Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Here’s The Trailer For Alice Through The Looking Glass!


Mia Wasikowska (who was so great in Jane Eyre, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Crimson Peak) returns as Alice in the trailer for the upcoming film, Alice Through The Looking Glass!  Johnny Depp will be waiting for her.  However, Tim Burton (who previously directed Alice In Wonderland) will only be producing this installment.  Directing duties will be handled by James Bobin.

The film will be released on May 27th, 2016 but until then, watch the trailer below!

 

Horror Film Review: Crimson Peak (dir by Guillermo Del Toro)


CrimsonPeak

The fact that Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro’s wonderful new film, is only getting mixed or grudgingly positive reviews tells you everything that you need to know about the sorry state of modern film criticism.

Taking place at the turn of the 19th Century, Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska).  The daughter of industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), Edith is haunted by a childhood memory, in which her mother’s ghost appeared to her and told her to never go to Crimson Peak.  Edith grows up to be an aspiring writer.  She writes stories about ghosts, though she is always quick to point out that the ghosts are just meant to be a “metaphor for the past.”  Her publishers tell her that no one wants to read a ghost story written by a woman and they recommend that she concentrate on writing a nice romance.

Following the violent death of her father, Edith marries the charming inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and moves to his family home in England.  Still in shock over the death of her father, Edith struggles to make things work in England.  Tom is nearly penniless and seems to be more interested in his inventions than with her.  (Not only did they not consummate the marriage during the honeymoon but Tom sleeps in a separate bedroom.)  Meanwhile, Tom’s older sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), does little to hide the disdain that she feels towards her new sister-in-law.

As for the house itself, it is on the verge of collapsing.  At one point, Tom mentions that, because of the red clay that sits underneath the mansion, their new home is sometimes called Crimson Peak.  If that wasn’t enough to panic Edith, she keeps seeing mysterious figures wandering through the halls.  Edith swears that she is seeing ghosts and that they are trying to tell her something.  Tom and Lucille tells her that she’s imagining things and continue to insist that she drink a special tea.  Could that tea be the reason why Edith finds herself coughing up blood?

(Actually, there’s a lot of blood spilled over the course of Crimson Peak.  It’s not just the clay that makes the ground red.  If Edith Wharton had written a horror movie, the end result would probably be a lot like Crimson Peak.)

And let’s just get this out of the way right now — Crimson Peak is an absolutely brilliant movie.  Those critics who have complained that Crimson Peak doesn’t have any of the expected “shock” scares are totally missing the point.  Crimson Peak is not about cheap scares.  Del Toro is not looking to make you jump by having a cat jump out of a closet.  Instead, Crimson Peak is all about atmosphere.  Del Toro maintains an atmosphere of consistent unease throughout the entire film.  The scares come less from what is shown and more from what is implied.  In that way, Crimson Peak pays homage to the great gothic horror films of the past.

And remember when I complained about how terrible Jessica Chastain was in The Martian?  Well, she absolutely brilliant in Crimson Peak.  The role of Lucille is not one that demands a lot of subtlety and Chastain appears to be having a great time getting to play such a menacing character.  If anything, this is one of Chastain’s best performances.  (One need only consider how overly mannered Meryl Streep would have been in the role to realize just how great an actress Jessica Chastain truly is.)  Mia Wasikowska is the epitome of fragile loveliness as Edith and Tom Hiddleston is perfectly cast as a handsome, slightly decadent aristocrat with a secret.  In fact, all three of them are perfectly cast.  Taking their roles too seriously would have been a mistake but so would have not taking the movie seriously enough.  The entire cast strikes a perfect balance, embracing the melodrama without going too far over the top.

So, why are so many film critics having such a hard time embracing Crimson Peak?  It’s pretty much for the same reason that a lot of them had a hard time with Pacific Rim.  Guillermo Del Toro’s films are masterpieces of the pulp imagination.  As such, he exposes the condescending attitude that most contemporary critics take towards “genre” films.  When mainstream critics dismiss Crimson Peak as just being “a horror film that isn’t scary enough,” all they’re really doing is revealing how ignorant they are of the horror genre.

So, in other words, don’t listen to those mainstream critics.  They are not worth your trouble.  Crimson Peak is a wonderfully acted and visually gorgeous gothic romance and it needs to be seen on the big screen.

Reportedly, Crimson Peak struggled at the box office this weekend.

Well, you know what?

If you haven’t seen Crimson Peak, you need to go out and see it this week.  It’s a great film and what good are we if we let the great ones go unseen?

Embracing the Melodrama #124: Maps to the Stars (dir by David Cronenberg)


Maps_to_the_Stars_posterI have to admit that, for the most petty of reasons, I was dreading the 2014 release of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars.  

This was despite the fact that I happen to be a big fan of just about everyone in the cast and David Cronenberg as a director.  (I still say that Cosmopolis is one of the best films of the decade and I don’t care who disagrees.)

My initial issue with Maps to the Stars — and again, I admit this is really petty — was that Sasha Stone, over the Awards Daily web site, was so damn fanatical about singing the film’s praises.  I have a theory that Sasha tends to overpraise certain films specifically so she can have an excuse to get angry and go off on a rant when they don’t receive any Oscar nominations.  Ever since Sasha went batshit crazy over The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Awards Daily has pretty much gone from being a site about the Oscars to being a site about Sasha screaming in the wilderness like a biblical prophet (and not one of the interesting biblical prophets, like Elijah.  We’re talking about Haggai here.)  From what I had read about Maps To The Stars and judging from the response that it got at Cannes (where, despite mixed reviews, it did win an award when Julianne Moore was named best actress), this film seemed like the epitome of another deliberate lost cause.

Fortunately, the release date of Maps To The Stars was moved to 2015 and civilization was spared from having to deal with a thousand “If Cronenberg doesn’t get an Oscar, society is doomed!” rants.  Instead, we had to deal with a thousand “If Hillary Swank doesn’t win for The Homesman, society is doomed!” rants.

“Okay,” you’re saying, “that’s great Lisa.  Thank you for whatever all that was.  But what about the movie itself!?  Is it any good?”

Eh … I guess.

I mean, Maps to The Stars isn’t a bad movie.  It’s not bad at all.  It’s just maddeningly uneven.

One of my favorite up-and-coming stars, Mia Wasikowska, has a great role in it.  She plays a schizophrenic, named Agatha, who comes to Hollywood.  Agatha’s arms and the back of her neck are covered with burn scars and she is always taking pills.  She is also obsessed with a vile teen star named Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird).  There’s more to her obsession than you might originally think.

Benjie, meanwhile, has just gotten out of rehab and he is literally one of the worst characters ever.  The film does try to build up some sympathy for him by revealing just how fucked up his home life is.  His fragile mother (Olivia Williams) always seems to be on the verge of collapse.  His father (John Cusack) is a glib and shallow psychologist.  Benjie serves as a stand-in for every child star who has been destroyed by Hollywood.  Unfortunately, the film devotes so much time to Benjie being a monster that it never really allows us to see why Benjie’s a star in the first place.  Evan Bird gives such a boring, uninteresting, and flat performance that you never really buy the idea of Benjie could be a success.  (Say what you will about Justin Bieber, he does at least have a cute smile.  Evan Bird can’t even claim that.)

Agatha meets a lot of people in Hollywood, including a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) who is an aspiring screenwriter.  She eventually gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore).  Havana, herself the daughter of a legendary and self-destructive actress, is a monster but — unlike, Benjie — she’s a sympathetic monster.  She’s a talented actress who grew up in Hollywood and now, because she’s no longer in her 20s, is being discarded by Hollywood.  Havana is as much a victim as a victimizer.

Anyway, the film kinda wanders about.  Along with all the other stuff going on, the characters are regularly visited by ghosts.  Secrets are revealed.  Hearts are broken.  Lives are lost.  And yes, relevant points about Hollywood are made but … well, so what?   There’s nothing in Maps to the Stars that you couldn’t learn from rewatching Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard is a lot less pretentious.  Plus, William Holden was a much better actor than Evan Bird.

As for Cronenberg’s direction — well, Maps to the Stars is definitely David Cronenberg on autopilot.  It’s filled with identifiable Cronenberg touches.  The emphasis placed on Agatha’s scars, for instance, is trademark Cronenberg.  But still, Cronenberg’s direction often just seems to be going through the motions.  Unlike his work in the far more interesting and challenging Cosmopolis (not to mention Eastern Promises), Cronenberg doesn’t really seem to care that much about the story that he’s telling.

Maps to the Stars is worth watching for the performances of Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska.  Otherwise, it’s just another well-made but only occasionally interesting Hollywood melodrama.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #118: The Kids Are All Right (dir by Lisa Cholodenko)


Kids_are_all_right_poster

Dare I admit to thinking that the 2010 best picture nominee The Kids Are All Right is overrated?

The Kids Are All Right tells the story of Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), married lesbians in Los Angeles.  The pragmatic Nic is an obstetrician while the more flighty Jules has a landscaping business.  They also have two children, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska).  When Laser and Joni decide to track down their anonymous sperm donor father, the trail leads to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who owns an organic restaurant.  (Of course, he does…)  After Paul meets Nic and Jules, he eventually ends up having an affair with Jules, which threatens the family’s stability.

It’s been five years since the film first came out and, as a result, I think it’s easy to forgot what a big deal The Kids Are All Right was back in 2010.  It got a lot of attention for being both a film about a lesbian couple and a box office success.  To a certain extent, every LGBT-themed film to come out since owes a debt of gratitude to The Kids Are All Right for proving that audiences are willing to see films with LGBT characters.  As well, the film’s box office success was an early sign of the growing support for the legalization of gay marriage.  The Kids Are All Right can make a very valid claim to being a landmark film.

But, once you look past the film’s historic importance, it doesn’t hold up as well as you might hope.  The performers are all good, especially Annette Bening.  The film’s script also has a lot of good lines.  However, it also has a lot of lines that feel just a little bit too glib and obvious.  It’s not surprising that HBO considered turning The Kids Are All Right into a TV series because the entire movie really does feel like an above average episode of an hourly drama.  Lisa Cholodenko’s visually flat direction also feels more appropriate for television than for the big screen.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’d probably be more into The Kids Are All Right if the characters were a little less wealthy.  If you can look past the fact that this is a movie about a happy lesbian marriage being threatened by a clueless straight guy, you discover that The Kids Are All Right is essentially just another movie about rich white people with problems.

I guess my problem with The Kids Are All Right can be summed up by the scene where Jules fires her Mexican gardener because she suspects that he’s seen her with Paul.  The scene is largely played for laughs and, after the gardener has lost his job, he’s never seen again.  At one point, Jules does say that she feels guilty for firing him but again, the scene is played for laughs.  The film asks us to laugh with the rich white characters and to laugh at the one non-rich non-white.

The Kids Are All Right is a historically important film but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being a great film.

What if Lisa Marie Picked The Oscar Nominees!


Oscar1

With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations.  Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated.  The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not.  Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year.  Winners are listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

2015 Best Picture Nominees

Best Picture

Boyhood

The Fault In Our Stars

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

The LEGO Movie

Nightcrawler

Palo Alto

Under the Skin

Wild

600full-richard-linklater

Best Director

Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler

Jonathan Glazer for Under the Skin

James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy

*Richard Linklater for Boyhood*

Jean-Marc Vallee for Wild

Nightcrawler

Best Actor

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

Nicholas Cage in Joe

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

*Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler*

Tom Hardy in Locke

Michael Keaton in Birdman

reese-witherspoon-wild-slice

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Emmanuelle Seigner in Venus In Fur

Shailene Woodley in The Fault In Our Stars

*Reese Witherspoon in Wild*

Gary Poulter in Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

*Gary Poulter in Joe*

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

968full-only-lovers-left-alive-screenshot

Best Supporting Actress

Patrica Arquette in Boyhood

Laura Dern in Wild

Emma Roberts in Palo Alto

Rene Russo in Nightcrawler

Emma Stone in Birdman

*Mia Wasikowska in Only Lovers Left Alive*

Vin-Diesel-is-Groot-Official-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Best Voice Over Performance

Scott Adsit in Big Hero 6

Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy

Kate del Castillo in The Book of Life

*Vin Diesel in Guardians of the Galaxy*

Morgan Freeman in The LEGO Movie

Chris Pratt in The LEGO Movie

o-BOYHOOD-facebook

Best Original Screenplay

*Boyhood*

Chef

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The LEGO Movie

Nightcrawler

The One I Love

wildhorsedern 4

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Fault In Our Stars

Gone Girl

Guardians of the Galaxy

Palo Alto

Venus in Fur

*Wild*

Lego Movie

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6

The Book of Life

The Boxtrolls

How To Train Your Dragon 2

*The LEGO Movie*

JodorowskysDune

Best Documentary Feature

Art and Craft

*Jodorowsky’s Dune*

The Last Patrol

Life Itself

Private Violence

Under the Electric Sky

Venus_in_Fur_poster

Best Foreign Language Film

Borgman

Ida

Illiterate

The Raid 2

*Venus In Fur*

We Are The Best!

Boyhood Image

Best Casting

*Boyhood*

Foxcatcher

Joe

Snowpiercer

Under the Skin

Wild

Palo Alto

Best Cinematography

California Scheming

A Field In England

Foxcatcher

If I Stay

Nightcrawler

*Palo Alto*

Meryl-Streep-Into-The-Woods

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One

In Secret

*Into the Woods*

Pompeii

Film Review Under the Skin

Best Editing

Birdman

Boyhood

Guardians of the Galaxy

Nightcrawler

*Under the Skin*

Wild

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-gang

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods

Maleficent

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Best Original Score

California Scheming

A Field in England

Gone Girl

Guardians of the Galaxy

Nightcrawler

*Under the Skin*

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Best Original Song

“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

“The Apology Song” from The Book of Life

“Split the Difference” from Boyhood

“Yellow Flicker Beats” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One

*”Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie*

“Sister Rust” from Lucy

“Mercy” from Noah

“Hal” from Only Lovers Left Alive

“Rock Star” from Palo Alto

“Summer Nights” from Under the Electric Sky

GuardiandoftheGalaxy

Best Overall Use Of Music

Begin Again

Boyhood

A Field in England

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

Only Lovers Left Alive

Whiplash

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-580

Best Production Design

*The Grand Budapest Hotel*

Guardians of the Galaxy

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods

Snowpiercer

Winter’s Tale

Fury

Best Sound Editing

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Field in England

*Fury*

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Capt2-Payoff-1-Sht-v8-Lg-c563d

Best Sound Mixing

*Captain America: The Winter Soldier*

A Field in England

Fury

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Dawn-Of-The-Planet-Of-The-Apes3-e1396236946120

Best Stunt Work

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

*Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*

Divergent

In the Blood

Raze

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-rocket-with-gun

Best Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Edge of Tomorrow

Godzilla

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

Interstellar

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Number of Nominations by Film

14 Nominations — Guardians of the Galaxy

9 Nominations — Boyhood

8 Nominations — Nightcrawler

7 Nominations — Wild

6 Nominations — Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lego Movie, Under the Skin

5 Nominations —  A Field in England, Palo Alto

4 Nominations — X-Men: Days of Future Past

3 Nominations — Birdman, The Book of LifeCapt. America: The Winter Soldier, The Fault In Our Stars, Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, Into the WoodsJoe, Only Lovers Left AliveVenus in Fur

2 Nominations — Begin AgainBig Hero 6, California SchemingDawn of the Planet of Apes, Fury, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part OneMaleficent, SnowpiercerUnder the Electric SkyWhiplash

1 Nomination — Art and CraftBlue Ruin, BorgmanThe Box Trolls, ChefDivergent, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Ida, If I StayIlliterate, In SecretIn the Blood, Interstellar, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Last Patrol, Life ItselfLocke, Lucy, NoahThe One I Love, Pompeii, Private ViolenceThe Raid 2Raze, We Are The Best!, Winter’s Tale

Numbers of Oscars By Film

5 Oscars — Guardians of the Galaxy

3 Oscars — Boyhood

2 Oscars — The LEGO Movie, Under the Skin, Wild

1 Oscar — Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Plaent of the Apes, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Fury, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods, Joe, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Palo Alto, Venus In Fur

Oscars

What Do They Like in San Diego? Let’s Find Out…


Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

And finally, here are the San Diego Film Critics Nominations!

(Insert your own clever and snarky analysis here because I’m exhausted.  Maybe point out that they nominated Alejandro Inarritu for best director and Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone but they didn’t nominate Birdman for best film…)

(h/t to awards circuit)

Best Film

  • “Boyhood”
  • “Gone Girl”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Nightcrawler”
  • “Selma”
  • “The Theory of Everything”

Best Director

  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
  • Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”

Best Actor

  • Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Tom Hardy, “Locke”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
  • Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Best Actress

  • Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
  • Hilary Swank, “The Homesman”
  • Mia Wasikowska, “Tracks”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • Keira Knightly, “The Imitation Game”
  • Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Best Original Screenplay

  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Locke”
  • “Nightcrawler”

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “The Fault in Our Stars”
  • “Gone Girl”
  • “The Theory of Everything”
  • “Unbroken”
  • “Wild”

Best Foreign Language Film

  • “Force Majeure”
  • “Heli”
  • “Ida”
  • “Two Days, One Night”
  • “Venus in Fur”

Best Documentary

  • “CITIZENFOUR”
  • “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me”
  • “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”
  • “Last Days in Vietnam”
  • “Life Itself”

Best Animated Film

  • “Big Hero 6″
  • “The Boxtrolls”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″
  • “The LEGO Movie”
  • “The Nut Job”

Best Cinematography

  • “Force Majeure” (Fredrik Wenzel)
  • “Interstellar” (Hoyte van Hoytema)
  • “Gone Girl” (Jeff Cronenweth)
  • “Nightcrawler” (Robert Elswit)
  • “Unbroken” (Roger Deakins)

Best Editing

  • “Boyhood” (Sandra Adair)
  • “Edge of Tomorrow” (James Herbert, Laura Jennings)
  • “Gone Girl” (Kirk Baxter)
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Barney Pilling)
  • “Nightcrawler” (John Gilroy)

Best Production Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pincock)
  • “Into the Woods” (Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock)
  • “The Theory of Everything” (John Paul Kelly)
  • “The Imitation Game” (Maria Djurkovic)
  • “Interstellar” (Nathan Crowley)

Best Score

  • “Birdman” (Antonio Sanchez)
  • “Gone Girl” (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Alexandre Desplat)
  • “The Imitation Game” (Alexandre Desplat)
  • “Nightcrawler” (James Newton Howard)

Best Ensemble

  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Selma”

Here Are The Gotham Nominations!


Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Here are the nominations for the Gotham Independent Film Awards!  It’s debatable just how reliable the Gothams are as an Oscar precursor.  For one thing, the majority of the big studio productions are not eligible for the Gothams.  However, when you’re an indie film trying to win mainstream awards, any recognition is good recognition.

As far as the nominees go, Birdman and Boyhood are already Oscar front runners.  However, the Gotham nominations will perhaps remind some people that The Grand Budapest Hotel is eligible for Oscar consideration as well.

Here are the Gotham nominations!

Best Feature

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, director; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Boyhood – Richard Linklater, director; Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, producers (IFC Films)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson, director; Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Love Is Strange – Ira Sachs, director; Lucas Joaquin, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Ira Sachs, Jayne Baron Sherman, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer, director; Nick Wechsler, James Wilson, producers (A24 Films)

Best Documentary

  • Actress – Robert Greene, director; Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Robert Greene, producers (The Cinema Guild)
  • CITIZENFOUR – Laura Poitras, director; Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky, producers (RADiUS, Participant Media, and HBO Documentary Films)
  • Life Itself – Steve James, director; Zak Piper, Steve James, Garrett Basch, producers (Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films)
  • Manakamana – Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, directors; Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, producers (The Cinema Guild)
  • Point and Shoot – Marshall Curry, director; Marshall Curry, Elizabeth Martin, Matthew Van Dyke, producers (The Orchard and American Documentary / POV)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

  • Ana Lily Amirpour for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber)
  • James Ward Byrkit for Coherence (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
  • Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
  • Eliza Hittman for It Felt Like Love (Variance Films)
  • Justin Simien for Dear White People (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Best Actor*

  • Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
  • Ethan Hawke in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year (A24 Films)
  • Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Miles Teller in Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)

* The 2014 Best Actor nominating panel also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award jointly to Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum for their ensemble performance in Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics).

Best Actress

  • Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
  • Julianne Moore in Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (A24 Films)
  • Mia Wasikowska in Tracks (The Weinstein Company)

Breakthrough Actor

  • Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
  • Macon Blair in Blue Ruin (RADiUS)
  • Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Joey King in Wish I Was Here (Focus Features)
  • Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (A24 Films)
  • Tessa Thompson in Dear White People (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Boyhood

Boyhood

Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (dir by Jim Jarmusch)


Is it possible that the iconic American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is a fan of the late and beloved French film director Jean Rollin?

I ask this question because Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is one of the most Rollinesque films to have ever been made by a director other than Jean Rollin.

The most obvious similarity between Jarmusch’s film and much of Rollin’s work is that they both deal with vampires.  Rollin was the visual poet of vampire cinema and, if nothing else, Only Lovers Left Alive is a very poetic film.  The film tells the story of three vampires — ennui-stricken Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Adam’s wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), and Eve’s hedonist sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), all of whom would be perfectly at home in any of Rollin’s vampire films.

But, to be honest, the horror genre has reached the point where ennui-stricken and decadent vampires are hardly unique. What distinguished both Only Lovers Left Alive and the best films of Jean Rollin is the way that they both use and defy the conventions of the vampire genre to explore issues of sexuality, religion, politics, and artistic expression.  Much like Rollin, Jarmusch understands what the audience expects from a vampire film and he makes his larger points by manipulating, defying, and occasionally even confirming those expectations.

In other words, Only Lovers Left Alive is no Twilight and we’re all better off for it.

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There are other similarities between Only Lovers Left Alive and the best films of Jean Rollin.  Much like Rollin, Jarmusch tells his story through a collection of sensual and increasingly dream-like images.  Even Rollin’s trademark lingering shots of empty beaches and ancient castles are duplicated, in Only Lovers Left Alive, with haunting shots of the empty streets in Detroit and Tangiers.  When, towards the end of the film, two hungry vampires find themselves searching for blood in an ancient city, it was impossible for me not to think of a similar scene in Jean Rollin’s Two Orphan Vampires.

Now, I’m sure that some of you are probably saying, “That’s great, Lisa, but can you just tell me whether the film is worth watching or not?”

To answer your question, it is.  It’s not a flawless film.  There’s a few comedic scenes involving a doctor played by Jeffrey Wright that aren’t quite as entertaining as they could be.  And while it’s an interesting idea to have Christopher Marlowe show up as a vampire, John Hurt’s performance did not quite work for me.  But, whenever the film concentrates on the chemistry between Hiddleston, Swinton, Wasikowska, and Anton Yelchin (who plays a hilariously naïve human), it works brilliantly.

So yes, definitely — see Only Lovers Left Alive.

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See it for the scenes in which Adam and Eva drive through the ruins of Detroit, looking for Jack White’s house (“Oh!  I love Jack White!” Eve exclaims) and discussing Adam’s belief that the “zombies” (his term for the rest of us) are on the verge of destroying themselves.  Adam serves as the film’s philosophical and political mouthpiece and often times, his dialogue runs the risk of being a bit too on-the-nose perfect but Tom Hiddleston is such a charismatic performer that it doesn’t matter.  Wisely, Hiddleston delivers his most portentous lines with just a hint of self-mockery, as if to let us know that even Adam knows he’s being overdramatic.

See it for the amazing sequence in which Adam plays music in Detroit while Eve dances to it in Tangiers.  If Katharine Hepburn had been turned into a vampire, she would have been a lot like Tilda Swinton’s Eve.

See the film for Mia Wasikowska’s hilarious turn as a petulant and immature brat who just happens to be vampire.  The scenes in which she goes out of her way to annoy the dour Adam left me convinced that, if I ever become a vampire, I’ll probably be a lot like Ava.

See it because the White Hills appear as themselves, playing in a club and absolutely killing it.

See it because it’s one of the few vampire films to strike a perfect balance between humor and drama.

Most of all, see it because it’s a good and unique movie and, so far this year, we’ve had a bit of a shortage where those are concerned.

As for me, if I ever meet Jim Jarmusch, I’m going to ask him for the title of his favorite Jean Rollin film.

If nothing else, it should be an interesting conversation.

only-lovers-left-alive-poster

 

 

Film Review: Lawless (dir. by John Hillcoat)


For most of 2012, I was excited about seeing one film and that film was Lawless.  Why was I so excited about seeing Lawless?  Well, first off, I had spent most of the year being bombarded by the film’s genuinely exciting trailer.  Seriously, that trailer was more entertaining than 80% of the film that I’ve seen this year.  Judging from the trailer, the film was a period piece that took place during one of my favorite decades, the 1920s.  The film dealt with bootleggers and I’m proud to say that there’s a few of those on my family tree.  The trailer also featured Gary Oldman firing a tommy gun, Jessica Chastain dancing, Guy Pearce acting odd, and Tom Hardy being all tough and Tom Hardy-like.

When I watched that trailer, it didn’t matter that the film starred Shia LeBouf (who has always struck me as being a bit of a whiney actor).   It didn’t matter that director John Hillcoat previously wasted good material with his adaptation of The Road.  It didn’t even matter that the film was greeted with indifference at Cannes.  “Oh,” I told myself, “that’s just the French critics being reflexively anti-American.  Lawless has Truffaut written all over it…”

The only thing that tempered my enthusiasm for Lawless was when the first of the 30-second commercials started to appear on television.  As opposed to the exciting trailer, these commercials made the film seem rather average and they now put less emphasis on the film’s stylistic excesses and more on the fact that the film was apparently “based on a true story.”  The tone of the television spots was so different from that of the theatrical trailer that it was hard not to conclude that the PR geniuses at the Weinstein Company weren’t sure how to sell the film.  I found myself wondering if Lawless would be as confused as its ad campaign.

Last Friday, I finally saw Lawless and judged for myself.

Lawless tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers.  In the 1920s, these brothers are succesful bootleggers who work out of rural Virginia and who maintain a peaceful coexistence with local law enforcement through a steady supply of bribes.  The oldest brother is a taciturn World War I veteran named Forrest (played by Tom Hardy.)  The youngest brother is Jack (Shia LeBouf), who idolizes violent gangsters like Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).  The middle brother is Howard (Jason Clarke).  Howard spends most of the movie yelling.

Things are peaceful for the Bondurant brothers until, one day, a corrupt and oddly fastidious prohibition agent named Rakes (Guy Pearce) shows up and demands a cut of whatever profit the brothers make from their bootlegging.  Forrest refuses and soon Rakes and the Bondurants are engaged in a very violent and bloody war.

That war, however, doesn’t stop Jack from pursuing a relationship with a rebellious preacher’s daughter (played by Mia Wasikowska).  Meanwhile, Forrest hires a new waitress to work at the family bar.  Maggie (Jessica Chastain) is a former dancer from Chicago and soon, she and Forrest are cautiously pursuing their own relationship.  As for Howard, he yells a lot.

Lawless is an odd film.  The actors are all well-cast and Shia LeBouf probably gives his first genuinely good performance here.  The film’s violent action sequences are well-choreographed and one could even argue that, in the character of Rakes, the film is drawing a very relevent parallel to America’s own modern-day war on drugs.  And yet, as I watched the film, I felt oddly detached from the action onscreen and the Bondurants never came to life for me as individual characters that were worth rooting for.  I think the ultimate problem with Lawless is the same problem that Hillcoat ran into with The Road.  Lawless is a film full of beautiful visuals and striking sequences but none of it seems to naturally flow together.  As a result, the film is visually striking but narratively weak.

As a result, Lawless is ultimately a case of the triumph of style over substance.  How you react to the film will probably depend on how much importance you put into either one of those two elements.  If you’re willing to accept the film simply as a collection of striking visuals (as I was), you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Lawless but if you’re looking for something deeper, you’ll probably be disappointed.

You’re also going to be disappointed if you go to Lawless expecting to see a Gary Oldman film because Oldman is only in about four minutes of the film, his best scene is in the trailer, and his character lacks that touch of eccentric charisma that Oldman typically brings to his villains.  Instead, it falls to Guy Pearce to be eccentric and evil and he does a great job.  Sporting an accent as odd as his haircut, Pearce brings a brilliantly perverse jolt to even the simplest of line readings.  Lawless is at its best when its content to just let Guy Pearce play at being Gary Oldman.