4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Christopher Lee Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

98 years ago today, the greatest actor of all time, Christopher Lee, was born in London!  Today, we honor a legacy of iconic performances, in films that were both good and bad.  Lee worked with everyone from Terence Fisher to Peter Jackson to Martin Scorsese to Laurence Olivier to John Huston to ….. well, if they were an important director, they probably made at least one movie with Christopher Lee!  He was Dracula.  He was Saruman.  He was one of the best Bond villains and it’s been rumored that, during World War II, Lee was a bit of a James Bond himself.

Today, we honor a brilliant career with….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, dir by Alan Gibson)

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974, dir by Guy Hamilton)

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, dir by Peter Jackson)

Hugo (2011, dir by Martin Scorsese)

14 Shots From 14 Films: Special Roger Deakins Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Usually, we only do 4 shots from 4 films but today is the birthday of our greatest living cinematographer, Roger Deakins!  And it’s impossible to only pick 4 when it comes to Deakins.

So, it’s time for….

14 Shots From 14 Films

Marquis De Sade’s Justine (1977, dir by Chris Boger, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984, dir by Michael Radford, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Barton Fink (1991, dir by the Coen Brothers, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Fargo (1996, dir by the Coen Brothers, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Kundun (1997, dir by Martin Scorsese, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

House of Sand and Fog (2003, dir by Vadim Perelman, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

No Country For Old Men (2007, dir by the Coen Brothers, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

A Serious Man (2009, dir by the Coen Brothers, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Skyfall (2012, dir by Sam Mendes, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Prisoners (2013, dir by Denis Villeneuve, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Sicario (2015, dir by Denis Villeneuve, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Hail Caesar! (2016, dir by the Coen Brothers, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, dir by Denis Villeneuve, cinematography by Roger Deakins)

1917 (2019, dir by Sam Mendes. cinematography by Roger Deakins)

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Jack Nicholson Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is Jack Nicholson’s 83rd birthday!

It’s been ten years since Jack Nicholson last appeared in a movie, the forgettable How Do You Know.  Rumor has it that he’s basically retired from acting, though it’s said that Nicholson himself has denied it.  However, whether he’s working or not, he remains a screen icon with a filmography that is a cinema lover’s dream.  He’s worked with everyone from Roger Corman to Stanley Kubrick to Milos Forman to Martin Scorsese and, along the way, he’s become a symbol of a very American-type of rebel.  Though often associated with the counter-culture, his style has always been too aggressive and idiosyncratic for him to be a believable hippie.  Instead, he’s one of the last of the beats, an outsider searching for meaning in Americana.

Over the course of his career, Nicholson has won three Oscars and been nominated for a total of 12.  He’s the only actor to have been nominated in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s.  If he ever writes his autobiography, you know that we’ll all run out and buy a copy.  When the day comes that Jack Nicholson is no longer with us, it will truly be the end of an era.

Happy birthday, Jack Nicholson.  May you have many happy returns!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Psych-Out (1968, dir by Richard Rush)

Carnal Knowledge (1971, dir by Mike Nichols)

The Shining (1980, dir by Stanley Kubrick)

The Departed (2006, dir by Martin Scorsese)

4 Shots From 4 Films: R.I.P., Max von Sydow


Steppenwolf (1974, directed by Fred Haines)

I woke up to the sad news that Max von Sydow, one of the greatest actors of all time, died yesterday.  He was 90 years old and he leaves behind a truly amazing filmography.  He played saints, sinners, assassins, exorcists, generals, poets, doctors, and even ordinary men who were just trying to make it day-to-day.  That he was nominated for only two Academy Awards over a career that lasted 71 years was a major oversight on the Academy’s part.  He was an actor who was as capable in arthouse films as he was in the latest installment of a legendary sci-fi franchise.

It’s hard to take a career as long and productive as von Sydow’s and narrow it down to just four shots from four films so I’m not going to try.  The shots are below are some of my favorite von Sydow performances but they’re hardly definitive.  Max von Sydow gave so many good and memorable performances that it’s hard to know where to start.  Below are 4 shots from 4 films from a truly remarkable career.

Max von Sydow, R.I.P.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Virgin Spring (1960, directed by Ingmar Bergman)

Flash Gordon (1980, directed by Mike Hodges)

Needful Things (1993, directed by Fraser C. Heston)

Shutter Island (2010, directed by Martin Scorsese)

I Escaped From Devil’s Island (1973, directed by William Whitney)


The year is 1918 and the French penal colony, Devil’s Island, is renowned as the world’s most brutal prison.  Hidden away from mainland Europe, it is populated by the worst of the worst.  The prisoners have been sentenced to either spend their life on the island or to die at the blade of guillotine and the guards are all sadists.  Le Bras (Jim Brown) has been sentenced to die but he impresses his fellow inmates by putting up a fight on his way to have his head chopped off.  He doesn’t succeed in escaping but, fortunately for him, the death penalty is abolished mere moments before the blade falls.

Le Bras is alive but he’s still been condemned to spend the rest of his life on Devil’s Island, under the sadistic eye of the head guard, Maj. Marteau (Paul Richards).  However, Le Bras has no intention of being anyone’s prisoner.  He teams up with two other prisoners, a pacifist named Davert (Christopher George) and Jo-Jo (Richard Ely), who, because he is gay, is abused by both the guards and the other prisoners.  The three of them manage to escape from the prison but they still have to make their way through the jungle.  Along the way, they visit a leper colony and Le Bras takes some time to get busy with a native woman.  Meanwhile, Marteau remains hot behind them, determined to capture them and send them back to the prison.

If I Escaped From Devil’s Island sounds familiar, that may be because you’ve seen Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in Papillon.  Papillon was a major studio production with big stars, a huge budget, and an epic running time.  I Escaped From Devil’s Island was a low-budget film starring B-movie stars and with a 90-minute running time that was the exact opposite of epic.  Roger Corman produced I Escaped From Devil’s Island to capitalize on the expected success of Papillon and he started production early enough that I Escaped From Devil’s Island actually beat Papillon to theaters by a matter of weeks.  Corman originally tried to hire Martin Scorsese to direct I Escaped From Devil’s Island.  When Scorsese decided to follow John Cassavetes’s advice and do a personal film instead, Corman ended up hiring William Whitney to direct.  (Scorsese’s personal film turned out to be Mean Streets, so he probably made the right decision.)

I Escaped From Devil’s Island is an entertaining B-movie.  It doesn’t have the epic sweep of Papillon but it does have a fun cast and all the action that you would expect from a 70s Corman production.  Jim Brown was never a great actor but he never claimed to be.  What Brown had was a tremendous physical presence and a confident movie star charisma and both of those are put to good use in I Escaped From Devil’s Island.  Whether he was playing football or beating up bad guys, Jim Brown was always the epitome of cool and that’s especially true in this film.  Christopher George has some good scenes as a pacifist who believes in non-violent resistance and Paul Richards is a great villain but this is a movie that you watch for Jim Brown and he doesn’t disappoint.

As of today, Jim Brown is 84 years old.  As anyone who has seen him interviewed recently can tell you, Jim Brown is still the epitome of cool.  When Jim Brown speaks, whether people agree with him or not, they still shut up and listen.  Happy birthday, Jim Brown!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Raging Bull (dir by Martin Scorsese)


This is not my favorite Martin Scorsese film.

I feel like I have to make that clear from the start because, for many people, this is their favorite Scorsese film.  Though it may have gotten mixed reviews when it was first released, it is now regularly described as being the high point of Scorsese’s fabled collaboration with Robert De Niro.  This was also the first film that Scorsese made with not only Joe Pesci but at also Frank Vincent as well.  (In fact, the whole scene in Goodfellas where Pesci and De Niro nearly stomp Vincent to death is a bit of an homage to a scene in Raging Bull.  Of course, Vincent got his revenge on Pesci in Casino.)  This film earned Martin Scorsese his first Oscar nomination for best director and it’s regularly cited as being one of the greatest film ever made.

Even more importantly, 1980’s Raging Bull has been described — by none other than the director himself — as the film that saved Martin Scorsese’s life.  Like a lot of his contemporaries, Scorsese got hooked on cocaine during the 70s.  He even nearly died of an overdose.  De Niro, who has been on Scorsese to direct Raging Bull for years, visited him in the hospital, brought him the script, told him to clean up his act, and make the film.  When Scorsese started to work on the film, he assumed it would be his last.  Whether Scorsese thought he would be dead or if he just thought he’d retire, I’m not sure.  Still, if Raging Bull had not rejuvenated Scorsese’s love of cinema, he wouldn’t have subsequently directed some of the greatest films ever made.  So, regardless of anything else, we have to be thankful that De Niro kept pushing Scorsese to direct Raging Bull.

The film itself is a biopic of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a brutal boxer who destroys opponents in the ring while destroying everyone who loves him outside of the ring.  He’s the type of guy who takes joy in destroying one opponent’s face just because his wife, Vicki (Cathy Moriarty), said that the guy was handsome.  When he’s forced to take a dive in order to win a title shot, he sobs in the locker room and it’s as close to being sympathetic as Jake gets.  The rest of the movie, he spends his time terrorizing his wife and taking out his frustrations on his loyal brother, Joey (Joe Pesci).

Most boxing films tend to present boxers as being lovable lugs, guys who might not be too smart but who have found the one thing that they’re good at.  (Think of the pre-Creed Rocky films.)  In Raging Bull, there’s nothing lovable about Jake.  He’s an animal, an angry man who fights because that’ the only way that he knows how to relate to the world.  He’s the type of guy who spends all of his time looking for an excuse to get mad and throw a punch.  The most dangerous thing you can do is make a joke in the presence of Jake LaMotta because, as portrayed in this film, he’s such an idiot that his reaction will always be to see it as a provocation.  From beginning to end, he’s a loathsome figure but the young De Niro was such a charismatic actor that you keep watching because — much like Vicki — you keep hoping that you’ll see some glimmer of humanity and some chance of redemption.

Reportedly, Scorsese and De Niro feel that the end of Raging Bull does provide Jake with some redemption.  Having lost everyone that ever loved him, an overweight Jake runs a sleazy nightclub and makes a fool of himself reciting dramatic monologues.  The production actually shut down so that De Niro could overeat and gain all the extra weight and it is shocking to see him go from being a handsome, athletic man to a fat slob whose shirt can’t even cover his belly.  No longer a boxer, Jake is now a faded D-list celebrity.  Now that he can’t fight and he can’t make money for the mob and the gamblers, no one cares about him.  That’s unfortunate for Jake but I have to say that I’ve never seen much redemption in Jake’s fate.  If anything, I was just happy that Vicki finally got away from him.

Raging Bull is a film that’s easier to admire than to actually like.  It’s impossible not to appreciate the black-and-white cinematography or the performances of De Niro, Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty.  As directed by Scorsese, the boxing scenes are horrifying brutal, to the extent that you find yourself wondering how anyone could enjoy the sport.  (When a spray of Jake’s blood hits the people in the first row, you can’t help but think that they’re all getting what they deserved.)  That said, the film’s never been a favorite of mine because, as well done as it is, Jake LaMotta never seems like he’s worth spending two hours with.

Obviously, a lot of people disagree with me on that.  Raging Bull received 8 Oscar nominations.  Robert De Niro won Best Actor.  Raging Bull, itself, lost Best Picture to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.

Here Are The DGA Nominations!


Todd Phillips did not pick up a DGA nomination but fear not Joker fans.  The film did pick a nomination from the PGA.

Uncut Gems has now been snubbed by the SAG, the DGA, and the PGA so I’m going to assume that it’s Oscar chances are pretty much dead.  It was one of my favorite films of the year but, at the same time, I can also understand why some people might not share my feelings.

JoJo Rabbit, on the other hand, has been nominated by the DGA, PGA, and the SAG so it’s definitely a stronger contender than some have been giving it credit for being.

Anyway, here are the 2019 Director’s Guild nominations!

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director

Mati Diop, Atlantics
Alma Har’el, Honey Boy
Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim
Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions For December


Well, here we go!

This is my last set of Oscar predictions for the year.  With the critics groups and some of the guilds having now announced their picks for the best of 2019, the Oscar picture is now a lot more clear.  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Parasite, The Irishman, 1917, and Marriage Story all seem to be guaranteed to pick up a nomination.    

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that, despite being ignored at SAG and by the Golden Globes, Uncut Gems will get some nominations as well.  Right now, the film just seems to have momentum on its side.  Realistically, I’m not a 100% convinced that it’ll be nominated, not the way I am with some other films.  It’s divisive film and I’m sure that some people think that rewarding Adam Sandler will just lead to him using his newfound respect to get a theatrical release for the next Grown Ups sequel.  But I’m going to take a chance and go with it.

(Of course, Nightcrawler and Jake Gyllenhaal also had a lot of momentum a few years ago and ended up getting totally shut out of the Oscars.)

Below are my predictions for December.  If you want to see how my thinking has evolved, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November!

Best Picture

1917

Bombshell

The Irishman

JoJo Rabbit

Little Women

Marriage Story

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Parasite

Uncut Gems

Best Director

Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Sam Mendes for 1917

The Safdie Brothers for Uncut Gems

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Adam Driver for Marriage Story

Taron Egerton for Rocketman

Joaquin Phoenix for Joker

Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story

Luptia Nyong’o for Us

Saoirse Ronan for Little Women

Charlize Theron for Bombshell

Renee Zellweger for Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Willem DaFoe in The Lighthouse

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Al Pacino for The Irishman

Joe Pesci for The Irishman

Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Scarlett Johansson in JoJo Rabbit

Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

Florence Pugh in Little Women

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

 

The Oscar nominations will be announced on January 13th!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Oscar, in happier times

The Black Film Critic Circle Select Dolemite Is My Name As The Best of 2019!


On Sunday, the Black Film Critics Circle announced their picks for the best of 2019!

And here they are:

Best Film: Dolemite Is My Name
Best Director: Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Kasi Lemmons (Harriet)
Best Actor: Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name)
Best Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood)
Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name)
Best Original Screenplay: Lena Waithe (Queen & Slim)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian (The Irishman)
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins (1917)
Best Foreign Film: Parasite
Best Documentary: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Best Animated Film: I Lost My Body
Best Ensemble: Dolemite Is My Name
Pioneer Award: Ruth E Carter
Rising Star: Kelvin J. Harrison
Special Mention: Lloyd ‘Kam’ Williams