had a cinematic release here in Australia. As it is, at what appears to the 10th Madea film in the series managed to top the US box office. The films never do well with critics (or IMDB ratings) but clearly a significant section of the population love seeing Perry and his creation.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (6.4) – This is getting amongst the weaker reviews for Tom Cruise in his lengthy career as – whatever you think of him – he’s maintained a pretty impressive standard in his film work for someone who’s been almost exclusively mainstream Hollywood for his career. It would be interesting to see him try some character roles instead of the endless action/Reacher/MI films he’s been in in recent years.

Ouija: Origins Of Evil (6.8) – This is a modern rarity: a horror film with an excellent RT score. Seems pretty interesting going by its trailer – certainly the scariest trailer that’s ever had a Herman’s Hermits Song.

Keeping Up With The Joneses (5.4) – This comedy seemed promising; a time-worn but potentially amusing plot, a promising cast (reckon Jon Hamm would be great in the right comedy vehicle) and a director who has had some acclaimed films. But all indicators are that this is a misfire as it’s had terrible reviews (including one in the local paper here in Oz), poor imdb rating and even worse box office. That it’s release was delayed by six months was probably a warning sign. Seems like the umpteenth modern Hollywood comedy that is a misfire.

I’m Not Ashamed (6.4) – Story of one of the students who died in the 1999 Columbine school massacre and her Christian beliefs and perspective. Amongst the cast is 1970s star Jennifer O’Neill who apparently has been married 9 times!
Moonlight (8.6) – Youth drama (with Brad Pitt as one of the producers) which has got excellent IMDB and RT ratings.

El Jeremias (7.8) – Mexican family film.

American Pastoral (6.3) – Based on an acclaimed Phillip Roth novel looking at 1960s/1970s US society, this potentially could’ve been one of the most notable films of the year. But it critical and public reaction suggests its a disappointing misfire; perhaps star Ewan McGregor in his debut directorial effort bit off more than he could chew.

ISM (7.8) – Indian drama

Luck-Key (2016) – South Korean drama about an assassin who gets amnesia (see, not only Ron Howard films use this plot device) and becomes an actor.
The Hand-Maiden (8.0) – South Korean period film which has had much critical acclaim and was nominated for the Palme D’Or this year.

Michael Moore In Trumpland (5.9) – Michael Moore on his Twitter account has been pumping up the ‘record-breaking’ box office figures for this hastily-assembled film of his one-man show about the upcoming election. But in truth box-office mentions just highlight how far he’s fallen from 2004 when Farenheit 9/11 was a major cultural event (and a huge box office hit) that even here in Australia had people writing film reviews of it in the news section of the newspaper. You could dislike Moore back then, but you couldn’t ignore him.
Now, his influence has dissipated significantly, and this documentary which is apparently a love letter to Hillary Clinton (almost as unpopular as Trump and widely seen as the epitome of the political establishment) probably won’t help much.

In a Valley of Violence (6.0) – This American Western starring Ethan Hawke & John Travolta has gotten strong critical reviews (76%). With this and his great turn in the OJ miniseries, Travolta may be making yet another successful comeback against the odds

Tampopo (7.9) – Acclaimed 1985 Japanese film has been restored and re-released

King Cobra (7.1) – Biopic about a gay porn star has an interesting cast starring James Franco and various notable 80s/90s stars appearing in rare film modern-day film appearances (Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald, Christian Slater).

Wildflower (6.4) – American drama

We are X (8.7) – Documentary film about a Japanese rock band called… well the title gives it away

Spices Of Liberty (4.8) – Story of immigrants in America

It Had To Be You (7.5) – A neurotic jingle writer is offered marriage and has to weigh up whether to become married or pursue her fantasies. If this doesn’t sound like a cliché of modern American indy film it’s in there pitching.

Ugly, Dirty & Bad (7.9) – Re-release of a 1976 Italian black comedy

The Uncondemned (9.6) – US documentary

Review: Inferno

Standard

inferno

A decade ago I saw at the cinema the film version Dan Brown’s book ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Highly anticipated due to the success of the book, the film was considered a disappointment by many (although a big box-office hit) although I enjoyed it for what it was. While it never reached a level of profundity it perhaps desired, in terms of a throwaway mystery it was satisfying, with the mysteries worked out by main character Robert Langdon quite fun and the history and scenery of old Europe giving it a cultural aspect unusual in Hollywood big-budget films.

I didn’t see the 2009 followup ‘Angels And Demons’ and hadn’t really given any recent thought to any of the Dan Brown books/films, but because of circumstances I had the chance to see the third film in the series Inferno’ last night at the cinema and took it, hoping that would provide the same level of entertainment that The Da Vinci Code did. Alas, it was not to be.

The film dives right into the action with Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awaking in an Italian hospital having suffered injuries and amnesia after being apparently attacked. Still groggy, he is rushed out of his hospital room by the doctor taking care of him (Felicity Jones) when an assassin attempts to kill him. Eventually it becomes clear it’s all associated with a plot by wealthy geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) to severely reduce the world’s population. But how can Langdon save the day, not only still unwell but especially as most things aren’t what they seem?

Among the many things ‘Inferno’ gets wrong, probably its biggest one is forgetting how Langdon’s using his historical knowledge of ancient culture and artefacts to work out mysteries and provide knowledge was the most entertaining aspect of TDVC. We do get occasional mystery solving and bits of knowledge (you do learn where the word ‘quarantine’ comes from) but far too little.

And what we get instead isn’t impressive. Director Ron Howard – perhaps trying to compensate for the thinness of the material – frantically overdirects the film’s many action scenes and endless horror nightmares using every cinematic trick he knows. But instead of these scenes being exciting, the action scenes feel incoherent and uninteresting and the nightmare scenes are so overhyped they almost descend into parody territory. In his desire to make the film cutting-edge, Howard makes the film and his own directorial style seem distinctly old-hat.

Indeed a lot of this film seems to be based around things that would’ve been considered clichéd generations ago, starting with the central character having amnesia… an amnesia that of course that doesn’t impact the plot when required.

Even in minor details the film feels hackneyed. Whenever the film moves to a different location, we not only get the name of the city displayed but the time displayed. If the film made use of its race-against-the-clock concept it might be of value, but instead it almost feels like something you’d see in an Abrahams/Zucker film. And of course whenever a character uses the Internet or play a YouTube it occurs instally just as it never does in real life.

Also, we see a scene where there’s video evidence of Langdon stealing a precious artefact (Langdon can’t remember due to his memory) and I’m still not clear how this was resolved. As well, would a geneticist like Zoborist really be a billionaire?

There aren’t many positives to be had from ‘Inferno’. Irrfan Khan is enjoyable as a mysterious high-level security operative, the film gets a bit more interesting in the closing 25 minutes once a revelation is made about a major character and the scenery of various European cities is lovely to look at on the big screen.

But overall, just about everything about ‘Inferno’ seems tired, uninspired and dreary; even Tom Hanks can’t do much to save it. In the lengthy career of Ron Howard, this would have to go down as one of his weakest directorial efforts.

Films that opened in USA on Oct 7-9, 2016

Standard

Know it’s late but always like to keep a record of the films that opened in the US since this blog started, especially because if we see one of these films we can post a comment in the related thread:

The Girl On The Train (IMDB rating 6.7) – A big hit in America last weekend, and an even bigger hit here in Australia (where it was heavily marketed for weeks). Not really of interest to me and after seeing the trailer, even less so. Interesting to note that in supporting roles are Alison Janney, Laura Prepon & Lisa Kudrow – all who had roles on highly-successful TV series in the late 90s/early 00s era.

The Birth Of A Nation (5.6) – This was such a ‘hot’ film coming out of Sundance that many were talking about it being a major Oscar contender for months. But controversy over events from star/director Nate Parker’s past appear to have ended that speculation, with the lacklustre opening box office not helping. The oddly low IMDB rating suggests something similar to the Ghostbusters remarke; people who haven’t seen it piling on it because of Parker’s past, or perhaps the film’s ideology in his heavily politically charged year in the US.

Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life (5.8) – Has a low IMDB rating but the trailer for this school comedy actually makes it look pretty fun. Interesting trivia note: this is the first film for director Steve Carr to get a ‘fresh’ RT rating after 8 rottens.

Premam (8.4) – Indian romantic drama

The Greasy Strangler (5.8) – Saw a headline suggesting this offbeat black comedy may be the weirdest movie ever and after seeing a trailer, they may be right! Seems to be worth a look

Asura: The City Of Madness (7.0) – South Korean crime thriller
Under The Shadow (7.5) – Horror film set in 1980s Iran.

The Battle Of Algiers (8.1) – Appears to be a reissue of the great 1960s historical war film. Was lucky enough to see this on the big screen several years ago and highly recommend it – my abiding memory of it is a quieter scene where the Colonel in charge of the occupation (under fire from media over his conduct of the occupation) asks the media whether they support the occupation; when they say they do they’re exposed as not really being oppositional at all.

Being 17 (7.3) – French drama

Newtown (5.5) – Doco on how a town recovers from a mass shooting. The user comments on the IMDB site for this are rather disconcerting.

Blue Jay (7.4) – Romantic drama (filmed in a week) in seemingly mumblecore style written and starring one of the prominent members of that style, Mark Duplass. Also starring Sarah Paulson who was sensational in the great OJ mini-series. Looking at the trailer and it being filmed in B&W, reminded me a bit of the late 00s film In Search of A Midnight Kiss which I reviewed here many years ago

Theo Who Lived (7.2) – Doco on an American journalist captured by Al-Qaeda.

The Hollow (5.3) – US murder investigation thriller.

Homeland (N/A) – War-related film about a citizen of war-torn Syria living in Sweden.

Oscar 2016, Best Actress: Strawberry Blondes Forever

Standard
Emma Stone in “La La Land”

This year’s prospects for the Best Actress Oscar are pretty deep, compared to other years. They are especially good for actresses of color, but may end up being dominated by redheads. I’d bet the farm that the winner will fit in one of those categories. Now that Toronto and New York are over, more pictures have been seen by those that beat the drums.

In alphabetical order:

Viola Davis, Fences: She’s a shoo-in if here isn’t a category dispute. She won the Tony for this role, but in the Supporting Actress category. The studio may want to push her for Supporting, where she would probably be the favorite. She’s way overdo for an Oscar.

Ruth Negga, Loving: The film doesn’t seem to be getting the reception that it seemed like it would on paper, but Negga, as one of the participants in the Supreme Court case that found anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, seems like the best bet for a nomination.

Natalie Portman, Jackie: This film kind of came out of nowhere for Oscar bloggers, but is getting buzz for not only Portman, but for Best Picture. It covers the few days after JFK’s assassination. Portman is a previous winner, but some are suggesting she still may win.

Emma Stone, La La Land: This redhead’s your favorite as of now, a well-liked actress who is getting rave reviews for the film that is now in the catbird’s seat for Best Picture. It is also possible she (and her co-star Ryan Gosling) could be nominated in the Best Song category, as they each wrote a tune for the film. That would be unprecedented.

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: This is a light role for Streep, and if nominated it would be her twentieth nomination. She’s probably on the bubble, and we’ll have to see if any other actresses supersede her. I think she was terrific, though, and wouldn’t begrudge her another nomination.

Also possible: Amy Adams, Arrival or Nocturnal Animals (redhead); Annette Bening, Twentieth Century Women; Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane (redhead); Isabelle Huppert, Elle (redhead); Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures.

Oscars 2016, Best Actor: Who Wants Thirds?

Standard

The putative front-runners for the Oscar for Best Actor this year are both two-time winners, and both have already cemented their status as Hollywood legends. One of them seems a sure thing for a nomination, the other is in a movie that no has seen yet, but seems to have Oscar written all over it. But could a first-time winner sneak in?

Right now, barring Fences being an absolute disaster, four of the Best Acting nominees feel fairly certain, in films that have already been seen and pleased audiences. The fifth spot could go any number of places.

In alphabetical order, here’s my take:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea: This movie was a Sundance hit and is eagerly anticipated. Affleck, who has one nomination under his belt (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) seems likely here, if his recent legal problems don’t hamper him (he was sued for sexual harassment; there was an out-of-court settlement).

Ryan Gosling, La La Land: As of today, La La Land may be the favorite for Best Picture. Emma Stone is getting most of the accolades, and just may be the favorite for Best Actress (that’s coming up right here next month) but Gosling may be along for the ride for his role in a musical. When actors do something different from their usual pesonas voters take notice. Gosling has one nomination also, for Half-Nelson.

Tom Hanks, Sully: Believe it or not, but Hanks has not been nominated for 16 years, not since Cast Away. He only has five nominations total, and has been passed over for what were thought sure-fire nominations in recent years. But Sully is a hit, and Hanks is the major part of it. Could he be the second man to win three Best Actor Oscars (after Daniel Day-Lewis)? I wouldn’t be shocked.

Nate Parker, Birth of a Nation: This is my going out on a limb pick, and it wasn’t so until recently. But revelations about Parker being charged with rape (but acquitted) have cast a pall all over the film. However, there seems to have been a backlash against the backlash, with Parker appearing at screenings and receiving ovations. Time may cool things down. But don’t put any money on it.

Denzel Washington, Fences: Again, Fences has not been seen by any press, and Washington’s previous two directorial efforts garnered zero Oscar nominations. But there’s a lot of hope for this, as it has a black cast and given the cultural climate would ease a lot of wounds if it here a hit. Washington has won two Oscars, one for Supporting Actor (Glory) and one for Best Actor (Training Day).

Also possible: Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk; Joel Edgerton, Loving; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden; Michael Keaton, The Founder; and Miles Teller, Bleed for This.

Oscar 2016: #OscarsMaybeNotSoWhite

Standard
Birth of a Nation

When the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24th, what everyone will be looking for is not necessarily who gets nominated, but what color they are. A third straight year of no people of color being nominated would be a public relations disaster even bigger than last year. Fortunately, there are several films being released later this year that have black themes, and I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that there’s about a 99.9 percent chance that one of the twenty performers nominated will be an African-American.

I’ll get into that further in my posts on the various acting categories, but I’ll start with Best Picture. So far this year the pickings have been slim, and in looking over the slate of films coming out later this year, only a few films jump out at me. Usually I can guess about five out of ten films right (the nominees are anywhere from five to ten films) but I wouldn’t put much hope in that this year. This is the kind of year that could be very kind to small indies or to blockbusters. A nomination for Captain America: Civil War? Not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Here, in alphabetical order, are ten films I’m banking on, as of now. Only one has been released.

American Pastoral, Oct. 21, Ewan MacGregor. Although I am somewhat hesitant because this is the first film directed by MacGregor, it should be remembered that because of the large preponderance of actors in the Academy, actors turned directors are treated very kindly. One of two Philip Roth adaptations this year (the other, Indignation, probably won’t be nominated in this category, though it may be better), American Pastoral is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on a weighty subject: a successful Jewish businessman’s life is turned upside down by the radicalization of his daughter during the 1960s.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Nov. 11, Ang Lee. Lee’s films can’t be ignored. I loved the book, but as I read it and envisioned it as a film I wondered how it would succeed as a film, since much of its comedy comes from description, not from plot or dialogue. It’s about a unit of soldiers who are honored as heroes at a Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game, and the hypocrisy of it all. I will be interested to see Steve Martin as a Jerry Jones-type owner.

Birth of a Nation, Oct. 7, Nate Parker. This film has been a favorite for an Oscar since it wowed them at Sundance and got purchased by Fox Searchlight for 17.5 million. Purposely co-opting the title of D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, Parker writes, directs, and stars in this story of the slave rebellion by Nat Turner. Oddly, the film may have hit some trouble with the relevation that Parker was once charged with rape as a college student, but acquitted. Will that stick until Oscar nominations? Hard to tell. A reminder that no person of color has ever won the Best Director Oscar.

Denial, Sep. 30, Mick Jackson. Haven’t heard a lot about this film, but after seeing the trailer it hits a lot of Academy buttons. It is the true story of a woman who is sued for libel by a holocaust denier. As the stereotype goes, films about the holocaust, however tangential, strike chords with Academy voters, and this at least seems to be a well-done project. Starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall as David Irving, the denier.

Fences, Dec.16, Denzel Washington. Washington’s only other feature as a director, Antwone Fisher, didn’t exactly thrill many, but this adaptation of August Wilson’s play will provide several opportunities for black actors to be nominated, notably Viola Davis and Washington himself, as a former Negro League ballplayer turned trash collector who is dealing with issues in his own life and the world around. If this is any good at all, it should garner several above the line nominations.

Florence Foster Jenkins, Stephen Frears, Aug. 12. The only one of these ten that people can now see, it’s a crowd-pleaser about the world’s worst singer. Films about entertainers usually do well with the Academy, but this is a twist given she’s bad. But it could strike a nerve with actors who secretly may feel that they have no talent. It’s a lush period piece, which helps, and while Meryl Streep has not been in as many Best Picture nominees as you might think, (both of her wins for Best Actress were in films not nominated for Best Picture) her performance, as well as the “comeback” of Hugh Grant, should help.

La La Land, Dec. 2, Damien Chazelle. The writer/director of Whiplash is back with another musical film, this time about the relationship between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and a waitress (Emma Stone). Hard to know with this one, as an original musical hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture since (and check me if I’m wrong) Doctor Dolittle in 1967.

Loving, Nov. 4, Jeff Nichols. While Birth of a Nation has gotten most of the Oscar buzz for black-themed films, it may be this film that sneaks in, and I’m going to make it my ridiculously early pick as winner. Directed by Jeff Nichols, who has made several fine independent films, it details the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court case that tested Virginia’s miscegenation laws. I know so many mixed-race couples these days that it may come as a shock to people today that interracial marriage was once outlawed. Look for Ruth Negga, who plays the wife, to be a breakout star.

Manchester by the Sea, Nov.18, Kenneth Lonergan. The Academy has been hit or miss with Lonergan, but this film was another Sundance sensation, being bought by Amazon for 10 million. It stars Casey Affleck as a man returning to his home town to assume legal guardianship for his late brother’s son. Said to be almost unrelievedly bleak, maybe too much so to get traction in this category.

Miss Sloane, Dec. 9, John Madden. I’m going with this film, knowing almost nothing about it, as my zeitgeist film. Jessica Chastain is the title character, a lawyer fighting for gun control measures. May not do well in fly-over country, but among the liberals of Hollywood this could strike a nerve–if it’s any good.

Other possibilities: The Light Between Oceans, Sep. 2, Derek Cianfrance; Snowden, Sep. 16, Oliver Stone; Sully, Sep. 9, Clint Eastwood; Hell or High Water, Aug. 12, David Mackenzie; and Silence, Martin Scorsese. This last film, about missionaries in Japan, would seem to be prime Oscar bait, but a release date has not been announced. It will probably be released in award-season, but might be pushed to 2017 as well.

Review: Now You See Me 2

Standard

Now_You_See_Me_2_posterRealism and believability were never strong suits of the 2013 magic/heist film ‘Now You See Me’ but but it had enough inventiveness, verve and joie de vivre to make the film an enjoyable experience.

However, the makers of the sequel ‘Now You See Me 2’ (with a new director, Jon M. Chu) in an attempt to outdo the original have ramped up the magic tricks on display to such an absurd level that it makes the first film seem like a gritty Sidney Lumet 1970s New York film. The sense of fun isn’t completely gone but the lack of realism is so shameless that it’s hard to care about the plot or characters this time round.

One minor example of the film’s absurdities occurs at the very beginning where it has a flashback to 1984 where a magician is going to attempt to break out of a safe buried at the bottom of a river. They have much of this scene filmed from the perspective as a live news broadcast hosted by… Morgan Freeman’s character from the first film Thaddeus with the title on-screen of ‘magic debunker’. That someone like this would be hosting a live news broadcast is nonsensical but considering what follows, it feels almost realistic.

Throughout the film the central group of magicians (‘The Four Horsemen’) regularly perform tricks and illusions so impossible that it seems the screenwriters took turns thinking of what would be the most logic-destroying trick imaginable. At one stage Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) falls on his back surrounded by hundreds of people and when he hits the concrete, his body has disappeared but his clothes have remained. These people aren’t characters anymore, they’re cartoonish superheroes.

The height of absurdity is an extensive scene where The Four Horsemen are trying to escape from a heavily-secured room with software chip stuck on the back of a playing card (don’t ask). When they are searched by security, they flick the playing card amongst the four of them in the most elaborate ways possible (why one of them doesn’t hide it after they’ve been searched is a mystery to me).

Scenes like that are so laughably nonsensical that it’s hard to care about any of the narrative or plot elements after this point as it’s clear that depending on plot or character requirements, The Four Horsemen will be able to get out of an impossible situation or get trapped in seemingly easier situations. It’s so arbitrary that one largely loses interest and it feels pointless even going through a rote description of the plot.

Interestingly, the film’s best acting comes from newcomers to the franchise. Radcliffe is fun as the chief villain, Lizzy Caplan with her charisma and comic timing proves to be an improvement over Isla Fisher as one of the Horsemen and Woody Harrelson has campy fun by playing the twin of his character from the first film. However, virtually all of the returning main actors make little impression because there’s nothing new to their characters (or banter) and they’re just going through the same patterns and shtick from the first film.

To be fair to NYSM2, the film still provides some entertainment and fun, especially if you enjoy magic. And the central trick involved in the finale is actually fairly well done (and by the standards of the film, semi-plausible). But overall the film is tiresomely slick and frankly rather tedious to get through. While there’s apparently another sequel planned, it’s one I’ll almost certainly be skipping.