6 Actresses Who Will Soon Hopefully Win Their First Oscar


As of right now, it seems like there’s a very good chance that Glenn Close will win the Academy Award for Best Actress tonight.  In a film career that started 19 years ago and which has seen Close nominated for seven Academy Awards, tonight would be her first win.

That’s the way it goes with the Oscars.  Some performers win an Oscar for their first film.  Some don’t win until they’ve got several decades of work behind them.  Others, sadly enough, go through their entire life getting nominated but never actually winning.  Some come out of nowhere, win an Oscar, and then promptly vanish.  Others, like Meryl Streep, are given nominations largely just for showing up.  One of the biggest Oscar traditions has been the beloved artist who, after years of distinguished work, finally picks up for her first award.

The cliché, of course, is that every performer just needs the right role.  So, with that in mind, here are 6 previously unrewarded actresses who I hope get the right role sometime in the near future:

Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd was one of the best actresses working the 90s and the early 21st Century but her career was deliberately sabotaged by a monster named Harvey Weinstein.  In Twin Peaks: The Return, Judd proved that she’s still more than capable of playing intriguing and unpredictable characters.  If anyone is both owed a great role and has repeatedly shown herself to have the talent to handle one, it’s Ashley Judd.

Jennifer Jason Leigh

It’s hard to believe that her nomination for The Hateful Eight was Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first.  While Leigh was undeniably good in the film, the nomination was also a recognition of the fact that, since the 1980s, Leigh’s been one of the best and bravest actresses around.  Hopefully, The Hateful Eight will not be her only nomination.

Saoirse Ronan

When is Saorise Ronan going to win an Oscar?  One gets the feeling that she came close with Lady Bird and Brooklyn but, both times, the Oscar went to another.  Ronan seems like one of those performers that’s destined to win sometime.

Zoe Kazan

Zoe Kazan has been Oscar-worthy in two films, Ruby Sparks and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.  One could also argue that she deserved some consideration for her performance in The Big Sick.  Based on the scripts for Ruby Sparks and Wildfire, Kazan could just easily win an Oscar for writing as for acting,

Scarlett Johansson

It still continues to amaze me that, with credits like Lost In Translation and Under the Skin on her resume, Scarlett Johansson has yet to even be nominated for an Academy Award.  As of late, Johansson has been best known for playing Natasha in a countless MCU films.  So, how about an award-worthy Black Widow stand-alone film?  Get to it, Marvel!

Carey Mulligan

Ever since I first saw An Education, Carey Mulligan’s been one of my favorite actresses.  Mulligan is such a good actress that I think there’s a tendency to take her for granted.  That she was nominated for neither Mudbound nor Shame is …. well, a shame.

 

Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Eyes of a Stranger (dir by Ken Wiederhorn)


In this 1981 slasher film, bad things are happening in the city of Miami.

There’s a serial killer on the loose.  He’s chopping off heads and leaving bodies on the beach and basically just making a huge mess of things.  Local new anchorwoman Jane (Lauren Tewes) is upset that there’s a killer roaming the streets of her hometown.  She even talks about how upset she is during a local newscast, which takes everyone at the station by surprise.  I don’t know why they’re so shocked.  Don’t they know that Jane has a younger sister named Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and that Tracy’s been blind, deaf, and mute ever since she was attacked by a maniac?

One day, Jane is returning to the apartment that she shares with her sister.  As she’s parking her car, she sees her neighbor, Stanley (John DiSanti), stuffing what appears to be a bloody shirt in a trash can.  Oh my God, could he be the murderer!?

Well, yes, he is.  The film actually makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stanley is the murderer.  Stanley is one of those movie murderers who is either hyper competent or totally oblivious, depending on what the scene demands.  For instance, despite being a rather heavyset, middle-aged man, he can still sneak up behind people without them ever hearing and chop off their head with one wave of a meat cleaver.  On the other hand, when he kills a couple on the beach, his car ends up getting stuck in the sand.

Anyway, Jane is pretty much instantly convinced that Stanley is the killer and she immediately starts doing stuff like taunting him over the telephone.  (Despite the fact that she’s on TV every night and her voice is apparently heard by everyone in Miami, she makes no effort to disguise her voice whenever she calls Stanley.)  She also breaks into his apartment to look for clues.

As I watched this film, I found myself thinking about how much more interesting it would have been if Stanley hadn’t been the killer and if Jane felt so guilty about what happened to her sister that she ended up harassing a totally innocent bystander.  But no, Stanley is the murderer so naturally all of this leads to an extended sequence where Stanley breaks into and then follows Tracy around Jane’s apartment.

So, Eyes of a Stranger is a fairly mediocre film, one that would probably be totally forgotten if not for the fact that it’s also the debut film of Jennifer Jason Leigh.  While the film is obviously meant to showcase Lauren Tewes (a TV actress who gives a rather wooden performance), Jennifer Jason Leigh steals every scene in which she appears.  Her total commitment to her character shines through and she even manages to sell a rather implausible plot twist that occurs towards the end of the film.  John DiSanti also deserves some credit for his performance as Stanley.  Again, it’s hard not to feel that the film would have worked better if it had tried to keep us guessing as to the question of Stanley’s guilt.

Eyes of a Stranger was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, who also did the far superior zombie movie, Shock Waves.  It’s interesting to note that both Lauren Tewes and Jennifer Jason Leigh would subsequently appear in Twin Peaks: The Return, though Leigh’s role was significantly larger.

 

Here’s The Trailer For White Boy Rick!


Here’s the trailer for White Boy Rick!

Now, White Boy Rick is based on a true story that’s actually pretty interesting.  At the age of 14, Richard Wershe, Jr. was the youngest criminal to ever become an informant for the FBI.  Of course, once the FBI got what they wanted from him, Wershe was left on his own and, when he was 17, he was arrested for selling cocaine and sentenced to life in prison.  Wershe, who was finally paroled in 2017, claims that the harsh sentence was politically motivated and that he basically learned how to become a successful drug dealer through his work for the government.

It’s a great story and, with more and more people questioning both drug prohibition and national law enforcement, a timely one.  The film’s got a good cast, with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, Rory Cochrane, Piper Laurie, and Bruce Dern all in supporting roles.  The director, Yann Demange, previously directed the great ’71 and is definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker.  Rick is played by a Richie Merritt, who will be making his film debut in the leading role.

As for the trailer itself, it’s effective.  I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue and it’s hard to really judge Merritt’s performance based on what’s present here.  But I like the look of the trailer and the music is damn near perfect.

Some are saying this movie might be an Oscar contender.  We’ll have to see!

‘Annihilation’ Review (dir. Alex Garland)


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It has been quite some time since I last wrote a review. But sometimes a film hits the right notes and sits with you and the only way to shake it is by getting your thoughts out in writing. ’Annihilation’ was one of the first films in awhile to have that effect on me. I should preface this by saying that I’ve been waiting 3 years for its release ever since I read Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy. That it was going to be directed by Alex Garland only heightened that excitement. It is fitting that the last film I reviewed on this site was ‘Ex Machina’ – another Garland film that I loved and ended up being my favorite of that year. It might only be February but I can honestly say I could see ‘Annihilation’ taking that spot this year.

Alex Garland has stated that he read the first book of the ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy – from which the film gets its title – only once and then wrote the screenplay as if remembering a dream. To him it was a “dream like” book – one that would be hard to adapt outright. So he wrote the screenplay as if recalling a dream – attempting to capture the tone but also offering up his own interpretation of the story.  I think that you could say that this is also how I approached this review. I’ve only seen the film once and in writing this it  really was like trying to remember a dream. The film is so layered and so visceral of an experience that to discuss it without multiple viewings doesn’t quite do it justice, because like a dream you only remember what stood out, the parts that affected you the most and things might get overlooked. Those things might not be the same for everyone so my interpretation of it may not mirror what others have thought – it might also just seem like pseudo intellectual babel! But I’ll do my best.

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It would be damn near impossible to describe the plot of the film in any great detail without spoiling it but I will do my best to set it up. The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena – an ex army soldier turned biology professor. When we first meet her she is still grieving her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who was also in the military. He was sent on a mission a year prior and there has been no word of his status since. That is until one evening when he turns up to their house, his memory hazy, his explanation of his disappearance unclear. Before long he begins to have seizures and Lena rushes him to the hospital only to be intercepted by the Southern Reach – a secret government agency – and taken to a secure location.

There they explain to Lena that years prior something seemingly extraterrestrial crashed into the coastline. In subsequent days and weeks after the crash a shimmering pearl and translucent bubble began to grow and expand covering miles of swampland. It doesn’t seem to ever stop expanding and its presence is being monitored and kept secret. Their fear is that if it continues to grow at its current pace, it’ll eventually end up engulfing populated areas. They have sent in multiple exploratory teams over the years, consisting of trained military forces – to discover what lies within but none have returned. The prevailing theory/rumor? Something either killed them or they went crazy and killed each other. Lena learns that her husband – now on life support and quickly fading – was a part of one of those missions and is the first member to ever return. Determined to find out what happened – and possibly save him – Lena volunteers to join four other women on the next expedition into what the organization calls the “Shimmer”.

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From there what Garland creates is a cerebral – at times haunting – sci-fi masterpiece. To me ‘Annihilation’ works brilliantly as two things. First as a genre film in the vein of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Alien’. It is at times bone chillingly eerie with a persistent sense of unease and paranoia from start to finish – and it contains one scene with a bear that is one of the more frightening scenes I’ve seen in awhile. This side of it raises a lot of questions about genetics, bioengineering and the effects of outside forces on an ecosystem. You could take it as a climate change allegory where human interference has altered the environment and now it has turned on them.

Second – and more importantly –  it is a metaphysical examination of depression, self destruction – and in my eyes – renewal that has ties to Tarkovsky and Kubrick. It is a film about characters dealing with issues that hang over them like a dark cloud. Addiction, the loss of a child, self harm, cancer. Each and every one of them goes on this mission not just because they want to know what lies within the Shimmer – but also because the unknown is better than what they currently know. In an almost subconscious way – and for some very conscious  – the threat of death doesn’t scare them and it perhaps would be a release. Once inside they are faced with an ever increasing state of anxiety. They can’t trust their eyes or their thoughts. Eventually even their bodies turn on them. Are they even any longer in control? Will they ever escape or be able to go back to being who or what they were before entering? Or will they be consumed by the Shimmer – the dark cloud that hangs over them?

For Lena specifically, the deeper she goes the more the Shimmer takes effect, the weight of guilt and grief consuming her, until she nears a breaking point. By the film’s end she must effectively confront herself head one – and for many people with depression that “self” is their worst enemy as it is here. She can’t get away from it, at one point it is literally suffocating and crushing the more she fights. It isn’t until she stops fighting that she is able to overcome. But still the question lingers – even once we get through the darkest moments in our life – when we shed that grief, guilt, loss or sadness – are we still the same? Has the effects of those things, of the Shimmer, changed us forever for better or for worse? That I think it open to interpretation. For me I found the ending hopeful. There was a sense of renewal, or rebirth, in the same way as ‘2001’ and the Starchild or the Titan-esque Ryan Stone crawling out of the “primordial soup” in the end of ‘Gravity’.

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Production wise I’d say the film is a marvel. The CGI is used to great effect creating a dreamy, gorgeous and colorful landscape. Garland has mentioned that although the film is set in Florida they shot the film in the UK and made the sets look like swampland. It is a minor production detail that I found interesting and in a way one that helps in making the Shimmer feel more unnatural. The score is equal parts hypnotic and kinetic. The finale in particular had my skin crawling as the images on screen danced along with the pounding score.

The two biggest complaints I have heard about the film are the pacing and the narrative structure. Neither bothered me. The pace was at times slow – but it felt deliberate as if building towards something great – which very much paid off. There are quiet moments but all serving a purpose to either further the progression of the story and Lena’s arc – or to build a sense of unease. As far as the structure of the film – which consists of flashbacks and jumps between the past and present – it didn’t hinder the film in any way. And to be quite honest, given the feeling of the unknown, I enjoyed the slow revelation of Lena’s past along with the questions about Lena’s state of mind in the present that the structure produced. One must remember she is an unreliable narrator at that point – something that I think could be rewarded with multiple viewings

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I do highly recommend that everyone see this on the big screen- especially because love it or hate it, we need to support these sorts of films. The studio already gave up on ‘Annihilation’ before it was even released. It won’t hit theaters overseas and hasn’t even opened in a lot of theaters in the US which is a shame.

Ultimately for me ‘Annihilation ‘ was a film that was as earthly – almost cosmic – as it was intimate. It is a horror story about how we change the world around us and how it changes us – as well as a fascinating examination of depression, anxiety and overcoming self destruction. It is a divisive film for sure. It won’t click with everyone and many will outright hate it. Even those that love it might not walk away with the same impression as I did. But that to me is the sign of a truly great film – one that is subversive, layered and truly unafraid to take risks.

2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)


“Nothing will die. The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats. Nothing will die.” — John Merrick’s Mother, quoting Tennyson, at the end of The Elephant Man (1980)

Was Twin Peaks: The Return a movie or a TV show?

As I sit here on January 9th, 2018, that’s a question that’s still on my mind.  There are many critics who insist that Twin Peaks: The Return should be viewed as being a 16-hour movie.  It’s a claim that I, myself, have made several times.  In order to support this argument, we point out that David Lynch and Mark Frost didn’t sit down and write 16 different scripts.  Instead, they wrote one 900-page script which they then filmed and subsequently divided into 16 different “chapters.”  It’s really not that much different from what Quentin Tarantino did with Kill Bill or what Peter Jackson did with both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  As well, Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental artistic achievement that calling it a TV show just seems somehow diminishing.

And yet, the fact of the matter is that Twin Peaks: The Return did air on television.  It aired in 16 different episodes, which were aired on a weekly basis.  To many, that fact alone makes Twin Peaks: The Return a television show.

It may all seem like a silly question to some readers.  However, for those of us who like to make best-of lists at the start of the new year, it is a legitimate issue.  Should I include Twin Peaks: The Return at the top of my list of the best 26 films of 2017 or should I rave about it in my list of good things I saw on television in 2017?

My solution is to do neither.  Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental achievement that it deserves a best-of entry of its very own.

(Of course, not everyone is going to agree.  For everyone who loved Twin Peaks: The Return, there was someone else who hated it with just as much of a passion.)

Months after the show ended, Twin Peaks: The Return continues to haunt many viewers.  As the Man From Another Place once told Agent Cooper, “She is full of secrets.”  When the show ended, many of the show’s mysteries were left unsolved.  Really, we shouldn’t have been surprised.  As a filmmaker, David Lynch has always been most interested in mysteries than solutions.  What happened to Audrey?  Why did Laura/Carrie scream?  At the end of the show, was Dale trapped in another world or another time?  Was BOB really destroyed?

Interestingly, David Lynch actually provided viewers with two endings.  The first ending, which occurred halfway through Part 17, was an ending that would have been perfect for a television show.  Dale Cooper, back to normal, defeated the bad guys and was reunited with all of his friends.  The second ending — also known as Part 18— was a much more Lynchian ending as two strangers took a road trip to nowhere.  Part 17 gave us hope for the future.  Part 18 ended with a dark reminder that the past cannot be changed, no matter how much we obsess over it.  For me, Part 18 was the most important chapter of Twin Peaks: The Return.  Part 8, of course, is the chapter that got and continues to get all the attention.  And Part 8 was probably one of the greatest stand-alone episodes in television history.  But, when considering the reoccurring themes of Twin Peaks: The Return and all of Lynch’s work, Part 18 was far more important.

What’s interesting is that, while the show ended on a dark note, Twin Peaks: The Return was often Lynch at his most optimistic.  For all the terrible things that happened, the show also featured a reoccurring theme of redemption.  Two of the original show’s most villainous characters — Dana Ashbrook’s Bobby Briggs and Richard Beymer’s Ben Horne — were reintroduced as two of the most sympathetic characters to be found in The Return.  Agent Cooper finally escaped from the Black Lodge and not only got a chance to redeem himself by destroying Bob but he also destroyed his evil Double.  He even got a chance to turn Dougie Jones into a good husband, father, and employee.

In the end, it would appear that Cooper’s only mistake was thinking that he could change the past.  He may have saved Laura but, in doing so, he just transformed her into Carrie, an unbalanced woman living in a house with a dead body on the couch.  As her final scream confirmed, he could save her life but he couldn’t erase her pain.  The past is the past but the future can always be better.

Of course, it wasn’t just the characters on the show who won redemption.  The cast of Twin Peaks: The Return was truly amazing and, by the time the show ended, my opinion of several performers had changed forever.  Who would ever have guessed that Jim Belushi would end up being one of my favorite characters?  Or that Michael Cera would turn Wally Brando into a minor cult hero?   Or that David Lynch would prove to be as good an actor as he is a director?  Or that Balthazar Getty would get a chane to redeem his less than impressive work in Lost Highway with a chilling performance as the newest face of Twin Peaks corruption?  Even the returnees from the original show — Dana Ashbrook, Wendy Robie, Sheryl Lee, Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson, Russ Tamblyn, Everett McGill, Peggy Lipton, Grace Zabriskie, James Marshall, Madchen Amick, and others — were given a chance to reveal new depths of character.  Veterans like Robert Forster, Ashley Judd, Laura Dern, Don Murray, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth shared the stage with newcomers like Chrysta Bell and Eamon Farren and they all came together to create an unforgettable world.

You could even argue that Twin Peaks: The Return was a comeback of sorts for Kyle MacLachlan.  Hollywood has never seemed to really understand how to best use this appealing but quirky actor.  Twin Peaks: The Return provided him with a chance to show what he can do, giving him not just one but three characters to play.

 

Twin Peaks: The Return gave us one final chance to appreciate some talented people who are no longer with us.  Harry Dean Stanton was the face of old-fashioned decency.  Miguel Ferrer provided snarky commentary, letting the audience know that the show understood how strange it was.  Warren Frost returned briefly, still as reliable as ever as Doc Hayward.  And Catherine E. Coulson, who was so often Lynch’s muse, got to play the role one more time.

(Jack Nance, Don S. Davis, Frank Silva, and David Bowie all made appearances as well, a reminder that they may no longer be with us but they will never be gone.)

In the end, it seems appropriate to end this post with a picture of Ed and Norma, finally together.  The world of Twin Peaks: The Return was frequently a dark one but sometimes, love won.

Tomorrow, my look back at 2017 continues with my picks for my favorite songs of 2017.

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017

 

A Movie A Day #311: Crooked Hearts (1991, directed by Michael Bortman)


“The family is like a drug and we’re all junkies.”  So says Charley Warner (Vincent D’Onofrio), one of the many pissed off people at the center of Crooked Hearts.

Crooked Hearts is narrated by Charley’s younger brother, Tom (Peter Berg).  When Tom drops out of college, he returns home and discovers that Charley is still living with their parents, Edward (Peter Coyote) and Jill (Cindy Pickett).  Charley feels that he can only leave the family if Edward officially kicks him out but Edward refuses to give him the satisfaction of escape.  Instead, Edward throws parties to celebrate his children’s failures, all of which he can recite from memory.  Also caught up in this mess are the two youngest children, Ask (Noah Wyle) and Cassie (Juliette Lewis).  Cassie is narcoleptic and Ask has a list of very important rules that everyone must follow to be happy, including always making sure that your socks match your shirt.  By the end of the movie, one brother has set his own house on fire and another one is mercifully dead.

Tolstoy once said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but he never got to see Crooked Hearts, a movie where everyone is unhappy in the most predictable way possible.  Aside from an overbaked script and underbaked director, Crooked Hearts does feature good performances from Peter Coyote and Vincent D’Onofrio but Peter Berg is boring as the monotonous narrator and Noah Wyle tries too hard to be eccentric.  I watched Crooked Hearts because Jennifer Jason Leigh was in it but Leigh’s role was small and could have just as easily been played by Mary Stuart Masterson, Penelope Ann Miller, Mary-Louise Parker or any of the other three-name actresses of the early 90s.  Family may be addictive but this movie is not.