Posts Tagged ‘oscars’

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*** (out of five)

On paper, it’s hard to tell if teaming Dwayne Johnson, the artist formally known as The Rock, now officially the highest-earning movie star in the world – in salary and box office – and Meryl Streep, the most awarded and respected (except by the President of the United States) movie actor in history, was a good one. In practice, it’s turned out surprisingly well. In My Bodyguard, which is a very tenuous, practically “in name only” remake of the 1980 drama, Johnson plays Sanchez, the well-meaning, dyslexic janitor at an isolated, elite private high school hired by the school’s principal (Streep) to be her bodyguard against the increasingly – and bizarrely – dangerous student population. It’s a strange hybrid of gritty (and surprisingly violent) action and sentimental May/December romance, and, somehow, it works, despite a few preposterous moments.

Happily, those moments are also some of the film’s (deeply) guilty pleasures. As with seeing Helen Mirren blow things and beat people up in Red (2010), it’s highly entertaining to watch Streep lay into one of her particularly odious charges while Sanchez sits calmly in a dark corner of the room, his presence all that is needed to keep the student from fighting back. Likewise, it is a rare joy to see Johnson go into emotional territory he simply hasn’t explored before; – spolier – yes, we see the big fella cry.

By setting the scene in an expensive private school, the film deftly – or, blatantly – avoids racial politics. All of the students turned violent are white; the few minority students, all on scholarships, are also the good ones, who pay Sanchez respect even before he puts down his broom and picks up his bat. Like The River Wild (1994) and The Giver (2014), this is Streep taking a swim in genre cinema seemingly to just give it a go, but – of course! – she also deeply commits. Watch, they’ll give her another Oscar nomination; wouldn’t it be fun if Johnson got one too?

Film Title: It's Complicated

loving-1024.jpg**1/2 (out of five)

Unfortunately writer / director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) seems so determined to avoid over-dramatising his wonderful source material – the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, whose inter-racial relationship had a profound effect on the United States legal system – that he under-dramatises it to the point of dilution, and, unfortunately, exasperation. His telling is slow and laboured, and, at some points, seemingly deliberately, provocatively obtuse; at one key moment, not only does he not point his camera at the action, he puts it in another State.

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are fine in the roles (Negga was nominated for the Oscar) but the camera dwells on their quiet moments excessively, especially on Edgerton, who sullenly occupies an enormous amount of inactive screen time. There’s only so much one can take staring at a man smoking and staring.

Nick Kroll (in a really surprising dramatic role) and John Bass do their best to liven things up as the two young lawyers taking the Lovings’ case all the way, but, once again, Nichols is miserly with their screentime. Perhaps he was afraid of portraying them in any way as “great white hopes” to the Lovings’ cause, but when their big moments are shown fleetingly and from behind, it all becomes too much. This dramatic true story could have used more than a little more drama.hero_loving_01.jpg

Jim Flanagan and I dissect the crazy 2017 Oscars here on WATCH THIS:

Comments welcome! As of this writing, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz have been taken off the Oscars account and will not be present next year (duh!) Neither seem likely to be fired and the Academy seems unlikely to cut ties with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our skipi.tv reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:

TONI ERDMANN:

http://www.skipi.tv/toni/

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:

http://www.skipi.tv/mbts/

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:

http://www.skipi.tv/cptftstc/

JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/jackie/

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/hohwr17/

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/lllr/

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

http://www.skipi.tv/wtep10/

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**** (out of five)

You’d need to have a cold stone heart – or, I suppose, prejudicially racialist views – to dislike Hidden Figures, the true story of black women working as “computers” at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful, rather incredible story, full of triumphant moments and performed by a perfect cast.

Yes, these highly talented mathematicians were called “computers” – before we called machines computers – because they made computations, in the same way accountants account and actors act. Not all of the details of the story are this revealingly accurate – the white characters, for example, are all composites of real people – but the astounding and goosebump-inducing achievements made by the three central characters are all historically cOrr ect and profoundly inspiring.

Empire’s Taraji P. Henson plays the central character, Katherine G. Johnson, a bona-fide math prodigy-genius who rose to essential prominence during the “space race” and beyond. She’s terrific, and more than ably supported by Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, both of whom also delivered major damage to ceilings for black people and women within this bastion of astronomical ambition.

Theodore Melfi directs unobtrusively, letting the story and performers shine, but admirably restrains from underlining, and thus undermining, the story’s Big Moments. Like its fellow nominee for Best Picture at the Oscars, Lion, this is the tasteful version of a story that could have been ruined by a heavy hand, a bombastic score or too many studio notes. The true story is monumental enough.

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**** (out of five)

The storytelling in Lion is a triumph of taste over temptation. The source material, the non-fiction 2014 book by Saroo Brierley A Long Way Home, was ripe for bombastic, sensational, sentimental treatment. Instead, director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies have delivered the tasteful version, one that avoids practically all the story’s potential landmines in lieu of honest emotion. It is a film of great integrity.

Brierley was brought up in Tasmania having been adopted from Calcutta at around five years old. He had been separated from his birth family in bizarre, practically tragicomic circumstances; twenty-five years later, he used Google Earth to attempt to find them again.

The film is structured in two halves. The first – and most successful – follows Saroo, at age five, in India. Saroo is played by Sunny Pawar, who is one of those kids – found after a massive casting process in India – who just nails it. He’s incredible, traversing a mostly dialogue-free hour without missing a single beat. Every shot he’s in contains emotional truth and credibility, but – like all great actors! – there’s a second, underlying layer going on, in which he deftly adds degrees of comic grace. It’s astonishing. There is one wordless close-up that took my breath away, before I practically started chanting, “Give him the Oscar, now!”

The second half sees a grown-up Saroo played by Dev Patel, who easily gives his finest performance to date. He’s completely believable as an Australian-raised Indian born fellow, Aussie accent and all, despite being a Brit. More importantly, the sometimes over-earnestness he’s delivered in many of his roles – the worst examples being in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise – is absent here. He gives a delicate performance of subtlety and grace.

Grace is also the word for the remarkable screenplay, which should definitely be a front-runner for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar come late February. Australian novelist / screenwriter / poet / critic Davies (Candy, Life) skips the expository scenes lesser films would show and rewards our intelligence with unexpected moments that are so much more revealing. Thus the salacious and sensational perils young Saroo faces as an orphan in Calcutta – forced mutilation as part of a begging ring, sexual slavery – are dealt with glancingly, almost quietly, certainly – here’s that word again! – tastefully. In the second half, Saroo forms a relationship with a fellow student, Lucy (Rooney Mara), but Davies spares us any scenes of them flirting, kissing for the first time, falling in bed together; he knows we understand all that stuff, and that it’s not what this story is really about. His screenplay is a monument to narrative elision.

The film comes close to being an instant classic. It’s hampered by two things. The first is almost unavoidable – that the underlying story, and the film’s promotion, have given us the ending in advance, which really does sap the film of suspense. It’s got a lot of elements – especially heart – but suspense isn’t one of them. It must be said, it would have taken an almost superhuman effort of collective restraint on the hands of marketers, producers and media to avoid this.

The second is that the film drops its energy for a long stretch in the second half. There are scenes where Mara’s Lucy – already the least defined character in the script – is, essentially, inaudible (and I was seeing the film in the best possible circumstances, a critic’s screening room), and around her, other members of the cast are allowed to deliver their lines so quietly as to cause one to strain to hear (which affects tremendously Kidman’s big monologue, which also feels – weirdly for a film of such taste – like Oscar-bait). During this section, the storytelling loses specificity. I was honestly but not deliberately confused for a period as to whether Saroo was living in Hobart or Melbourne, for example.

Ultimately though, the film is a triumph. You will weep like a ninny (I did) and it will feel good. I suspect it’s going to be an enormous financial success in Australia, where the Indian sections may sit more comfortably than, say, for a mass-market, mainstream American audience. I also think it has a very good chance of destabilising some of the front-runners at the Oscars. It is a very fine film, and Davis and Davies have proved an exceptional collaboration. See it.

UPDATE: I was spot-on about its Aussie Box Office appeal —

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***1/2

At this year’s Academy Awards, the race for Best Foreign Language film came down to two horses: Mustang (which neatly fits the metaphor, yeah?) and Son of Saul. It’s completely understandable that the latter won: it’s a rather revolutionary work, which justified re-visiting the holocaust by its bold technique and astonishing integrity. Mustang is not revolutionary, it’s just a very solid and well-constructed film that is eye-opening without being heavy-handed.

Five sisters go to the beach after their final class for the semester. There they play in the water with some boys. It is a sequence of pure beauty and delight: young people enjoying a classic vibe. School’s out, and they are free.

But there’s the rub – because they’re in a Black Sea town in Turkey, not Sydney or Santa Monica, and a local old lady, watching from afar, doesn’t like what she sees. The sisters are orphans, living with their progressive or at least easy-going grandmother, and when the nosy old biddy dobs them in to their uncle, he takes it upon himself to tighten the reins. These beautiful free, somewhat wild horses are going to be broken.

The magic trick of Mustang is that it’s a scathing indictment of traditional patriarchal control in modern Turkey without being at all heavy handed. You’re in for the story and the message comes free. I had no idea this stuff went on in contemporary Turkey; that exposes some ignorance on my part and made the film all the more powerful.

The performances are all terrific but the girls are just sublime. The actresses – the youngest is thirteen – are astonishingly believable as sisters. In the opening, sunny, completely enticing early scenes, when the “mustang” is free, the way the girls move together, through the streets and open spaces of their town, is extraordinary. They flow like a single organism that contracts and expands, exchanging positions, following and leading, their energy seemingly binding them on invisible elastic cords, not so much like a school of fish as an amoeba.

Warren Ellis contributes a score made up of cello, flute and violin that suits the tone of the film perfectly, which is dreamy, soft and fluid, despite the imposing subject matter. It’s the debut feature for writer / director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who made the film for just €1,300,000. We’ll be hearing more from her.