Lisa’s Far Too Early Oscar Predictions For March


So, it’s that time of the month again!

No, not that time.  I meant, that it’s time for me to share my Oscar predictions.  Here are the usual disclaimers: I haven’t seen any of these films, it’s way too early in the year for me to attempt to do this, this list is all about instinct and wishful thinking, blah blah blah blah.

To see how my thinking has evolved, be sure to check out my predictions for January and February!

Best Picture

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Call of the Wild

Fair and Blanced

Ford v. Ferrari

Harriet

The Irishman

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Little Women

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Torrance

Best Director

Greta Gerwig for Little Women

Kasi Lemmons for Harriet

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Joe Talbot for The Last Black Man In San Francisco

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actor

Ben Affleck in Torrance

Robert De Niro in The Irishman

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

John Lithgow in Fair and Balanced

Eddie Murphy in My Name Is Dolemite

Best Actress

Amy Adams in The Woman In The Window

Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

Blake Lively in The Rhythm Section

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Afre Woodard in Clemency

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari

Harrison Ford in Call of the Wild

Danny Glover in The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Malcolm McDowell in Fair and Balanced

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in Little Women

Tiffany Haddish in The Kitchen

Nicole Kidman in The Goldfinch

Janelle Monae in Harriet

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

A few notes on the predictions:

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a biopic about Mr. Rogers.  Mr. Rogers is played by Tom Hanks and this sounds like the type of role that could get him his first Oscar nomination since …. well, forever.

Call of the Wild is an adaptation of Jack London’s novel.  It apparently features a CGI wolf.  It also has a potentially good supporting role for Harrison Ford, who has only one previous nomination to his name.

Fair and Balanced is about the history of Fox News and it was directed by Jay Roach.  It sounds terrible but if Vice and Adam McKay could get a nomination just for attacking Dick Cheney, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fair and Balanced manages to do the same.  John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes while the never-nominated Malcolm McDowell plays Rupert Murdoch.

Ford v Ferrari is a film about cars and competition and, if it’s a box office success, it sounds like it could pick up some nominations.  The film stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  I placed Damon in the supporting category because he plays Bale’s boss and his character is described as being “eccentric.”

Harriet is a biopic of Harriet Tubman.  It just sounds like it should be an Oscar nominee.  Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet while Janelle Monae …. well, I’m not sure who she plays.  But I’m going to predict she’ll get a supporting actress nomination.  What can I say?  It’s early in the year and supporting actress is always hard to predict.

The Irishman is directed by Martin Scorsese and it has a cast to die for: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, and more!  The Irishman should also have the full force of Netflix behind it.  My one concern is that the film is apparently going to use CGI to “de-age” its cast so that they can play characters who are in their 30s and 40s.  If it works, it’ll be great.  If it doesn’t, it’s going to be a huge distraction from whatever else is going on in the movie.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco was a big hit at Sundance.  Can Joe Talbot get a nomination for his directorial debut?  Can Danny Glover score his first ever nomination?  We’ll find out!

Little Women is Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to Lady Bird.  Previous adaptations of Little Women have done well at the Oscars.  I’m predicting acting nominations for Saoirse Ronan and Laura Dern but Meryl Steep is also in this film so she’s definitely a possibility as well.  At this point, Meryl could get nominated for appearing in a two-minute video on YouTube.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Quentin Taranino’s 9th film.  Tarantino’s film usually do well with the Oscars and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is about Hollywood’s favorite subject, itself.  Some would say that Brad Pitt is overdue for an acting win.  Margot Robbie, meanwhile, is a rising star and some feel that she should have won for I, Tonya.

Torrance features Ben Affleck in what sounds like an Oscar bait role.  Affleck plays an alcoholic who ends up coaching a high school basketball team.  Director Gavin O’Connor previously worked wonders with Warrior so Torrance sounds right up his alley.

My Name is Dolemite is a biopic of the comedian and blaxploitation film star, Rudy Ray Moore.  Eddie Murphy plays Moore and the role sounds like it could allow him to display both his comedic and dramatic skills.  In theory, the Academy loves a comeback.

The Woman In The Window is based on an excellent novel and features Amy Adams as an agoraphobic woman who thinks that she may have witnessed a murder.  Adams is definitely a bit overdue for an Oscar.

The Rhythm Section is also based on a novel.  While it’s thriller plot doesn’t sound like typical Oscar bait, the film’s release was moved from February to November.  That would seem to indicate that Paramount has faith in both it and Blake Lively’s lead performance.

Clemency was another hit at Sundance.  Alfre Woodard is an acclaimed actress who has only been twice nominated for an Oscar.  A nomination here would honor not just Woodard’s performance but her entire career.

The Kitchen is a crime drama.  Tiffany Haddish, who is definitely an up-and-coming star, plays the wife of a Irish mobster who, when her husband is sent to prison, takes over his rackets.  It sounds like a good role and there are a lot of people who think Haddish’s performance in Girls Trip was unfairly snubbed.

The Goldfinch is based on a novel by Donna Tartt.  Nicole Kidman plays a wealthy widow who adopts the survivor of a terrorist bomber.  It just sounds like the type of role for which Kidman would be nominated.

In the end, nobody knows anything.  Especially me!  We’ll see how all of this plays out over the next few months!

 

 

 

Film Review: The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (dir by Alex Gibney)


Oh my God, this was such a creepy documentary!

The Inventor tells the story of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, who, at one point, Forbes named the wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America, and who is currently facing criminal charges of defrauding not only her investors but also a countless number of doctors and patients.  After dropping out of college, Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos, a Silicon Valley-based company that claimed it had devised a method that would revolutionize how blood was tested and which would lead to people leading longer and healthier lives.  (“No one will have to say an early goodbye,” as Elizabeth put it.)  It all had to do with a blood-testing device called the Edison, a device that Holmes designed, patented, and made a fortune by licensing.  That the Edison didn’t actually do what Holmes claimed that it did put lives at risk and ultimately led to her downfall.

So, what makes The Inventor such a creepy documentary?  A lot of it has to do with the fact that Elizabeth Holmes herself comes across as being so creepy.  With her endless supply of black turtlenecks and her rather monotonous (not to mention notably deep) voice, she comes across as being a cult leader in the making.  When we see archival footage of her being interviewed or of her giving a speech to her worshipful employees, she has the type of demented gleam in her eye that one would normally associate with a particularly enthusiastic Bond villain.  When her former employees talk about her, they not only mention her drive and her dedication but they also mention the fact that she rarely blinked.  In fact, she so rarely blinked that other people also felt as if they shouldn’t blink in her presence.  Theranos was a company full of people with thousand-yard stares.

Despite the fact that, as many people point out, Elizabeth Holmes had no experience in the medical field and that the majority of her lies were easily exposed, she still had little trouble getting wealthy and powerful men to invest in her company.  Among those who invested in Theranos and sat on its board of directors: two former secretaries of state, one former and one future secretary of defense, and several prominent businessmen.  Though the documentary doesn’t explore this angle as perhaps it should have, it’s interesting to note that the majority of Holmes’s backers and defenders were 1) elderly and 2) male.  The one female investor that Holmes tried to bring in easily saw through Holmes’s lies.  On the other hand, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz became enthusiastic backers of Holmes and her “vision.”  Meanwhile, attorney David Boies — who was best-known for being Al Gore’s personal attorney and who later was hired to head up Harvey Weinstein’s defense team — is on hand to intimidate any Theranos employees who might be on the verge of turning into a whistleblower.  Elizabeth Holmes may currently be an indicted pariah but, before that, she spent many years as a proud member of the American establishment.

In fact, several other members of the Establishment makes cameo appearances in The Inventor.  At one point, we see Holmes being interviewed by Bill Clinton.  At another point, Joe Biden stops by Theranos and praises the company.  We see pictures of Elizabeth Holmes in the Oval Office, visiting with Barack Obama.  Holmes is put on the covers of magazines.  Numerous publications declare her to be the next Steve Jobs.  She’s held up as the future of not just blood testing but also the future of business.  It’s only after one reporter has the courage to actually investigate her claims and two employees risk their futures to tell the truth about what they saw at Theranos that Elizabeth Holmes is revealed to be a fabulist and a con artist.  Was she ever sincere in her desire to make the world a better place or was that just another part of her carefully constructed persona?  The Inventor is full of people still struggling to answer that question for themselves.

The Inventor was directed by Alex Gibney.  Gibney previous directed the Going Clear, an expose of Scientology.  Watching The Inventor, it’s hard not to make comparisons between Scientology and the cults of Silicon Valley.  Watching Elizabeth Holmes give a speech to her employees is like watching that infamous video of Tom Cruise pay homage to L. Ron Hubbard.  And just as Scientology takes advantage of those with a need to believe in something bigger than them, Elizabeth Holmes did the same thing.  Everyone wanted the promises of Homes, Theranos, and the Edison machine to be true.  They wanted it to be true so much that they became blind to the reality that was right in front of them.

The Inventor is a fascinating documentary about power, wealth, fraud, and the prison of belief.  It can currently be seen on HBO.

 

 

Film Review: Captain Marvel (dir by Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck)


Captain Marvel was …. well, it was okay.

I know that’s potentially a controversial opinion.  Since the movie was released last week, I’ve seen it described as being the greatest comic book movie ever made.  I’ve also seen it described as being, if not the worst film of all time, than certainly the worst chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Really, it depends on who you ask and how they voted in 2016.  Myself, I would argue that both sides are incorrect.  Captain Marvel is neither the greatest nor the worst movie ever made.  Instead …. it’s okay.  It’s a middle of the road MCU film, one that has more in common with the first Thor, Ant-Man, and The Incredible Hulk than with Black Panther or Doctor Strange.  It has its moments but there’s a reason why everyone’s favorite character is a cat who only has about 15 minutes of screen time.

Brie Larson plays Vers, who is an elite warrior for the Kree Empire.  The Kree are an alien race.  We know they’re aliens because they have blue blood and their planet looks like a more cheerful version of Blade Runner.  The Kree are at war with another group of aliens, the Skrulls.  The Skrulls are green shape-shifters and, for some reason, they have Australian accents.

Anyways, Vers can’t remember anything about her past but she’s haunted by nightmares that suggest that she might not be a Kree at all.  Instead, she might be an Earthling!  Vers gets a chance to investigate that possibility when, while escaping the forces of the Skrull general Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers plummets to Earth and ends up crashing into a Blockbuster Video.  Working with a youngish Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers sets out to discover the truth about her past.

Ever since this film was first announced, Brie Larson has been the target of a lot of unfair criticism.  A lot of it has centered around the fact that Larson rarely smiles in the film but you know what?  Brie Larson’s resting bitch face is the most empowering thing about Captain Marvel.  Vers is a warrior and she’s on a mission.  She has no reason to smile and giggle and jump around like some sort of manic pixie dream girl.  When Vers responded to a man telling her to smile by stealing his motorcycle, I wanted to jump up and cheer.  I mean, hell yeah!  Not only did she refuse to be pushed around but she also got a sweet ride out of it!  Seriously, the next guy who tells me that I need to smile more is losing his car.

Actually, regardless of what some people on twitter seem to believe, Vers does smile in the film.  She smiles when she’s talking to her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashanna Lynch).  She smiles when she’s talking to Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar).  She smiles when there aren’t any men — or Skrulls — around, demanding all of the attention.  Both Maria and Vers are smiling because, finally, they can both be themselves.  It’s a scene that, like Vers stealing that motorcycle, feels far more honest and empowering than some of the film’s other more obvious and on-the-nose girl power moments.  Maria is a rather underused character, which is a shame because the brief scenes between Maria and Vers are some of the best scenes in the film.

That said, I still had mixed feelings about Brie Larson’s overall performance.  As good as Larson has been in so many other films, she often comes across as rather wooden and awkward here.  Larson delivers almost all of her lines in a rather flat monotone and she’s not helped by some painfully clunky dialogue.  Larson’s awkwardness is painfully obvious whenever she shares a scene with more experienced co-stars like Jackson, Mendelsohn, Jude Law, or Annette Bening.  Bening practically steals the entire film, to the extent that I would have preferred the film has been about her rather than Vers.

(Again, it’s easy to compare this film to the first Thor.  Just as it took the MCU a while to figure out what to do with Thor, one gets the feeling that they’re still not quite sure who Captain Marvel is supposed to be.)

The film’s main weakness is that, when compared to the more recent MCU films. there’s no sense of wonder to Captain Marvel.  Compare the blandness of the Kree homeworld to the vivid worlds of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok.  Ben Mendelsohn brings a little bit of depth to General Talos but, beyond the shape-shifting, there’s not much to the Skrulls, either.  When Captain Marvel flies into space, there’s nothing transcendent about the moment.  It’s actually kind of boring.  Whereas previous MCU films made space feel alive, the universe feels flat in Captain Marvel.

To cite just one example, one of the film’s biggest battle scenes is over the possession of a lunchbox.  The villains think that there’s something important in the lunchbox.  However, what they don’t know is that Vers has already emptied the lunchbox and is just using it to distract them.  For some reason, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Bolden show Captain Marvel emptying the lunchbox before the big battle.  As a result, there’s no stakes to the battle and, from the start, we know that it doesn’t matter who wins.  When, after a lengthy fight, the lunchbox is revealed to be empty, Brie Larson mutters a weak one liner that has no impact because there was never any suspense to begin with.  This is pretty basic stuff and it’s somewhat shocking that this film manages to screw it up.

Despite those flaws, Captain Marvel is occasionally diverting.  Samuel L. Jackson brings flair to even the lamest of lines and Clark Gregg has a welcome cameo as Phil Coulson.  Annette Bening plays two different roles and she kicks major ass in both of them.  (One of her characters is named Intelligence, which leads to this hilariously awkward exchange of dialogue between Larson and Bening: “Vers.”  “Intelligence.”)  Despite being buried under a ton of makeup and prosthetics, Ben Mendelsohn does a good job and Jude Law is amusingly arrogant as Vers’s mentor.  Hopefully, Lashawn Lynch will get a bigger role in a future MCU film.

And then there’s the cat.

The cat is named Goose and …, well, look, I won’t spoil it.  Let’s just say that he’s a very special cat and he steals every scene.  In this film, we discover that Nick Fury loves cats, as well he should!

Anyway, Captain Marvel is okay.  There’s a few good scenes and there’s a few clunky ones and finally, there’s Goose and that stolen motorcycle.  One gets the feeling that the most remembered scenes will probably be the ones that were inserted during the end credits.  Captain Marvel will return in Avengers: Endgame and I hope that she doesn’t smile once.

 

Insomnia File #39: Disclosure (dir by Barry Levinson)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

On Tuesday, if you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 1994 film, Disclosure.

The majority of Disclosure takes place at DigiCorp, which is some sort of technology company that Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) founded because, as the movie explains it, he only has $100 million dollars but still dreams of being a billionaire someday.  With a huge merger approaching, Garvin announces that he will be promoting Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) to run the new CD-ROM division.  This shocks a lot of people, as everyone was expecting the promotion to go to Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas).  However, Garvin explains that, ever since his daughter died, he’s wanted to promote a woman.

(Presumably, if a male relative had died, Tom would have gotten the promotion.  I have to admit that I kept waiting for the film to get back to the subject of Garvin’s dead daughter but, apparently, that was just an odd throw-away line.)

Tom and Meredith have a history.  They were once lovers, though Tom is now happily married to Susan (Caroline Goodall) and has a family.  Meredith takes one look at a picture of Susan and says that Tom must miss being able to take his lover from behind whenever he felt like it.  Tom says, “Mrs. Robinson,  you’re trying to seduce me.”  No, actually, he says, “No, no, no, no, no, no…..”  It all ends with Tom fleeing Meredith’s office while Meredith, in her bra, chases after him, shouting threats all the way.  The only witness to this is a cleaning lady who sadly shakes her head before returning to her dusting.

Tom is so traumatized by the experience that he has a bizarre nightmare in which Donald Sutherland says that he likes his suit and then attempts to lick his face.  Tom’s trauma continues when he goes to work the next day and discovers that Meredith has accused him of sexual harassment!  Tom responds by suing the company and it’s time for an epic courtroom battle, one that will deal with one of the most important issues of our time….

….except that never happens.  Here’s what is weird.  For all the talk about abuse of power and all the scenes of a remorseful Tom apologizing to both his wife and his secretary for his past behavior, the whole sexual harassment plot turns out to be a red herring.

Instead, the film turns into this weird techno thriller, one that involves Tom trying to figure out how to make a better CD-ROM.  That may have been a big deal back in 1994 but today, you watch the film and you think, “Who cares?”  (Even better is a scene where Garvin brags about how his company is on the cutting edge of fax technology.)  Once Tom realizes that Meredith only accused him of sexual harassment to keep him from building the perfect CD-ROM, we get a scene of him using a virtual reality headset to search through the companies files.  At one point, he spots a bot with Demi Moore’s face destroying files and he shouts out, “She’s in the system!”  It’s just strange.

The film’s plot is often incoherent but the cast keeps things amusing.  Michael Douglas spends the first half of the movie looking either annoyed or terrified.  Things pick up for him in the 2nd half of the movie.  Whenever he gets good news from his lawyer, he jumps up in the air and goes, “Yessssssss!” and it’s so dorky that it’s kind of endearing.  Meanwhile, Demi Moore doesn’t even try to make Meredith into a credible character, which is actually just the right approach to take to this material.  There’s no room for subtlety in a film as melodramatic as this.  Finally, Donald Sutherland is his usual avuncular self, smirking at all the right moments and suggesting that he finds the movie to be just as amusing as we do.  For all of its plot holes and problematic subtext, Disclosure is an entertainingly stupid film.  A lot of the credit for the entertaining part has to go to the cast.

As I said, Disclosure is just strange..  As with most films from the 90s, its sexual politics are all over the place.  On the one hand, Tom learns that even inadvertent sexism can make the women who wok with him feel unsafe.  On the other hand, the only woman with any hint of a personality is portrayed as being pure evil.  In no way, shape, or form is this a movie to be taken seriously.  Instead, this is just a weird film that cries out, “1994!”

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed

Spring Breakdown #7: FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (dir by Chris Smith)


So, last night, I finally watched FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the Netflix documentary about the infamous Fyre Festial.

As you may remember, the Fyre Festival was supposed to be the greatest party of 2017.  Influencers played it up on Instagram.  A commercial for it, one that featured the world’s top models on a beautiful island, was pretty much inescapable on Facebook.  It was going to be the greatest musical festival of all time, with luxury villas and yachts and private chefs and …. Blink-182?  Even before the entire festival was revealed to be a massive fraud, I have to admit that I was kind of like, “All this for Blink-182?”

Anyway, the festival did turn out to be a disaster.  A lot of people paid a lot of money to end up on the beach, staying in rain-soaked FEMA tents and eating pre-packaged sandwiches.  The bands cancelled so there wasn’t even any music.  After the festival was officially canceled, several people found themselves stranded on the island.  Those of us who weren’t there followed the drama on twitter.  We joked about the Lord of the of Flies.  One of my favorite tweets about the whole mess compared it to an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  “The Gang Puts On A Music Festival.”

At the time, very few people had much sympathy for anyone involved in the Fyre Festival.  Not only did the organizers seem to be a group of insufferable douchebags but so did the people who paid thousands for dollars for a FEMA tent, a cheese sandwich, and Blink-182.  Having now watched the Netflix documentary …. well, I still don’t have much sympathy for the organizers or the participants.

I do have sympathy for the people who actually lived in the island.  They were taken advantage of and most of them received no financial compensation for the work that they put into the festival.  While we were all laughing on twitter, one poor restaurant owner lost a fortune feeding all of the people who were stranded in the Bahamas.  While we were making jokes, the people who actually did all the work went unpaid.

The documentary starts with festival organizer Billy McFarland and celebrity co-sponsor Ja Rule annoying Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajowski, and Hailey Baldwin on an island that once belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar and it ends with McFarland heading for federal prison.  Billy McFarland emerges as a professional con man who built his success by exploiting people’s desire to be a part of an “exclusive” club.  Before Fyre, McFarland ran a credit card company.  Even after the disaster of the Fyre Festival, McFarland continued to use the Fyre e-mail list to try to sell VIP access that he couldn’t actually provide.  Even when under indictment, McFarland allows himself to be filmed while he brags about “hustling.”  He really can’t help himself.

Ultimately, this documentary works best as a portrait of the power of fame.  From the start, it’s obvious that the festival is going to be a disaster.  Everyone who is interviewed states that, at no point, did they think Fyre would be a success.  (One person explains that it takes at least a year to set up a successful music festival.  Fyre tried to do it in a matter of weeks.)  But, because Billy McFarland paid Kendall Jenner and a bunch of other social media superstars to promote the festival, people who should have known better paid a lot of money for a tent and a stale sandwich.  McFarland may not have known how to put on a music festival but he definitely knew how to exploit our celebrity-obsessed culture.

During the documentary, one of the festival’s organizers — Andy — tells a story about how he was prepared to give a customs official oral sex in order to get him to release a delivery of Evian water.  Reportedly, due to the success of the documentary and the popularity of that anecdote, Andy will be getting his own reality show.  That seems like a fitting coda for the whole thing.

Spring Breakdown #6: The Beach (dir by Danny Boyle)


Here’s a lesson for any and all aspiring film bloggers:

Even if you’ve seen the movie before, always rewatch a film before you write about it.  This is especially true if it’s been a while since you last saw the film.  Often the pressure to say whether a film was bad or good can lead to your memory playing tricks on you.

That was certainly the case with me and the 2000 film, The Beach.  For the longest time, I remembered The Beach as being a gorgeously shot but rather shallow film, one that featured one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s least impressive performances.  Whenever I had to explain my theory that DiCaprio didn’t become a consistently good actor until 2003, The Beach was inevitably one of the film’s that I would cite as proof that, early on in his career, DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.

In short, if I hadn’t rewatched the film on Saturday morning, you would currently be reading a really negative review of The Beach.  However, I did rewatch The Beach and I discovered that both the film and DiCaprio’s performance were a lot better than I initially remembered.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Beach is still a frustratingly uneven film and the voice over narration (which DiCaprio recites in a rather overwrought style) still makes me cringe.  But still, it’s hardly the disaster that I initially remembered it being.

DiCaprio plays Richard, a privileged American who finds himself in Bangkok, searching for adventure.  When he meets the appropriately named Daffy (Robert Carlyle), a bemused Richard listens as Daffy talks about an uncharted island in the Gulf of Thailand.  Daffy swears that it’s a paradise that is populated by other travelers.  When Richard smirks and asks Daffy if he’s “fucked in the head,” Daffy responds by drawing Richard a map and then promptly committing suicide.  Richard and his two French friends, Françoise (Virginie Leydon) and Étienne (Guillaume Canet), go searching for the island.

And they find it!  It turns out that Daffy knew what he was talking about.  On the island, they discover a small but thriving commune.  Soon, Richard is killing sharks, having affairs, and becoming close to the leader of the commune, Sal (Tilda Swinton).  Unfortunately, Richard is also starting to lose his mind.  He grows to love paradise so much that he chooses ignore the dangers all around.  When a member of the commune is attacked by a shark, he’s left out in the middle of the jungle because no one wants to deal with the reality of his suffering.  Even more dangerous are the neighboring marijuana farmers, who allow Sal and her followers to live only under the condition that they keep the island a secret.  The problem is that Richard’s not good at keeping secrets.  Before he even knew if the island was real, Richard showed the map to a group of American surfers.  And now, the surfers are coming….

The Beach was directed by Danny Boyle, so it’s not a surprise that the film looks great and that it has an absolutely brilliant soundtrack.  (The film makes great use of both Moby’s Porcelain and Out of Control by the Chemical Brothers.)  At the same time, Boyle is too much of a subversive to fully buy into his film’s vision of paradise.  From the minute that Richard and his friends reach the island, Boyle is offering up hints that utopia isn’t as wonderful as people assume.  When Sal asks for a volunteer to accompany her to the mainland on a supply run, Boyle practically delights in showing everyone freaking out at the idea of having to indulge in responsibility.  Boyle often contrasts Richard’s pretentious narration (which, at times, sounds like it could have been lifted from a Beto O’Rourke medium post) with the rather mundane details of living on the island.  Though it may not be obvious from the start, The Beach works best when viewed as being a satire of middle and upper class ennui.

As for DiCaprio’s performance as Richard ….. well, let’s just say that he spends a lot of time yelling.  During the early part of his career — essentially the pre-Scorsese years — DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.  For all of his obvious talent, it took DiCaprio a while to really get to a point where he seemed as comfortable underplaying as he was just going totally overboard.  The Beach has its moments where DiCaprio gets awkwardly shrill.  (The scene where Richard talks about killing a shark always makes me cringe.)  But, at the same time, DiCaprio’s performance gets better as the film progresses.  (The scenes where DiCaprio is running around the jungle and trying to act like an animal are actually quite good.)  If DiCaprio’s performance sometimes seems shallow or histrionic, that’s because that’s who Richard is meant to be as a character.  (In one scene, Françoise even calls Richard out for being shallow and pretentious.)  Just because Richard’s narrating and is played by the star of the film, that doesn’t meant that we’re necessarily meant to like him.

These are all things that I didn’t really understand until I rewatched the film.  Maybe I was too immature the first time I saw the movie to understand what Boyle was really going for.  Maybe I was just having an off night the first time that I watched The Beach.  Or maybe my memory was just faulty.  For whatever reason, I’m glad that I rewatched this often uneven but still rather interesting film.  For all of its flaws. it was definitely better than I remembered.

Spring Breakdown #5: 47 Meters Down (dir by Johannes Roberts)


One of the surprise box office hits of 2017, 47 Meters Down tells the story of two sisters.

Kate (Claire Holt) is free-spirited, glamorous, and always up for a new adventure.  Her older sister, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is more serious and responsible.  If Kate craves constant stimulation, Lisa seeks stability.  When we first meet them, they’re on vacation in Mexico.  Lisa has just admitted to Kate that her boyfriend has dumped her because he feels that she’s too safe and that she doesn’t take enough risks.  What is Kate’s solution to all of Lisa’s problems?  How about going on a cage dive and seeing the sharks!?

Now, I should stop right here to point out the main strengths of 47 Meters Down.  The main character is named Lisa.  For me, this made her instantly sympathetic and I was able to relate to her, even though I’ve always been more like Kate.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many movies could have been improved by renaming their main character Lisa.

Anyway, Lisa and Kate find a group of slightly seedy sailors who own a boat and a cage and soon, they’re off to see the sharks.  Before getting into the water, both Lisa and Kate are warned about all the bad things that can happen during a dive.  You can run out of oxygen.  You can get eaten by a shark.  You can resurface too quickly and get “the bends.”  We here a lot about “the bends” over the course of the film.  That’s when you get nitrogen bubbles in your brain and it can cause you to get delirious and hallucinate.  It’s a pretty serious thing but I have to admit that I kept giggling whenever anyone said, “Be careful, you’ll get the bends!” because ….. listen, it just sounds silly, okay?  I get that the bends are a real thing and that they’re really dangerous and that they should be taken seriously but “the bends’ just sounds like a punchline to a vulgar joke.  Whenever I heard anyone in the film use the term, I was just like, “Wasn’t that Beto O’Rourke’s college band?”

Lisa is nervous about going in the water.  Kate isn’t.  It turns out that maybe Lisa had the right idea because, almost immediately after Lisa and Kate are submerged, the cables holding the cage snap and suddenly, the two sisters find themselves trapped 47 meters down.  If they leave the cage and attempt to swim back up to the surface, they might very well get eaten by a shark.  And if the sharks don’t get them, there’s always …. the bends!  The men on the boat swear that they’re going to rescue the two sisters but who knows if they can be trusted.  Meanwhile, the oxygen tanks will soon be empty….

47 Meters Down may have been a surprise box office success when it was released in 2017 but the critics absolutely hated it.  Watching the film, it’s easy to see why.  The critics who complained that the film was predictable had a point.  However, the audiences who didn’t care what the critics thought had a point as well.  Silly as the film may occasionally be, it works.  When that cage sinks down into the murky darkness of the ocean, the film captures some very primal fears.  When Lisa and Kate argue about what to do next, it’s a scene to which anyone who has a sibling should be able to relate.  The relationship between Lisa and Kate felt authentic, which made the film’s final twist far more powerful than it had any right to be.

47 Meters Down is somewhat silly but it’s still an effectively entertaining look at sisters, divers, and the sharks that like to eat them.