Back to School Part II #34: The Ice Storm (dir by Ang Lee)


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The 1997 film The Ice Storm is kind of a schizophrenic film, which makes sense since it’s set in 1973 and, just from what I’ve seen in the movies, it appears that the early 70s were kind of a schizophrenic time.

It’s a film that deals with two sets of people who all live in an upper class Connecticut community.  One part of the film deals with parents who are freaking out about suddenly being adults.  The other part of the film deals with the children, most of whom seem destined to make the same mistakes as their parents.  It’s a film that is occasionally bracingly realistic and relatable, one that reminds us that being directionless in the 70s isn’t necessarily that different from being directionless in 2016.  At other times, the film feels a bit too studied for its own good.  This is one of those films that features a Tobey Maguire voice-over and, as good an actor as Maguire has always been, he’s always at his worse when reciting a pseudo-profound voice over.  And then there are other times when the film feels a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  Elijah Wood’s a stoner.  Sigourney Weaver walks around with a bullwhip.  David Krumholtz shows up as a character named Francis Davenport.

Fortunately, the film is directed by Ang Lee and Ang Lee is probably one of the few filmmakers who can overcome tonal inconsistency.  Lee is so good with actors and is such a good storyteller that even his lesser films are usually worth watching.  The Ice Storm would just be another silly sin-in-the-suburbs film if it had been made by any director other than Ang Lee.

The main adult in the film is Ben Hood (Kevin Kline).  Ben is married to Elena (Joan Allen) but he’s having an affair with his neighbor, Janey (Sigourney Weaver).  Elena may be upset when she finds out about the affair but she’s still willing to accompany her husband to a key party.  A key party was a 70s ritual in which husbands would throw their car keys into a big punch bowl and then the wives would randomly pick a key and have sex with the owner.  Basically, anytime a TV show or a movie takes place in the suburbs during the 70s, there has to be at least one key party.

And The Ice Storm‘s key party is kind of fun to watch.  Kevin Kline and Joan Allen both give really good performances and Ben is such a loser that it’s fun to watch him freak out when Janey gets a key other than this own.  Elena, meanwhile, ends up going off with Janey’s husband (Jamey Sheridan, pretty much looking the same in this 1997 film as he did in Spotlight and Sully) and they share a really good scene together, one that reveals that none of the film’s adults are really as mature or liberated as they claim to be.

While the adults attempt to play, their children attempt to find some sort of meaning to their empty existence.  Ben and Elena’s daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), wears a Richard Nixon mask and enjoys sexually teasing her classmates, especially Janey’s youngest son, Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).  Ben and Elena’s oldest son, Paul (Tobey Maguire) is in New York, hoping to lose his virginity to Libbits (Katie Holmes) despite the fact that Libbets is far more interested in his boarding school roommate, Francis Davenport (David Krumholtz).  Paul also compares his family to the Fantastic Four so, assuming Paul survived both the 70s and 80s, he’s probably still living in Connecticut and telling everyone who disappointed he was with last year’s film.

And, of course, there’s Mickey (Elijah Wood).  Mickey is Janey’s oldest son and he’s permanently spaced out.  When the ice storm of the title occurs, Mickey is the one who decides to wander around outside and appreciate the beauty of nature’s remorseless wrath.

Needless to say, the ice storm is also a really obvious metaphor for the way all of these very unhappy (but very prosperous) characters tend to view and treat each other.  Despite all the attempts to pretend otherwise, everyone has a frozen soul.  Nobody’s capable of maintaining any sort of real emotional connection.  Of course, someone dies and everyone’s forced to take a look at the sad reality of their lives and the film ends with a sudden and spontaneous display of actual human emotion.  It’s one of those ideas that probably works better as a literary conceit than a cinematic one.

That said, The Ice Storm is flawed but very watchable.  I enjoyed it, even if it did occasionally seem to be trying way too hard.  It’s well-acted and, if nothing else, I enjoyed getting to see all of the amazingly tacky clothes and the interiors of all those big houses.  These people love their wide lapels and their shag carpeting.  The Ice Storm is not Ang Lee’s best but it’s still good enough.

Playing Catch-Up: Room (dir by Lenny Abrahamson)


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Have you seen Room yet?

I ask because I’m debating how much information I should share in this review.  Room came out a few months ago and I’ve been late in reviewing it because watching the film was such an emotionally overwhelmingly experience that I wasn’t sure where to begin.  Now, all of this time has passed and I’m in a hurry to review this film because it’s obviously going to be nominated for some Oscars on Thursday morning and I’m wondering how much I can reveal without spoiling the movie.

It’s always tempting to say “Spoilers be damned!” but I’m not going to do that this time.  Room is a great film and it’s one that deserves to be discovered with a fresh mind.  I imagine that many people who missed the film the first time will see it once Brie Larson has been nominated for Best Actress.  Out of respect for those people, I am going to hold off from going into too much detail about the film’s plot.

Of course, this means that, if you haven’t seen the film, you’re going to have to have a little bit of faith in me.  You’re going to have to trust me.  When I tell you that this is an amazing film that will take you by surprise, you’re just going to believe me.  Because if I ruin those surprises … well, then they won’t be surprises anymore, will they?

When I first heard all the Oscar talk swirling around Room, my initial instinct was to make a joke about Tommy Wiseau finally getting the credit he deserves.  But then I saw Room and, within a few minutes of the film, I was in tears.  It’s hard for me to think of any other film this year that made me cry as much as Room.

Room is narrated by Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a 5 year-old boy whose hair is so long that he is frequently mistaken for being a girl.  Jack lives in a filthy room with Ma (Brie Larson).  The tiny room has only a toilet, a sink, a bed, a small kitchen area, and a cheap television.  There’s also the small closet where Jack sleeps and a skylight in the ceiling.  As quickly becomes apparent from his narration, Jack has never been outside of the room.  All he knows about the outside world comes from TV and the stories told to him by Ma.

Occasionally, a nervous man named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) enters the room.  Whenever Old Nick shows up, Ma orders Jack to hide in the closet.  However, even in the closet, Jack listens to Ma and Nick talking in the room.  Ma talks about how Nick kidnapped her when she was 17.  Nick talks about how he has recently lost his job and may not be able to continue to take care of his two prisoners.  Fearful for her life, Ma humors the self-pitying Nick.  Nick, meanwhile, plays the victim and complains about how difficult it is to keep her and Jack prisoner.  It quickly becomes apparent that Jack is Nick’s child.

Now that Jack is five, Ma knows that he’s old enough that she can tell him about her plan to escape from Nick.  However, escaping means exposing Jack to a world that he’s never experienced and that Ma fears she no longer remembers.

Meanwhile, Ma’s parents wonder what has happened to their missing daughter.  (It’s from her parents that we learn that, much like a character played by fellow Oscar contender Jennifer Lawrence, Ma’s name is Joy.)  Ma’s mother, Nancy (Joan Allen), is now divorced from Joy’s emotionally repressed father (William H. Macy).  Nancy is now married to the kind and appealingly disheveled Leo (Tom McCamus).  However, still hoping that her daughter will someday return, Nancy hasn’t even touched Joy’s old bedroom.

Finally, the opportunity comes for Ma and Jack to escape and…

…and that’s all I can tell you without spoiling the film.  Room is an emotionally exhausting film, one that will make you cry but which will also leave feeling strangely hopeful for the future.  Brie Larson gives a courageously vulnerable and emotionally raw performance as Joy while Jacob Tremblay is perfectly cast as Jack.  Since Larson and Tremblay are both getting a lot of attention as possible Oscar nominees, I want to take a few minute to single out one member of the cast who, so far, has been overshadowed.  Tom McCamus doesn’t have a lot of screen time but he makes the most of every second he gets, turning Leo into the ideal father figure.

Room made me cry and cry and I can’t wait to see it again.

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for November!


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Have you heard the news?  Apparently, Steve Jobs is shaping up to the be one of the biggest box office bombs of all time!  Over this past weekend, it went from playing in 2,000 theaters to playing in 424.

Myself, I have to wonder why anyone thought Steve Jobs was going to be a huge financial success in the first place.  Isn’t this the third Steve Jobs biopic to be released in as many years?  None of them have made in money.  It may be time for people of a certain age and certain economic class to admit that not everyone is as fascinated by Steve Jobs as they are.  I haven’t seen Steve Jobs yet so I better get out to a theater this week or else I’ll have to see it in a dollar theater and I always seem to have a bad experience at those places.  In the mean time, be sure to check out Leonard’s review!

Anyway, with Steve Jobs crashing and burning, I’m dropping it from my list of Oscar predictions.  Sorry, Steve Jobs.  Sorry, Danny Boyle and Kate Winslet.  Don’t worry, Michael Fassbender — you’re still on my list.

Anyway, here are my Oscar predictions for November.  Be sure to also check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October!

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Best Picture

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Carol

The Danish Girl

Joy

Love & Mercy

The Martian

The Revenant 

Room

Spotlight

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson for Room

Todd Haynes for Carol

Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant

Thomas McCarthy for Spotlight

Ridley Scott for The Martian

Best Actor

Matt Damon in The Martin

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Brie Larson in Room

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Carey Mulligan in Suffragette

Saiorse Ronan in Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

Robert De Niro in Joy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy

Jane Fonda in Youth

Rooney Mara in Carol

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

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Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for October!


It’s that time of the month again!

No, not that time!  I mean that it’s time for me to, once again, attempt to guess which films and performers will receive Oscar nominations next January!

This year’s Oscar race is shaping up to be an interesting one.  Even though some favorites have finally started to emerge, there doesn’t yet seem to be any true consensus choices.  For instance, last year, from the moment the film premiered at Sundance, we all knew that J.K. Simmons was going to win an Oscar for Whiplash.  There was never any doubt.  This year, however, has yet to see any such certainty.

Up until a few days ago, I thought a best picture nomination for Carol was about as close to a sure thing as we could hope for.  But now, word is coming in that American audiences are not reacting quite as enthusiastically to the film as the audiences at Cannes.  Much like last year’s Foxcatcher, it’s starting to sound as if Carol might be a film that people respect more than they like.

Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies has been getting positive but not exactly rapturous reviews, which is pretty much what I was expecting.  Spotlight seems to be becoming more and more of a certainty.  A lot of self-appointed award divas are going crazy over Cate Blanchett in Truth, a film that looks incredibly tedious.  Myself, I’m hoping that Suffragette turns out to be great and gets all sorts of nominations.  Unfortunately, this means that I’m now in the rare position of actually agreeing with Sasha “I am the game” Stone of AwardsDaily.

And who would have thought that The Room would suddenly emerge as an Oscar front runner!? Way to go, Tommy Wiseau!  Oh, wait.  It’s a different Room?

Well, never mind then.

Anyway, below you can find my predictions for October and no, I’m still not hopping on the Revenant bangwagon, I don’t care how great the damn trailer is!  (Actually, the trailer is really good…but I made my choices for this month and I’ll live with them.)

Be sure to check out my previous predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September.  (Daaaaaaaaaaamn…that’s a lot of predictions!)

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Best Picture

Brooklyn

The Danish Girl

Joy

Room

Sicario

Son of Saul

Spotlight

Steve Jobs

Straight Outta Compton

Suffragette

Best Director

Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs

Tom McCarthy for Spotlight

Laszlo Nemes for Son of Saul

David O. Russell for Joy

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Bradley Cooper in Burnt

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol (and not Truth, so fug off with that commie crap!)

Brie Larson in Room

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Paul Dano in Love and Mercy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol (though I’m sure Noomi Rapace would have been even better in the role)

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

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Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for July!


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It’s shaping up to be a strange Oscar race.  Here we are halfway through the year and, yet, there are no front-runners.  Some very acclaimed films have been released this year and yet, few of them seem to be getting the type of buzz that usually accompanies a surprise Oscar nomination.  Last year at this time, there was cautious buzz for Grand Budapest Hotel while almost everyone felt pretty safe assuming that Sundance favorites like Boyhood and Whiplash would be players in the Oscar race and many of us were highly anticipating the release of films like Birdman and The Imitation Game.  (For that matter, a lot of people were also still convinced that Unbroken would win best picture.  The buzz is not always correct but still, the buzz was still there.)

This year, some people are hoping that Mad Max: Fury Road will somehow break through the Academy’s aversion to “genre” filmmaking.  (And seriously, the Doof Warrior deserves some sort of award, don’t you think?)  Quite a few are hoping that Ex Machina will not be forgotten.  Personally, I have high hopes for Inside Out.  The buzz around Bridge of Spies is respectful, largely because it seems like the type of film that usually would be be nominated.  (That said, this film also seems like it could bring out the worst impulses of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, leading to a movie that will have more in common with The Terminal than with War Horse.)  Carol was beloved at Cannes.

So there are definitely possibilities out there.  When I made my Oscar predictions for this month, I didn’t quite have to blindly guess as much as I did way back in January.  But still, it cannot be denied that — as of right now — this race is wide open and there’s a lot of room for surprise.

Below, you’ll find my Oscar predictions for July.  You can also check out my previous Oscar predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brooklyn

Carol

I Saw The Light

In The Heart of the Sea

Inside Out

Sicario

Suffragette

The Walk

Youth

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Marion Cotillard in MacBeth

Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

John Cusack in Love & Mercy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Harvey Keitel in Youth

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette

Jane Fonda in Youth

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

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Lisa Marie’s Too Early Oscar Predictions For June


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It’s time for our monthly edition of Lisa’s Too Early Oscar predictions!

This is our first entry since the Cannes Film Festival.  As a result of Cannes, former contenders like The Sea of Trees have been dropped from the predictions.  Meanwhile, new contenders like Michael Caine and Sicario have emerged.  I have also added Pixar’s Inside Out to my list of predictions because a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes demands the consideration.

(Unfortunately, adding Inside Out meant dropping The Good Dinosaur.  Though it could happen, I find it hard to imagine two animated films receiving best picture nominations.)

If you want to see how my feelings on the race have developed, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, and May!

And without further ado, here are Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions for June!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brooklyn

Carol

The Danish Girl

In the Heart of the Sea

Inside Out

MacBeth

Sicario

Suffragette

The Walk

Best Actor

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Caine in Youth

Michael Fassebender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmanye in The Danish Girl

Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Marion Cotillard in MacBeth

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Joel Edgerton in Black Mass

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Meryl Streep in Suffragette

Julie Walters in Brooklyn

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

Shattered Politics #67: The Contender (dir by Rod Lurie)


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The 2000 political melodrama The Contender is one of the most hypocritical films that I’ve ever seen.

The Contender tells the story of what happens when U.S. Sen. Laine Hanson (played by Joan Allen) is nominated to be vice president by President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges).  During Laine’s confirmation hearings, Rep. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) dredges up rumors that, at a college frat party, Laine took part in a threesome in exchange for money.

When Runyon asks Laine about the rumors, she replies that she refuses to answer any questions about what she may or may not have done while she was younger.  She replies that it is “simply beneath my dignity” and you know what?  She’s absolutely right.  First off, if someone could be disqualified just because of what they did in college then nobody would eve be eligible to be President.  Secondly, and far more importantly, nobody would care about Laine’s sexual history if she was a man.

For over two hours, Laine refuses to answer any questions about the allegations and instead, she turns the tables on her attackers.  And while this alone would not have made The Contender a good film (because, after all, The Contender was written and directed by Rod “Straw Dogs” Lurie), it at least would have been a film that I could respect.

But, Rod Lurie being Rod Lurie, he just couldn’t help but fuck it all up.

Towards the end of the film, Laine is attending a White House reception.  She and President Evans sit down on the White House lawn and, as the stars shine above them, Evans says, “Just between us, is it true?”

Now, there’s two things that Laine could have said here that would have kept this film from falling apart.  Laine could have said, “It’s none of your business.”  And that would have been the right thing to say because, quite frankly, it is none of the President’s business.  The whole point of the movie has been that it’s not anyone’s business.

Or, if the film actually had any guts, Laine could have said, “Yes, it’s totally true.  Like most people, I experimented when I was in college.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m qualified to be your vice president.”

But no.  Instead, Laine smiles and says, “Nothing happened.  Two guys propositioned me, I said no, and they spread rumors.”

So, basically, the film is saying, “It’s nobody’s business if Laine was sexually active in college but don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. American Audience, she was a virgin until she turned 30.  So, it’s still okay for you to like her…”

And that’s the thing about The Contender.  It’s a film that doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions.  It’s a film that drags on for over two hours and it expects you to forgive it just because it pretends to have good intentions.  As a woman, there’s nothing I hate more than being pandered to and, for all of its attempts to come across as being feminist, The Contender is all about pandering.

What makes The Contender an interesting bad film — as opposed to just your usual bad film — is how even the littlest details feel false.  It’s obvious that Lurie knew all of the legal details that go into confirming a Vice President but he didn’t know how to make any of those details dramatically compelling.  So, the film becomes a bit of a know-it-all lecture.  By the time that Saul Rubinek popped up and said, “Do you know what Nelson Rockefeller said about the vice presidency?,” I found myself snapping back, “No, what did Nelson Rockefeller say about the Vice Presidency?  Please tell because ah am so sure that it is just goin’ to be the most fascinatin’ thang that ah will ever hear in mah entire life!”

(The more annoyed I get, the more pronounced my Texas accent.)

There’s a lot of weird little things about The Contender that just don’t work.  They may not sound like major problems but when combined together, they start to add up.  For instance, there’s a long shot where we see U.S. Rep. Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) and his blonde wife at a White House reception and the shot just lingers on them for no particular reason.  Long after you would expect the shot to end, it’s still going.  This wouldn’t be an issue if there was some narrative reason for that shot.  Instead, it’s just randomly dropped in there.

And then, after Laine is nominated, we see the front page of a newpaper and there, in the middle of the page, is a headshot of Joan Allen.  Underneath it, a small headline reads, “It’s Laine!”  It just feels so fake.  Wouldn’t the nomination of the first female vice present actually rate a bigger headline and a more dynamic picture?

Speaking of fake, towards the end of the film, President Evans picks up a framed magazine cover and stares down at it.  The magazine, itself, looks like one of those joke “Man of the Year” pictures that people pose for at a state fair.  On the cover is a picture of Last Picture Show era Jeff Bridges.  The headline on the magazine reads: “President Jackson Evans.  His ideas have changed the world.”  Not his actions, mind you.  Not his policies.  Instead, his ideas have changed the world.  But the film shows us no evidence of this and, during Laine’s confirmation hearings, everyone spends the whole time debating the same old shit that they always seem to be debating in Washington.

(Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a name like Jackson Evans, I guess you might as well become President.)

Of course, when it looks like Laine might not be confirmed, President Evans speaks before Congress.  “For the first time, a woman will serve in the executive!” he declares, which seems like a hilariously awkward way to put it.  (People in this film don’t talk like human being as much as they talk like characters in some fucked up Washington D.C. fanfic.)  He then adds, “There are traitors among us!”

So, I guess the message here is yay for demagogues.

And don’t even get me started on Kathryn Morris, as the cheerful FBI agent who investigates Laine’s past and who, at one point, announces, “Laine is hope!”  Would a male FBI agent ever have to deliver a line that stupid?

And also don’t even get me started on the subplot about Gov. Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), who stages an auto accident in an attempt to convince President Evans to nominate him for vice president.

The Contender is not a good film but it could have at least been a respectable film.  But then, Rod Lurie had to have President Evans ask whether it was true or not.

Perhaps being a hypocrite was the idea that changed the world.