Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for September


Well, it’s the time of the month again.

No, not that time!  That time ended two days ago.  I’m talking about the fact that it’s time for me to once again share my monthly Oscar predictions.  Thanks to the festival circuit, we’ve finally gotten some advance word on the big Oscar contenders that will be coming out over the next few months.

Belfast, as of right now, sounds like the prohibitive favorite to win it all.  At first, it seemed like the reaction to The Power of the Dog was a bit mixed but later reactions were almost overwhelmingly positive.  It sounds like the type of film that will be nominated even if it won’t necessarily win.  Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter is coming on strong, as is Spencer.  For me, the biggest surprise has been the amount of acclaim that Dune has been getting.  I was a bit dismissive of its Oscar chances earlier this year but now it definitely sounds like it will be in the hunt.

West Side Story has been seen by no one but I continue to list it because it’s a Spielberg film and, with all the musicals that are being released this year and which have subsequently struggled with either critics or audiences or both, it still seems the most likely to pick up a nomination.  I’m a little bit skeptical on whether or not Nightmare Alley is going to be an “Oscar picture” but the trailer was nice to look at so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.  House of Gucci is three hours long and full of stars so it’s either going to be an Oscar nominee or a complete bomb.

You may notice a lack of predicted nominations for Licorice Pizza. Licorice Pizza is a film that I fully expect to love but the trailer definitely feels a bit more like Inherent Vice than The Phantom Thread.  I still think that the actors could get nominated but the rumor right now is that Bradley Cooper’s role is actually very small.  That’s why I no longer have him listed as a supporting actor nominee.

Again, keep in mind that I’m not an expert.  The picture is a bit clearer but I don’t claim to have any inside information or anything like that.  These are just my guesses, for better or worse.  To see how my thinking has evolved,  check out my predictions for March and April and May and June and July and August!

Best Picture

Belfast

CODA

Dune

House of Gucci

The Lost Daughter

Nightmare Alley

The Power of the Dog

Spencer

The Tragedy of MacBeth

West Side Story

Best Director

Kenneth Branagh for Belfast

Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Guillermo del Toro for Nightmare Alley

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Clifton Collins, Jr. in Jockey

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

Peter Dinklage in Cyrano

Will Smith in King Richard

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of MacBeth

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter

Penelope Cruz in Parallel Lives

Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of MacBeth

Kristen Stewart in Spencer

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Willem DaFoe in Nightmare Alley

Ciaran Hinds in Belfast

Jason Isaac in Mass

Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

Best Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley in The Lost Daughter

Dame Judi Dench in Belfast

Ann Dowd in Mass

Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for August


It’s time for me to do my monthly Oscar predictions.  Again, as I’ve said in the past, the majority of these predictions are based on a combination of instinct and wishful thinking.  However, the picture may become a bit clearer as early as the end of this week.  With the Venice and Telluride film festivals right around the corner and Toronto also swift approaching, critics are finally going to get a chance to see some of the contenders and, as the early reviews come in, it should be easier to pick the probable nominees from the also-rans.

Personally, I will curious to see how people react to Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog.  Among the other possibilities that we’ll be hearing about: Spencer, King Richard, Dune, The Lost Daughter, The Last Duel, and Belfast.

If you’re curious to see how my thinking has developed, check out my predictions for March and April and May and June and July!

Best Picture

Belfast

Blue Bayou

CODA

House of Gucci

A Journal For Jordan

Mass

The Power of the Dog

Soggy Bottom

The Tragedy of MacBeth

West Side Story

 

Best Director

Pedro Almodovar for Parallel Mothers

Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Joel Coen for The Tragedy of MacBeth

Ridley Scott for House of Gucci

Denzel Washington for A Journal For Jordan

 

Best Actor

Clifton Collins, Jr. in Jockey

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

Udo Kier in Swan Song

Will Smith in King Richard

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth

 

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Lady Gaga in House of Gucci

Kristen Stewart in Spencer

 

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Bradley Cooper in Soggy Bottom

Andrew Garfield in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jason Isaacs in Mass

Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog

 

Best Supporting Actress

Ann Dowd in Mass

Kirsten Dunst in Power of the Dog

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Ruth Negga in Passing

Alicia Vikander in Blue Bayou

Lisa Marie’s Early Oscar Predictions For July


It’s that time of the month again!  It’s time for me to make my early Oscar predictions.

This year, the Cannes Film Festival really didn’t clear much up.  The French Dispatch was acclaimed but, in every review, there was an admission that, for everyone who absolutely loved it, there would probably be someone else who would absolutely hate it.  I did decided to include Red Rocket on my list of predictions, based on the Cannes reaction.  I’m still not a 100% convinced that it’s going to be a contender, of course.  But the idea of a Simon Rex movie being nominated for best picture was just too wonderfully strange for me to ignore.  That’s the same logic that led to me including Pig as a best picture nominee, by the way.

On the Ridely Scott front, the overacting in the trailer for House of Gucci really turned me off so I dropped it from all of my predictions.  The Last Duel looks like it might have a chance, however.

Anyway, the main thing to remember when looking at these predictions is that the majority of them are just random guesses, based on hunches and past Academy behavior.  So, as always, take them with several grains of salt.

If you’re curious to see how my thinking has developed, check out my predictions for March and April and May and June!

Best Picture

Belfast

A Journal For Jordan

The Last Duel

Nightmare Alley

Pig

The Power of the Dog

Red Rocket

Soggy Bottom

The Tragedy of MacBeth

West Side Story

 

Best Director

Pedro Almodovar for Parallel Mothers

Paul Thomas Anderson for Soggy Bottom

Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Guillermo Del Toro for Nightmare Alley

Denzel Washington for A Journal For Jordan

Best Actor

Nicolas Cage in Pig

Clifton Collins, Jr. in Jockey

Michael B. Jordan in A Journal For Jordan

Will Smith in King Richard

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of MacBeth

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Nicole Kidman in Being The Ricardos

Tessa Thomspon in Passing

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Bradley Cooper in Soggy Bottom

Adam Driver in The Last Duel

Simon Helberg in Annette

Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog

Best Supporting Actress

Chante Adams in A Journal For Jordan

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Ann Dowd in Mass

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Ruth Negga in Passing

Holiday Film Review: Collateral Beauty (dir by David Frankel)


Occasionally, you see a film that is so misjudged and so poorly executed that it leaves you wondering whether or not the entire production was meant to be some sort of elaborate practical joke.  Perhaps not surprisingly, these films are usually a mix of comedy and drama and they tend to try to deal with the big issues — life, death, love, and all the rest.  These films are fueled by a mix of ambition, sincerity, and a total inability to understand how people actually think and live.  Invevitably, these films come out at Oscar time and they tend to have surprising twists that are designed to tug at the heart strings but to also make you think.  They’re usually have titles that sound good but don’t make much sense and they often feature the type of talented actors who really should know better.  Audiences should also know better but all of these films have devoted fans who insist that the rest of us are just too cynical or jaded to really appreciate a good story.

2016’s Collateral Beauty is one such film.

Set during the Christmas season, Collateral Beauty tells the story of Howard Inlet (Will Smith).  Howard was an advertising genius but then his daughter died and he sunk into a deep depression.  In this film, being clinically depressed means that you ride your bicycle a lot.  It also means that you spend a lot of time building domino chains.  Because Howard is too depressed to do anything, his advertising firm is on the verge of going bankrupt.  His partners — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) — all want to sell the firm but they have to get Howard to sign off on it and Howard refuses to talk to anyone.

However, his three business partners come across letters that Howard wrote to the abstract concepts of Death, Time, and Love.  And, realizing that Howard had some issues with those concepts, they decided to hire three actors to pretend to be those concepts so that they can film Howard talking to them.  The plan is to film Howard talking to the actors and then use digital technology to erase the actors from the footage so that Howard will look like he’s talking to himself, which will make it easier to prove that Howard is not mentally stable enough to run the company and….

What?  Yes, that’s the plot.  Undoubtedly, it seems like there should be an easier way to prove that Howard is not mentally fit to run his company but the three business partners decided to go with the plan that makes absolutely no sense and the film applauds them for doing so.  It does seem like, if they really cared about Howard, they would have instructed the actors to provide some sort of comfort to Howard but apparently, no one in this movie has seen It’s A Wonderful Life or read A Christmas Carol.  The film assures us that making a suicidal man think that he’s gone legitimately insane is definitely the humane way to deal with this situation.

Anyway, the three actors are played by Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore, and Keira Knightley.  And, in order to study Howard, each spends time with his business partners and we learn about everyone’s life.  For instance, Whit has a daughter that he needs to connect with.  Claire is depressed because she wants a child.  Simon is dying, which means that he spends the entire movie vomiting.  Amazingly, no one but Helen Mirren notices.  Not only does the actors help Howard but they help his partners as well.  Awwwww!

After the actors all visit him, Howard is so upset by the encounters that he goes to a support group that’s run by Madeline (Naomie Harris), who lost a daughter (just like Howard!) and who is divorced (just like Howard!) and who has a note from her ex-husband in which he says that he wishes they could act like strangers again and hey, guess who her ex-husband is!?  (Yes, it’s Howard.)  Anyway, some mysterious woman once told Madeline that, even as her daughter was dying, she should always celebrate the “collateral beauty of it all” and I have no idea what that was supposed to mean but Madeline sure does talk about it a lot.

I like to think that Collateral Beauty shares the same cinematic universe as The Book of Henry and Life Itself.  It’s a universe where simplistic thoughts are held up as being extremely profound and where no one actually does anything that makes sense.  Just as The Book of Henry asks us to be touched by an annoying little brat insisting (from beyond the grave, no less) that his mother to assassinate their neighbor, Collateral Beauty asks us to appreciate all the effort that goes into tormenting an already seriously depressed human being.  Just as Life Itself insists that life being an unreliable narrator is somehow a mind-blowing concept, Collateral Beauty insists that everything will be okay as long as we appreciate the “collateral beauty of it all.”  It may feel like a parody but Collateral Beauty not only takes itself seriously but it also seems to be convinced that you’ll take it seriously as well.  There’s something rather presumptuous about the film’s insistence that it actually has something unique or interesting to say.

Amazingly enough, a truly great cast signed up to appear in this film.  Most of them turn in performances that are either forgettable or regrettable.  Edward Norton gives a performance that is so annoyingly mannered that it’s hard not to be reminded of the rumors that he was basically playing himself in Birdman.  Considering that she’s one of the greatest actresses around, Kate Winslet is shockingly bad.  Helen Mirren appears to be having a laugh.  Will Smith actually gives a good performance but it’s a waste to cast such a great talker as someone who barely speaks.

Collateral Beauty came out in December of 2016.  Before it was released, it had Oscar buzz.  After it was released …. well, let’s just say that it didn’t.  Critics hated the film but it did well at the box office and it has its fans.  I’m not one of them but perhaps someday, I’ll appreciate the collateral beauty of it all.

The Things You Find on Netflix: Rebecca (dir by Ben Wheatley)


Ben Wheatley’s new film, Rebecca, is the second cinematic adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic romance.  It was first adapted by David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.  That Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though Hitchcock himself reportedly felt that Rebecca was more indicative of Selznick’s style than his own.

Ben Wheatley, as one might expect from the brilliant director of A Field in England, takes his own idiosyncratic approach to the material.  From the start, he gets two things right when he casts Lily James as the second Mrs. de Winter and Armie Hammer as the enigmatic Maxim de Winter.  James and Hammer are ideal for these roles because they’re both so achingly pretty that they seem like they belong on the cover of a gothic romance.  That’s especially true of Armie Hammer, who has never been that interesting of an actor but who still has the type of chiseled screen presence that makes him ideally suited for roles like the one that he plays here.  He’s tall, handsome, a bit dull, and undeniably upper class.  He’s an appealing slab of beef and that makes him perfect for the role of Maxim de Winter.

Directing in vibrant color and taking advantage of the fact that the films stars two of the best-looking people working in the movies today, Wheatley brings an erotic charge to the story that was missing from Hitchcock’s more sedate (and Production code-restricted) version of the story.  When Maxim and the woman who will became the second Mrs. de Winter embark on their whirlwind romance on the French Riviera, there might as well be a title card that announces, “Yeah, they’re fucking.”  There’s nothing subtle about it but, at the same time, it provides a definite contrast to the second part of the film, in which Maxim and Mrs. de Winter return to the grand but chilly mansion of Manderley and Maxim goes from being charming and sensual to being cold and withdrawn.

It’s also at Manderley that we meet Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is obsessed with preserving the memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.  Scott Thomas is perfect casting for Mrs. Danvers.  In fact, at first, she seems almost too perfect for the role.  She’s so imperious and passive aggressively hostile when we first meet her that I was worried that Scott Thomas wouldn’t be able to bring much more to the role beyond what she had already shown.  However, as the film progresses, Scott Thomas turns Danvers into a surprisingly vulnerable character, with the film suggesting that she’s as much of a victim of Rebecca’s toxic legacy as anyone else at Maderley.

Wheatley’s Rebecca is all about the journey of the second Mrs. de Winter and her transformation from being meek and somewhat mousey to being someone who refuses to be cast in anyone else’s shadow.  When Maxim says that Mrs. de Winter is no longer the innocent girl that he meet on the Riviera, Maxim is disappointed but Mrs. de Winter is not.  By the end of the film, the de Winters resemble none other than Henry and June Miller, searching the world for their place and casting seductive glances at the audience.

Visually, it’s a stunning film.  The colors are vibrant.  The sets are ornate.  The costumes are to die for.  That said, the film itself is never quite as engaging as it should be.  Despite the strength of the cast, the film still leaves the viewer feelings somewhat detached.  It’s all wonderfully produced by the film still feels more like an intellectual exercise than an emotional one.  Wheatley is a brilliant filmmaker but, when the second Mrs. de Winter announces that everything she’s been through is worth it because she’s found love, you don’t believe her and you don’t get the feeling that, deep down, Wheatley believes her either.  Instead, it’s hard not to feel that this version of Rebecca is a romance that doesn’t believe in love.  It’s interesting but it’s not particularly satisfying.

Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

6 More Film Reviews From 2014: At Middleton, Barefoot, Divergent, Gimme Shelter, The Other Woman, and more!


Let’s continue to get caught up with 6 more reviews of 6 more films that I saw in 2014!

At Middleton (dir by Adam Rodgers)

“Charming, but slight.”  I’ve always liked that term and I think it’s the perfect description for At Middleton, a dramedy that came out in January and did not really get that much attention.  Vera Farmiga is a businesswoman who is touring colleges with her daughter (Taissa Farmiga, who is actually Vera’s younger sister).  Andy Garcia is a surgeon who is doing the same thing with his son.  All four of them end up touring Middleton College at the same time.  While their respective children tour the school, Vera and Andy end up walking around the campus and talking.  And that’s pretty much the entire film!

But you know what?  Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia are both such good performers and have such a strong chemistry that it doesn’t matter that not much happens.  Or, at the very least, it doesn’t matter was much as you might think it would.

Hence, charming but slight.

Barefoot (dir by Andrew Fleming)

Well, fuck it.

Sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start a review but Barefoot really bothered me.  In Barefoot, Scott Speedman plays a guy who invites Evan Rachel Wood to his brother’s wedding.  The twist is that Wood has spent most of her life in a mental institution.  Originally, Speedman only invites her so that he can trick his father (Treat Williams) into believing that Speedman has finally become a responsible adult.  But, of course, he ends up falling in love with her and Wood’s simple, mentally unbalanced charm brings delight to everyone who meets her.  I wanted to like this film because I love both Scott Speedman and Evan Rachel Wood but, ultimately, it’s all rather condescending and insulting.  Yes, the film may be saying, mental illness is difficult but at least it helped Scott Speedman find love…

On the plus side, the always great J.K. Simmons shows up, playing a psychiatrist.  At no point does he say, “Not my tempo” but he was probably thinking it.

Divergent (dir by Neil Burger)

There’s a lot of good things that can be said about Divergent.  Shailene Woodley is a likable heroine.  The film’s depiction of a dystopian future is well-done. Kate Winslet has fun playing a villain.  Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort are well-cast.  But, ultimately, Divergent suffers from the same problem as The Maze Runner and countless other YA adaptations.  The film never escapes from the shadow of the far superior Hunger Games franchise.  Perhaps, if Divergent had been released first, we’d be referring to the Hunger Games as being a Divergent rip-off.

However, I kind of doubt it.  The Hunger Games works on so many levels.  Divergent is an entertaining adventure film that features a good performance from Shailene Woodley but it’s never anything more than that.  Considering that director Neil Burger previously gave us Interview with the Assassin and Limitless, it’s hard not to be disappointed that there’s not more to Divergent.

Gimme Shelter (dir by Ron Krauss)

Gimme Shelter, which is apparently based on a true story, is about a teenage girl named Apple (Vanessa Hudgens) who flees her abusive, drug addicted mother (Rosario Dawson).  She eventually tracks down her wealthy father (Brendan Fraser), who at first takes Apple in.  However, when he discovers that she’s pregnant, he demands that she get an abortion.  When Apple refuses, he kicks her out of the house.  Apple eventually meets a kindly priest (James Earl Jones) and moves into a shelter that’s run by the tough Kathy (Ann Dowd).

Gimme Shelter came out in January and it was briefly controversial because a lot of critics felt that, by celebrating Apple’s decision not to abort her baby, the movie was pushing an overly pro-life message.  Interestingly enough, a lot of those outraged critics were men and, as I read their angry reviews, it was hard not to feel that they were more concerned with showing off their political bona fides than with reviewing the actual film.  Yes, the film does celebrate Apple’s decision to keep her baby but the film also emphasizes that it was Apple’s decision to make, just as surely as it would have been her decision to make if she had chosen to have an abortion.

To be honest, the worst thing about Gimme Shelter is that it doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it shares its name with a great song by the Rolling Stones.  Otherwise, it’s a well-done (if rather uneven) look at life on the margins.  Yes, the script and the direction are heavy-handed but the film is redeemed by a strong performance from Vanessa Hudgens, who deserves to be known for more than just being “that girl from High School Musical.”

Heaven is For Real (dir by Randall Wallace)

You can tell that Heaven is For Real is supposed to be based on a true story by the fact that the main character is named Todd Burpo.  Todd Burpo is one of those names that’s just so ripe for ridicule that you know he has to be a real person.

Anyway, Heaven Is For Real is based on a book of the same name.  Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is the pastor of a small church in Nebraska.  After Todd’s son, Colton, has a near death experience, he claims to have visited Heaven where he not only met a sister who died before he was born but also had a conversation with Jesus.  As Colton’s story starts to get national attention, Todd struggles to determine whether Colton actually went to Heaven or if he was just having a hallucination.

You can probably guess which side the movie comes down on.

Usually, as a self-described heathen, I watch about zero faith-based movies a year.  For some reason, I ended up watching three over the course of 2014: Left Behind, Rumors of War, and this one.  Heaven is For Real is not as preachy (or terrible) as Left Behind but it’s also not as much fun as Rumors of War.  (Rumors of War, after all, featured Eric Roberts.)  Instead, Heaven Is For Real is probably as close to mainstream as a faith-based movie can get.  I doubt that the film changed anyone’s opinion regarding whether or not heaven is for real but it’s still well-done in a made-for-TV sort of way.

The Other Woman (dir by Nick Cassavetes)

According to my BFF Evelyn, we really liked The Other Woman when we saw it earlier this year.  And, despite how bored I was with the film when I recently tired to rewatch it, we probably did enjoy it that first time.  It’s a girlfriend film, the type of movie that’s enjoyable as long as you’re seeing it for the first time and you’re seeing it with your best girlfriends.  It’s a lot of fun the first time you see it but since the entire film is on the surface, there’s nothing left to discover on repeat viewings.  Instead, you just find yourself very aware of the fact that the film often substitutes easy shock for genuine comedy. (To be honest, I think that — even with the recent missteps of Labor Day and Men, Women, and Children — Jason Reitman could have done wonders with this material.  Nick Cassavetes however…)   Leslie Mann gives a good performance and the scenes where she bonds with Cameron Diaz are a lot of fun but otherwise, it’s the type of film that you enjoy when you see it and then you forget about it.

Horror Film Review: Big Driver (dir by Mikael Salomon)


Bleh Stephen King

You have to be careful about admitting that you think Stephen King is overrated.

For a year and a half, I’ve been meaning to write a post entitled “10 Reasons Why Stephen King Sucks” but I haven’t. Some of that is because I don’t necessarily think that he does suck.  I think he’s a good writer but I also think that he’s overrated and that his novel about the Kennedy assassination got so many details about Texas wrong that I don’t even know where to begin.  (However, following the rules of clickbait, “sucks” works better than “overrated.”)  Mostly, though, it’s just because Stephen King fans tend to be a bit cult-like.  Criticizing King is like saying you don’t care about Beyonce’s marriage or admitting that you find President Obama to be a dull speaker or telling Vermont to go fuck itself or listing 10 Reasons Why You Hated Avatar.  You shouldn’t do it unless you want to run the risk of dealing with a lot of angry and irrational true believers.

That said, it’s always a little bit safer to criticize the movies that have been made from Stephen King’s books and short stories.  Even King’s most slavish followers will admit that Stephen King films tend to be uneven as far as quality is concerned.  Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the best horror films of all time but it’s interesting to note that Stephen King himself rarely has a good word to say about Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel.  For reasons that I’ve never quite understood, a lot of people love The Shawshank Redemption.  Then there are the adaptations that nobody likes, like Bag of Bones and Dreamcatcher.

And then there’s Big Driver, an adaptation of a Stephen King novella that aired on Lifetime last night.  For the past two months, Lifetime has been advertising this film with short but effective commercials that featured a bloodied Maria Bello running down a dark road while a gigantic truck ominously followed behind her.  I saw the commercials and, seeing as how Maria Bello is a favorite actress of mine and how much I love Lifetime movies in general, I was excited to see Big Driver.  Then, I saw another commercial in which Stephen King was quoted as saying, “This is the film that Stephen King fans have been waiting for,” and I have to admit that it left me a little bit less enthused because, quite frankly, I’ve always been under the impression that Stephen King will endorse anything as long as he gets paid and his ass gets kissed.  (Someday, we’ll have to do a survey to discover just how many crappy books come with a Stephen King pull quote on the cover describing the book’s author as being “the future of horror!”)  And I have to admit that I resented the fact that Lifetime seemed to be assuming that I would ever allow Stephen King to tell me what was good and what was bad.  I can decide that for myself without having someone else tell me what I’ve been “waiting for.”

(I have issues with authority.  Can you tell?)

Big Driver, incidentally, is Stephen King’s take on I Spit On Your Grave.  Mystery writer Tess Thorne (Maria Bello) is raped and left for dead by a serial killer who is known as Big Driver (Will Harris).  Feeling that the police would simply say that she was “asking for it”, Tess does not report the attack but instead uses the same techniques that she writes about in her books to track down both Big Driver and his mother (Ann Dowd) and sets out to get both revenge for herself and justice for all of Big Driver’s other victims.  (Those detective techniques, by the way, largely seem to consist of knowing how to use Google.)  Along the way, Tess hallucinates conversations with both her car’s GPS and with one of the fictional detectives from her books (played by Olympia Dukakis).

BD

When I watched Big Driver last night, I actually had to stop watching after an hour.  The film was just too intense and disturbing for me to handle in one sitting.  The scene where Tess was raped was too painful to watch and Maria Bello’s performance was so raw and real that I had to change the channel.  It wasn’t the film’s fault.  It’s just that I wasn’t in the right emotional state to watch the movie.  It was a lot more intense than anything that I would have ever expected to see on Lifetime.  (Lifetime, after all, is the television equivalent of comfort food.)  So, I stopped watching after an hour and I turned over to SyFy so I could watch a much more light-hearted horror film, Finders Keepers.  Fortunately, I had the DVR recording Big Driver and I finished watching the film early this morning.

What I discovered, when I watched the rest of the film, is that Big Driver is a frustratingly uneven film.  The first half is difficult to watch and that’s the way it should have been.  But, as I watched the rest of the film, I found myself growing annoyed with Tess’s imaginary friends.  The talking GPS and the spectral presence of the fictional detective all served to make Tess look less like a woman demanding justice and more like the proverbial unstable person who shouldn’t have been messed with.  One reason why the original I Spit On Your Grave has recently been reevaluated by several feminist film critics is because the victim in that film is never portrayed as being crazy or unbalanced.  Her actions are purely the result of what has been done to her and, as such, that film is ultimately far more empowering than most critics will ever be willing to admit.   By calling into question Tess’s grip on reality, Big Driver fails to empower and, if a film like this isn’t going to be empowering, than what is the point?

Big Driver is, however, redeemed by Maria Bello’s fierce performance as Tess.  Maria Bello is one of my favorite actresses.  When you see that a character is played by Maria Bello, you know that character is not going to put up with any bullshit and she’s not going to be afraid to kick someone’s ass if she has to.  Even when the film’s script lets the character down, Maria Bello keeps Tess strong.  It’s a great and, I would say, even an important performance.

As for Big Driver‘s place in the pantheon of Stephen King film adaptations, it’s about in the middle.  It’s neither as good or as bad as it could have been but it is undeniably effective.

big-driver-stephen-king-lifetime

44 Days of Paranoia #26: Compliance (dir by Craig Zobel)


(Minor Spoilers Below)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the most disturbing films of 2012, Compliance.

Compliance opens with the dowdy and middle-aged Sandra (Ann Dowd) arriving at the fast food restaurant that she manages.  Sandra, at first glance, seems to be a rather forgettable and conventional, the type of person who we see every day but don’t give much thought to.  It’s only when Sandra gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer that we start to see the disturbing reality underneath Sandra’s perfect facade.

The man tells Sandra that one of her employees may have stolen money from a customer’s purse.  He asks Sandra to detain the employee until the police arrive.  Based on a vague description given by the man, Sandra decides that the employee in question must be Becky (Dreama Walker), a cashier who Sandra earlier had some conflict with.

Sandra calls Becky into her office and confronts her with the man’s accusations.  When Becky denies them, the man tells Sandra to strip search Becky.  Though she is initially hesitant, Sandra does perform the search and finds nothing.

However, the man isn’t finished humiliating Becky.  As the man’s instructions grow more extreme and bizarre, Sandra soon starts to recruit others to help her keep Becky under watch.

Compliance is a portrait of both abusive authority and petty sadism.  Dreama Walker is sympathetic as Becky while Ann Dowd turns Sandra into a frighteningly plausible monster.  And, make no doubt about it, Sandra is a monster.  The prank call simply gives Sandra an excuse to unleash all the resentment that she feels towards the younger and prettier Becky and it leads to a very interesting dynamic in which both the caller and Sandra become allies in a conspiracy to humiliate and, ultimately, dehumanize Becky.  Throughout the film, the caller’s claims grow more and more flamboyant and we, as an audience, are forced to decide whether Sandra is genuinely fooled or if she’s just using the call as an excuse to justify acting on her own resentments.

What makes Compliance especially disturbing is that the film itself is based on a true story.  Most film usually use the term “based on a true story” quite loosely but Compliance sticks very closely to the facts of something that happened in a McDonald’s in 2004.  Just like in the film, a man pretending to be a police officer called the McDonald’s and told the manager that one of the cashiers was suspected of being a thief.  Just as in the film, the caller ordered the cashier to be stripped naked and eventually ordered the manager’s fiancée to sexually assault the cashier.

When that incident made national news, I know that a lot of people (like me) reacted by wondering how the manager could have been so stupid and making a few jokes about the type of people who make a career out of fast food.  As a society, we tend to assume that incidents like this are somehow not the norm.

However, as Compliance demonstrates, there was more to this incident than just stupidity.  We are continually told that we have to automatically respect and obey anybody who presents himself as being an authority figure, whether it’s the uniformed cop who responds to any hint of dissent with either his taser or his gun or just some unseen guy on the phone who claims to be an officer of the law.  We’re continually told not to question men in authority, instead we’re simply to assume that anything they say is both important and correct.  As Compliance demonstrates, sadists like Sandra are not as unusual as we like to assume.  They’re just doing what they’ve been bred to do.

They’re following orders and respecting authority.

They’re maintaining compliance.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown

The National Board of Review Honors Zero Dark Thirty


Oscar season continues!  Just a few hours ago, the National Board of Review announced their picks for the best of 2012.  Like the New York Film Critics Circle, the NBR named Zero Dark Thirty the best film of 2012 and Kathryn Bigelow best director.

I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty so I can’t judge whether it’s truly a great film or not.  However, to be perfectly honest, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t win every single critics’ award out there because, seriously, that would be sooooooooooo boring!  I mean, I know that all of you establishment film critics love to jump on the bandwagon but seriously, variety is the spice of life!

As much as I wish that the NBR had kept things interesting by choosing some out-of-nowhere pick for best picture, I am happy to see that they honored Bradley Cooper for his excellent work in Silver Linings Playbook.

Along with naming Zero Dark Thirty as best picture, the NBR also listed the 9 runner-ups.  It’s interesting to note that The Dark Knight Rises does not appear anywhere on that list.

On a personal note, I’ll be posting my own picks for the best of 2012 during the first week of January and, trust me, my picks are going to be a lot more interesting than anything you’re going to get from the National Board of Review.

BEST PICTURE
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn Bigelow (“”Zero Dark Thirty””)

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Ann Dowd (“Compliance”)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Rian Johnson (“Looper”)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

BEST ENSEMBLE
“Les Miserables”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Wreck-It-Ralph”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 
“Amour”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Searching for Sugar Man”

SPOTLIGHT AWARD
John Goodman

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCES
Tom Holland (“The Impossible”)
Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

DEBUT DIRECTOR
Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT 
Ben Affleck (“Argo”)

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
“Central Park Five”
“Promised Land”

 

 

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Argo”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“Django Unchained”
“Les Miserables”
“Lincoln”
“Looper”
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
“Promised Land”
“Silver Linings Playbook”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Barbara”
“The Intouchables”
“The Kid with a Bike”
“No”
“War Witch”

BEST DOCUMENTARY NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Al Weiwei”
“Detropia”
“The Gatekeepers”
“The Invisible War”
“Only the Young”

BEST INDEPENDENT FILMS (alphabetical)
“Arbitrage”
“Bernie”
“Compliance”
“End of Watch”
“Hello, I Must Be Going”
“Little Birds”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“On the Road”
“Quartet”
“Sleepwalk with Me”