TV Review: The Girl From Plainville 1.5 “Mirrorball” (dir by Pippa Bianco)


Well, I tried.

I really did.  Coming off of the high that I got off reviewing each episode of The Dropout, I thought it would be pretty easy to review all 8 episodes of The Girl From Plainville but, having watched the fifth episode last night, I think I’m done.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will continue to watch the series.  (There’s only three weeks left.)  And I’ll certainly include any thoughts that I have about the show in my “Week in Television” post.  But I think I’m done with trying to come up with 500-1000 words to use to review each episode because, quite frankly, there’s just not much to say about The Girl From Plainville.  The story of how Michelle Carter encouraged Conrad Roy to commit suicide is well-known.  The fact that Michelle Carter was put on trial and convicted is also well-known.  This show is trying to build-up suspense about a story that most viewers will already know.

It perhaps wouldn’t matter if The Girl From Plainville had something new or unexpectedly insightful to say about the case.  But the fact of the matter is that Michelle Carter is not that interesting of a human being.  Everything that I’ve read and seen about the case seems to suggest that she really didn’t have much going on inside of her brain.  Because she lacked an actual personality, Michelle learned how to behave and how to interact through social media and television.  Conrad’s death allowed her to live her life as if it was an episode of Glee, or at least that’s what Michelle was hoping.  And now, years after Conrad’s suicide, Michelle is out of prison and being played in a miniseries by Elle Fanning.  It doesn’t seem to be quite fair, does it?

As for last night’s episode, it felt pretty much like a filler episode.  The prosecution team continued to build a case against Michelle while Michelle had to deal with going from briefly being the most popular girl in school to being an absolute pariah.  We also got a few clumsily handled flashbacks to Michelle texting Conrad.  Last weekend, I watched Dopesick, which also aired on Hulu and also used a jumbled timeline.  The timeline in Dopesick did occasionally get confusing but, at the same time, it worked because it took place over several years and the actors could be made to look older or younger, depending on the timeline.  If Michael Keaton had a hint of hair, you know the show was taking place in the 90s.  If he was bald, you know it was 2004.  The Girl From Plainville, on the other hand, is only dealing with a two-year period and, as such, it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening when.  The characters played by Elle Fanning and Chloe Sevigny pretty much look and act the same in 2012 as they do in 2014.  It’s a very clumsily constructed story structure, one that does the miniseries little good.

That said, Elle Fanning continues to give a convincingly unhinged performance as Michelle and Colton Ryan is appropriately vulnerable as Conrad.  (Sorry,  I’m not going to call him Coco.)  I think if the miniseries had done away with all of the flashback nonsense and just told their story in chronological order, Fanning and Ryan’s strong performances would have been better served.  For now, I’m done with doing full reviews of this show but, if next week’s episode is a surprisingly good one, that could change.

TV Review: The Girl From Plainville 1.4 “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” (dir by Pippa Bianco)


Last week, when the first three episodes of The Girl From Plainville dropped on Hulu, my main concern was that, regardless of how well-acted the show may be or how tragic the true life story might be, there really wasn’t much left to be said about Michelle Carter and Conrad “Coco” Roy.   

Having watch the fourth and latest episode last night, I have to say that I think my concerns were justified.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  The fourth episode was fairly well-directed.  It was definitely well-acted.  There was a scene where Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan start singing Can’t Stop This Feeling that I’m sure will be a favorite amongst many viewers.  But, in the end, it’s hard to see why eight hours are going to be required to tell this story.  There was really nothing in the fourth episode that couldn’t have been communicated in a two-minute montage.

The fourth episode continued the show’s distracting habit of jumping back and forth in time.  The main problem with this is that, unless Colton Ryan is in the scene, it’s often difficult to keep track of whether we’re seeing the past or the show’s “present.”  There’s not much different between past Michelle and present Michelle.  For that matter, Coco’s parents appear to have been just as miserable in the past as they were in the present.  There was a scene where Coco’s father and his grandfather got into an argument about whether or not they should sell Coco’s truck and it took me a few minutes to understand that the scene was supposed to be taking place in 2014 and not 2012.  To be honest, there’s really no reason for the show’s jumbled timeline, other than the fact that it’s currently what all the Emmy-winning miniseries are doing.  But since we all already know how the story began and how the story is going to end, we don’t really get much out of the show’s mix of flashbacks and flashforwards.

The show seem to be trying to generate some suspense over whether Michelle will actually go on trial over her part in Coco’s death but again, what’s the point?  We all know that she went on trial.  The publicity of the trial is the whole reason why most people are going to be watching this show in the first place.  In fact, all of the legal maneuvering is probably the least interesting part of the story.  So far, both the prosecutor and Michelle’s attorney are coming across as being one-note characters.  That may be a reflection of reality because real-life lawyers are rarely as interesting as their television counterparts but that still doesn’t make for compelling viewing.

What does make for compelling viewing is the show’s suggestion that this was all because of Glee.  Michelle’s obsession with Finn and Rachel, in particular, seems to have been her main motivation for pursuing a relationship with Coco in the first place.  And, of course, Finn died when his actor died so perhaps Coco had to die as well.  (On the bright side, at least Michelle wasn’t obsessed with Puck and Quinn.)  While the rest of the world is trying to understand why Coco killed himself and why Michelle apparently ordered him to get back in the truck, Michelle is imagining herself in an episode of Glee.  As I mentioned earlier, the Can’t Fight This Feeling scene was probably the episode’s highlight, if just because it revealed how fragile Michelle’s concept of reality truly was.

If the fourth episode of The Dropout was where that show justified its existence, the fourth episode of The Girl From Plainville feels like it has more in common with the fourth episode of Pam & Tommy.  The Girl From Plainville works as a showcase for Elle Fanning and, occasionally, Colton Ryan but the show itself still hasn’t quite convinced me that it needs to exist.

TV Review: The Girl From Plainville Episodes 1-3 (dir by Lisa Cholodenko and Zetna Fuentes)


With The Dropout scheduled to air its final episode next week, Hulu is moving on to another 8-hour miniseries about another young blonde woman who was at the center of a media firestorm.  The Girl From Plainville stars Elle Fannie as Michelle Carter, a teenager who was convicted of more or less goading her “boyfriend,” Conrad Roy (played by Colton Ryan, who was one of the few good things about Dear Evan Hansen) into killing himself.

It was a case that got a lot of attention and Michelle was, for a few months, everyone’s favorite heartless villain.  She was eventually convicted of manslaughter and, after several appeals, was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison.  She served 11 and is currently free.  She’s 25 years old and has already experienced not only prison but also being briefly the most hated person in the country.  And yet, for all the attention that she received, no one has ever been able to determine just why exactly she told Conrad Roy that he should kill himself or why she went as far as to order him to do so, even after he said he had changed his mind.  There was a lot of speculation that Conrad perhaps thought that he and Michelle had a suicide pact, one that Michelle didn’t follow through on.  It’s also undeniable that, after Conrad’s suicide, Michelle made herself the center of attention.  Before her final text messages to Conrad were discovered, Michelle organized a charity softball game in his memory.  Of course, she held the game in her hometown instead of Conrad’s and apparently, she went out of her way not to involve any of Conrad’s friends or family in her efforts.  Could Michelle have pressured Conrad to kill himself just so she could use his death to be the center of everyone’s attention?

The first three episodes of The Girl From Plainville dropped on Hulu earlier this week and they certainly suggest that Michelle could be capable of doing it all for the attention.  At the same time, they also suggest that Michelle herself probably didn’t truly understand what she did or why she did it.  As played by Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan, both Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy come across as two people who didn’t have much of a connection with reality.  Conrad, or Coco as his friends and family call him, wants to escape a home life that is dominated by the constant bickering between his divorced parents.  He’s at his happiest when he gets a summer job working on a fishing boat and he’s miserable when he has to return to the “real” world, where he’s anxious around people his own age and he’s constantly being used as a pawn in his mother and father’s never ending battles.  Meanwhile, Michelle is so detached that she has to watch an episode of Glee in order to come up with something to say after Conrad’s suicide.  Conrad’s family is earthy, loud, and working class while Michelle’s family is reserved and wealthy but both families have raised children who feel like permanent outsiders.  Indeed, it seems almost preordained that they would eventually find each other and both Colton Ryan and Elle Fanning do a good job of bringing Conrad and Michelle to life.

That said, as I watched the first three episodes of The Girl from Plainville, I did find myself wondering if there was anything more to say about this case.  After the endless news coverage, one Lifetime movie, one HBO special, and countless “ripped from the headlines” episodes of Law & Order: SVU, are there any new insights left to be gleaned from the story of Michelle and Conrad?  With a story this terrible, one’s natural tendency is to search for a deeper meaning but is there really one there?  What if, for all the speculation, Michelle really was just a heartless monster who manipulated Conrad into suicide because she knew she could?  In short, is there enough here to really justify spending 8 hours with someone like Michelle Carter?

I guess we’ll find out over the upcoming few weeks.

Here Are The 78th Annual Golden Globe Nominations!


I’m totally turned off by the self-importance of the Golden Globes and I resent every time that I have to write about them.

That said, despite the fact that no one is quite sure who actually votes for the damn things and stories of corruption in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have been rampant for years, the Golden Globes have still emerged as one of the main Oscar precursors.  So, you kind of have to pay attention to them.  Bleh.

There really aren’t any huge shocks in the list of nominees below, with the exception of maybe Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor and James Corden’s Prom nomination.  I mean, if you’re that determined to nominate someone for The Prom, why would you go for James Corden as opposed to Meryl Streep?  That’s just odd.

Anyway, here are the nominations:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
“The Father”
“Mank”
“Nomadland”
“Promising Young Woman”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
“Hamilton”
“Music”
“Palm Springs”
“The Prom”

Best Director, Motion Picture
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Regina King, “One Night In Miami”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Kate Hudson, “Music”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “French Exit”
Rosamund Pike, “I Care a Lot”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “Emma”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Helena Zengel, “News of the World”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Tahar Rahim, “The Mauritanian”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
James Corden, “The Prom”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”
Dev Patel, “The Personal History of David Copperfield”
Andy Samberg, “Palm Springs”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Jared Leto, “The Little Things”
Billy Murray, “On the Rocks”
Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night In Miami”

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
Jack Fincher, “Mank”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, “The Father”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat, “The Midnight Sky”
Ludwig Göransson, “Tenet”
James Newton Howard, “News of the World”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Mank”
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul”

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“Fight For You,” Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Io Sì (Seen),” The Life Ahead”
“Speak Now,” One Night In Miami”
“Tigress & Tweed,” The United States Vs. Billie Holiday”

Best Motion Picture, Animated
“The Croods: A New Age”
“Onward”
“Over the Moon”
“Soul”
“Wolfwalkers”

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language
“Another Round”
“La Llorona”
“The Life Ahead”
“Minari”
“Two Of Us”

Best Television Series, Drama
“The Crown”
“Lovecraft Country”
“The Mandalorian”
“Ozark”
“Ratched”

Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy
“Emily in Paris”
“The Flight Attendant”
“The Great”
“Schitt’s Creek”
“Ted Lasso”

Best Limited Series, Anthology Series or a Motion Picture made for Television
“Normal People”
“The Queen’s Gambit”
“Small Axe”
“The Undoing”
“Unorthodox”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama
Olivia Colman, “The Crown”
Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
Emma Corrin, “The Crown”
Laura Linney, “Ozark”
Sarah Paulson, “Ratched”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy
Lily Collins, “Emily In Paris”
Kaley Cuoco, “The Flight Attendant”
Elle Fanning, “The Great”
Jane Levy, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”
Catherine O’Hara, “Schitt’s Creek”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America”
Daisy Edgar Jones, “Normal People”
Shira Haas, “Unorthodox”
Nicole Kidman, “The Undoing”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Supporting Role
Gillian Anderson, “The Crown”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The Crown”
Julia Garner, “Ozark”
Annie Murphy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Cynthia Nixon, “Ratched”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama
Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Al Pacino, “Hunters”
Matthew Rhys, “Perry Mason”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy
Don Cheadle, “Black Monday”
Nicholas Hoult, “The Great”
Eugene Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Jason Sudeikis, “Ted Lasso”
Ramy Youssef, “Ramy”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Bryan Cranston, “Your Honor”
Jeff Daniels, “The Comey Rule”
Hugh Grant, “The Undoing”
Ethan Hawke, “The Good Lord Bird”
Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much is True”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Supporting Role
John Boyega, “Small Axe”
Brendan Gleeson, “The Comey Rule”
Daniel Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Jim Parsons, “Hollywood”
Donald Sutherland, “The Undoing”

Here Are The Film Independent Spirit Nominations!


Earlier today, the nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards were announced!  The winners will be announced on April 22nd so that’ll give all of us a lot of time to consider them.

Here are the nominees:

BEST FEATURE
First Cow
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland

BEST FIRST FEATURE
I Carry You With Me
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Miss Juneteenth
Nine Days
Sound of Metal

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000
The Killing of Two Lovers
La Leyenda Negra
Lingua Franca
Residue
Saint Frances

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Noah Hutton – Lapsis
Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
James Sweeney – Straight Up

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Jay Keitel – She Dies Tomorrow
Shabier Kirchner – Bull
Michael Latham – The Assistant
Hélène Louvart – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland

BEST EDITING
Andy Canny – The Invisible Man
Scott Cummings – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Merawi Gerima – Residue
Enat Sidi – I Carry You With Me
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

BEST MALE LEAD
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Adarsh Gourav – The White Tiger
Rob Morgan – Bull
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Alexis Chikaeze – Miss Juneteenth
Yeri Han – Minari
Valerie Mahaffey – French Exit
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Yuh-jung Youn – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Orion Lee – First Cow
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
Glynn Turman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Benedict Wong – Nine Days

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast
One Night in Miami…
Director: Regina King
Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin
Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Collective
Crip Camp
Dick Johnson is Dead
The Mole Agent
Time

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)
Bacurau
The Disciple
Night of the Kings
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Quo Vadis, Aida?

PRODUCERS AWARD – The Producers Award, now in its 24th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.
Kara Durrett
Lucas Joaquin
Gerry Kim

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 27th year, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.
David Midell – Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
Ekwa Msangi – Director of Farewell Amor
Annie Silverstein – Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 26th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.
Cecilia Aldarondo – Director of Landfall
Elegance Bratton – Director of Pier Kids
Elizabeth Lo – Director of Stray

TV CATEGORIES

BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children
City So Real
Immigration Nation
Love Fraud
We’re Here

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
I May Destroy You
Little America
Small Axe
A Teacher
Unorthodox

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
Elle Fanning – The Great
Shira Haas – Unorthodox
Abby McEnany -Work in Progress
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan – Never Have I Ever
Jordan Kristine Seamón – We Are Who We Are

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
Conphidance – Little America
Adam Ali – Little America
Nicco Annan – P-Valley
Amit Rahav – Unorthodox
Harold Torres – Zero, Zero, Zero

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
I May Destroy You
Ensemble Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia,
Stephen Wight

The Films of 2020: All The Bright Places (dir by Brett Haley)


All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers in Indiana.

Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) is pretty, popular, and secretly very depressed.  She’s still recovering from the death of her sister and her friends aren’t being particularly helpful.  (At one point, her boyfriend asks how much longer she’s going to be depressed because she’s “been this way for a really long time.”)  Violet lives in a nice, comfortable home and probably has a bright future ahead of her but she can’t communicate how she’s feeling to her parents (Luke Wilson and Kelli O’Hara), who are dealing with their grief in their own ways.

Finch (Justice Smith) is a student who is viewed, by his classmates, as being something of a freak.  Unlike Violet, who holds back her emotions, Finch doesn’t hold back his feelings and, as a result, it’s gotten him in trouble.  If not for a somewhat sympathetic principal (Keegan-Michael Key), Finch probably would have been expelled a while ago.  As it is, he’s on probation and he’s running the risk of not graduating.  Finch lives with his sister (Alexandra Shipp).  Their parents are pretty much not in the picture.

One night, Finch happens to see Violet standing on a bridge and thinking about jumping.  From that moment, an unexpected relationship begins.  Though Violet is, at first, hesitant to open up to Finch (or anyone else, for that matter), Finch continues to try to talk to her.  Eventually, for a class, they’re assigned to do a report on the wonders of Indiana.  Soon, they’re going from location to location and Violet is slowly starting to enjoy life again while Finch encourage her to open up about her feelings and to once again start writing….

And, at this point, you’re probably thinking that this just a typical YA film, one that’s only distinguished by the fact that, instead of having a manic pixie dream girl, it has a manic pixie dream guy.  That was certainly how I felt during the first third of this film.  However, All The Bright Places is too smart of a film to settle for telling such a simple story and Finch is too complex of a character to be dismissed as a trope.  Even as Violet gets better, Finch’s own behavior grows more erratic.  (In fact, it could be argued that this film’s greatest contribution to the cultural discussion is its attempt to seriously explore what would cause someone to become a manic pixie dream person in the first place.)  When events conspire to cause Violet and Finch to be separated, it leads to tragedy.

It’s a sweet-natured and poignant film, one that sensitively explores depression and mental illness.  It’s also a film that understands how, when you’re a certain age and even if you’re not also having to deal with burdens of depression and anxiety, almost anything can seem like the end of the world.  It takes its character’s seriously and it doesn’t pander to its audience with any shallow promises about how things are magically going to get better once they graduate high school and head off to college.  At the same time, it’s also a very life-affirming film, one that encourages us to celebrate life and experience it while we can.

Elle Faning and especially Justice Smith give two achingly sincere and touching performances.  I was especially impressed with the work of Smith.  Smith plays up Finch’s intelligence and his curiosity about the world while, at the same time, also showing why Finch’s attention might occasionally be a bit overwhelming.  I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.

Here Are The 2018 Women Film Critics Circle Nominations!


BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Mary Shelley
Roma
The Favourite
Widows

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Leave No Trace
The Kindergarten Teacher
You Were Never Really Here

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]

Sara Colangelo: The Kindergarten Teacher
Debra Granik: Leave No Trace
Tamara Jenkins: Private Life
Audrey Wells: The Hate U Give

BEST ACTRESS
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Viola Davis, Widows
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher

BEST ACTOR
Ben Foster, Leave No Trace
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Hugo Weaving, Black 47

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Helena Bonham Carter, 55 Steps
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Kathryn Hahn, Private Life
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Elle Fanning, Mary Shelley
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace
Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give

BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
Capernaum
Happy As Lazzaro
Roma
Zama

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
RBG
Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland
Seeing Allred
Shirkers

WOMEN’S WORK/BEST ENSEMBLE
55 Steps
Ocean’s Eight
The Favourite
Widows

SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

COURAGE IN FILMMAKING
Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley
Sara Colangelo, The Kindergarten Teacher
Sandra Luckow, That Way Madness Lies
Jennifer Fox, The Tale

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]Helena Bonham Carter: 55 Steps
Viola Davis: Widows
Nicole Kidman: Destroyer
Melissa McCarthy: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women
Call Her Ganda
I Am Not A Witch
On Her Shoulders
Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland

JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
If Beale Street Could Talk
Life And Nothing More
The Hate U Give
Widows

KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
93 Queen
On The Basis Of Sex
Roma
Woman Walks Ahead

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD: [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Andrea Riseborough, Nancy
The Women Of Widows

BEST SCREEN COUPLE
A Star Is Born
Crazy Rich Asians
Disobedience
If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST FEMALE ACTION HEROES
Adrift
55 Steps
Black Panther
RBG

MOMMIE DEAREST WORST SCREEN MOM OF THE YEAR AWARD
Krista Allen, Party Mom
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Nicole Kidman, Destroyer
Jacki Weaver, Widows

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES
Black Panther
Like Me
On The Basis Of Sex
Widows

BEST ANIMATED FEMALES
Incredibles 2
Liyana
Mary And The Witch’s Flower
Mirai No Mirai

BEST FAMILY FILM
Eighth Grade
Incredibles 2
Science Fair
The Hate U Give

WFCC HALL OF SHAME
Bryan Singer

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Hold the Dark, Ben is Back, King Lear, I Think We’re Alone Now


We’ve already shared two of this week’s biggest trailers, Suspiria and The Outlaw King.

Here’s the best of the rest:

Director Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film, Hold The Dark, will come to Netflix on September 28th and it looks like it will be another tough and uncompromising film from the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room.

In Ben Is Back, Lucas Hedges plays Ben, who returns home on Christmas Eve and brings trouble with him.  Julia Roberts plays his mother.  This film is set for a December 7th release.

Every great Shakespearean actor eventually gets to play King Lear.  Anthony Hopkins did so in this BBC production.  This version transports Shakespeare’s tragedy to an alternative version of modern-day London and it will premiere on Amazon Prime on September 28th.

In I Think We’re Alone Now, Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning might be the last two people on Earth.  Find out on September 14th.

 

Film Review: Live By Night (dir by Ben Affleck)


Remember Live By Night?

Released in December of 2016, Live By Night was one of those highly anticipated films that ended up bombing at the box office and leaving critics cold.  The anticipation was due to the fact that Live By Night was the first film that Ben Affleck had directed since Argo won best picture.  It was seen as Affleck’s next prestige picture, the one that would remind everyone that he was more than just the latest actor to be cast as Batman.  Live By Night was expected to be a huge Oscar contender.  As for why it bombed at the box office, that may have had something to do with the fact that Live By Night is not a very good film.

It’s a gangster film, one that takes place during prohibition.  Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the most boring gangster in Boston.  Or, at least, he is until he falls for the wrong woman and he ends up having to flee down to Tampa.  Once down there, Joe sets himself up as the most boring gangster in Florida.  There’s all sorts of themes running through Live By Night — racial themes, economic themes, even some heavy-handed religious themes — but ultimately, the main impression that one gets from the film’s story is that Joe Coughlin was a very boring gangster.

Anyway, Joe gets involved in all sorts of corruption and violence.  He brings down his friend, Dion (Chris Messina), to help him out.  Whereas Joe is rational and dull, Dion is violent and dull.  You spend the entire movie waiting for the moment when Dion will turn on Joe but it never happens.  I guess that’s a good thing since Joe and Dion are busy battling the Klan.  Joe may be a 1920s gangster but he’s got the political and cultural outlook of a 21st century movie star.

Joe knows that prohibition is going to end someday, so he hopes to make money through opening up a casino.  Standing in the way of the casino is a prostitute-turned-evangelist named Loretta (Elle Fanning).  Loretta is the daughter of the local police chief (Chris Cooper), with whom Joe has an uneasy friendship.  You keep expecting this plot to go somewhere but it really doesn’t.  Loretta’s just kinda there.  That said, we do get a hilarious shot of a tearful Chris Cooper repeating the word repent over and over again so there is that.

Zoe Saldana is also just kind of there, playing Joe’s Cuban wife.  Again, you expect a lot to happen with Saldana’s character but, for the most part, she’s mostly just a plot device who exists solely so that Joe can have some sort of motivation beyond simply wanting to get rich.

It’s a big, sprawling film that never quite feels like an epic.  A huge part of the problem is that Ben Affleck the director is let down by Ben Affleck the actor.  Regardless of what’s happening in the scene, Affleck always has the same grim look on his face.  At times, it seems as if he’s literally been chiseled out of a marble and you find yourself wondering if he’s actually capable of any facial expression beyond glum annoyance.  A gangster film like this need a bigger-than-life protagonist but, as played by Affleck, Joe always seems to be in danger of vanishing into the scenery.

I think part of the problem is that Affleck’s previous films all dealt with places and subjects that Affleck felt comfortable with, perhaps because he could relate their stories to his own personal experiences.  Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town both took place exclusively in Boston.  Argo dealt with the film industry.  Live By Night is a period piece set in the South and Affleck is obviously lost from the minute Joe arrives in Florida.

Live By Night, I think, could have been a good movie if it had been directed by someone like Paul Thomas Anderson and maybe if an actor like Colin Farrell played the role of Joe.  But, as it is, it’s just a rather stolid and uninspiring gangster film.

Playing Catch-Up: The Neon Demon (dir by Nicholas Winding Refn)


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What to say about The Neon Demon?

See, this is a film that you have to be careful about discussing.  From the moment that it premiered at Cannes last year, The Neon Demon was the love-it-or-hate-it film of 2016.

Those of us that loved The Neon Demon really, really loved it.

And those that hated it — well, let’s just say that they really, really hated it.  They complained that The Neon Demon was exploitive.  They found the subject matter to be sordid.  They accused the movie of being both pretentious and ultimately pointless.  The plot made no sense, they complained.  The film was overlong and featured about a handful of false endings.  It almost seemed as if Nicholas Winding Refn was taunting anyone who expected him to make a typical melodrama about life in Hollywood.

All of that is true but, honestly, what were these people expecting?  As a result of the success of Drive, many people have made the mistake of thinking that Nicholas Winding Refn is a mainstream director.  He’s not.  Refn is a provocateur.  He is a director who often dares his audience to walk away.  In The Neon Demon, each false ending challenges the audience’s assumption about how a story — any story — should end.  Some people, I’m sure, would complain that Refn is all style and no substance.  However, The Neon Demon is about a world where one’s worth is determined by their style.  Style is substance.  The world of The Neon Demon may be empty but the film is not.

For all the debate about the film’s deeper themes (or lack of them), The Neon Demon‘s story is a fairly simple and deliberately familiar one.  A teenage runaway comes to Hollywood, finds some success as a model, and discovers that the world of show business is not as romantic as she may have initially believed.  When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she’s posing for her boyfriend and she’s pretending to be dead.  Death, beauty, and sex go hand-in-hand in The Neon Demon.

Jesse’s an interesting character, one who constantly challenges our assumptions.  At first, Jesse seems like a typical innocent.  She’s a virgin who is so introverted that she can barely carry on a conversation.  She lives in a cheap apartment, under the menacing gaze of her sleazy landlord (Keanu Reeves, having fun playing his skeezy character).  She has a boyfriend and on their dates, she tells him about how she’s always dreamed of being a star.  It’s only as the film progresses that you start to realize how little you actually know about Jesse.  That she’s a runway is implied early on.  We never learn what led to her running away.  In fact, we learn next to nothing about who she was before she appeared in Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Jesse is everything that the fashion industry values.  She’s beautiful and, even more importantly, she’s young.  We watch as Jesse goes to a casting call and we’re struck by the blank-look on her face.  We wonder if there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Jesse has hallucinations, seeing a shining triangle and kissing her own reflection.  Someone asks her what it’s like to be desired.  She replies, “It’s everything.”

Jesse befriends Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who lives in a gigantic mansion, overlooking an empty swimming pool.  When Ruby isn’t working in the fashion industry, she works at a morgue, applying makeup to corpses and occasionally engaging in necrophilia.  She makes the dead beautiful so that they can be buried looking their best.  Again, beauty and death are intertwined throughout The Neon Demon.

Ruby has two other friends, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee).  They’re both models, struggling to maintain their careers even as younger models, like Jesse, continue to flood into Los Angeles.  Gigi has had so much cosmetic surgery that none of her original features remain.  Gigi is neurotic and fearful.  Sarah, on the other hand, is confident and sarcastic.  When asked what she did the last time another model screwed her out of a job, Sarah calmly replies, “I ate her.”

Sarah isn’t necessarily joking either.  Without giving too much away, The Neon Demon features, among other things, a character eating an eyeball that another character has just thrown up.  Not surprisingly for a Refn film, there’s a lot of blood in The Neon Demon.  It’s a film that opens with fake blood and ends with very real blood.

Combining the visual sense of Dario Argento with the thematic concerns of Jean Rollin, The Neon Demon is a triumph of pure style.  The visuals are so strong that it’s impossible to look away, even when the film’s themes are deliberately obscure.  The Neon Demon is a surreal journey into the dark side of Hollywood, a mixture of ennui, alienation, decadence, and sacrifice.  It may not always make sense but it’s always fascinating to watch.

Personally, I think The Neon Demon would make a great double feature with La La Land.  Two triumphs of style, two very different views of Los Angeles.