Here’s The Trailer For Steve McQueen’s Widows!


Widows is one of those films that I’ve been looking forward to seeing since I first read about it.  Based on a BBC miniseries and featuring an amazingly talented cast, Widows is also director Steve McQueen’s first film since the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave.

The film deals with four women whose husbands are all killed during a failed heist.  The widows, under the leadership of Viola Davis, join together to pull off the heist themselves.  That may not sound like a typical Oscar movie but Widows has got tremendous buzz.  Plus, you’ve got a cast that’s full of past Oscar nominees and winners (Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson) and actors who seem to be destined to be nominated some day (Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Holland, Carrie Coon, Garrett Dillahunt).  All in all, there’s a lot of reasons to get excited for this one!

Here’s the trailer:

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #7: True Confessions (dir by Ulu Grosbard)


The 1981 film True Confessions tells many different stories.

It’s a story about Los Angeles.  It’s not necessarily a story about Los Angeles as it exists.  Instead, it’s a story about Los Angeles as we always imagine it.  It’s the late 40s and, having vanquished the Nazis in Europe, men are returning to California and looking for a new life.  Meanwhile, aspiring starlets from across the country flood into Hollywood, looking for stardom.  It’s a city where glitz and ruin exist right next to each other.  It’s the mean streets that were made famous by Raymond Chandler and, decades later, James Ellroy.

It’s a murder mystery, one that is based on one of the most notorious unsolved homicides of all time.  The bisected body of woman named Lois Fazenda has been found in a vacant lot.  When the newspapers discover that Lois was both a prostitute and a Catholic, she becomes known as “the Virgin Tramp.”  One need not have an encyclopedic knowledge of unsolved crimes to recognize that Lois Fazneda is meant to be a stand-in for Elizabeth Short, the tragic and infamous Black Dahlia.

It’s a story about corruption.  Crooked cops.  Rich perverts.  Greedy politicians.  Sinful clergy.  They’re all present and accounted for in True Confessions.  As quickly becomes apparent, Los Angeles is a city where you can do anything as long as you have the money to pay the right people off.

And finally, it’s a film about two brothers.  Tom and Des Spellacy grew up in a strong Irish Catholic family but, as they got older, their lives went in different directions.  Tom (Robert Duvall) became a detective, the type who is willing to cut corners but who, in the end, takes his job seriously.  Des (Robert De Niro) entered the priesthood and is now a monsignor in the Los Angeles diocese.  Des is ambitious and he has a powerful mentor, Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack).

Though Tom and Des have gone their separate ways, they are still linked by Jack Amsterdam (Charles During).  To the public, Jack is a wealthy and respected businessman.  However, Tom and Des both know the truth.  When Tom first joined the department, he worked as a bagman for Jack and he knows that Jack made most of his money through a prostitution ring.  Des know that Jack donates to the Church as way to cover up his own corruption but Des looks the other way.  The Cardinal, after all, wants Jack’s money.

When Tom starts to investigate Lois’s death, it doesn’t take him long to figure out that Jack is probably the one responsible.  Meanwhile, Jack and his lawyer (Ed Flanders) start to pressure Des to convince his brother to let the case go.  Finding justice for Lois Fazneda could mean the end of both Tom and Des’s career.

Based on a novel by John Gregory Dunne, which was adapted into a screenplay by Dunne and Joan Didion, True Confessions is an imperfect but intriguing film.  This is one of Robert Duvall’s best performances and he brings a manic edge to the role that keeps the audience off-balance.  In the role of Jack Amsterdam, Charles Durning is the epitome of casual corruption and Burgess Meredith does a good job as an aging priest.  On the other hand, Robert De Niro seems strangely uncomfortable in the role of Des and you never quite believe that he and Duvall are actually brothers.  Director Ulu Grosbard does a good job of creating a proper noir atmosphere but, at the same time, he denies the audience the dramatic climax to which the film appears to be building up to.

That said, for whatever flaws True Confessions may have, it’s an always watchable and thought-provoking film.

Lisa’s Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for March


The Oscar (1966, dir by Russell Rouse)

Right now, when it comes to predicting the Oscars, there are two big questions to consider.

First off, will Burden ever find a distributor?  From the reviews in Sundance, it sounds like the type of film that could be embraced by the Academy but, if it can’t get in theaters, it’s not going to get any nominations.

Secondly, will Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman came out in 2019 or 2018?  Right now, Netflix says that The Irishman will be released in 2019 but we all remember what happened with The Wolf of Wall Street.

As of now, I’m going to choose to believe that Burden will get a 2018 release date and that The Irishman will come out in 2019.

I’m also going to chose to believe that Black Panther will be the first “comic book” movie to be nominated for best picture.

Also be sure to check out my predictions for January and February!

Best Picture

At Eternity’s Gate

Black Panther

Boy Erased

Burden

First Man

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary, Queen of Scots

A Star is Born

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Widows

Best Director

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

Andrew Heckler for Burden

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

Josie Rourke for Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Backseat

Willem DaFoe in At Eternity’s Gate

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Garrett Hedlund in Burden

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Kristen Stewart in JT LeRoy

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Bridges in Bad Times at the El Royale

Colman Domingo in If Beale Street Could Talk

Robert Duvall in Widows

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Forest Whiteaker in Burden

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams in Backseat

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Margot Robie in Mary, Queen of Scots

Olivia De Havilland and Friends

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #6: The Betsy (dir by Daniel Petrie)


“Wheeeeeeee!”

— Loren Hardeman Sr. (Sir Laurence Olivier) in The Betsy (1978)

Here’s a little thought experiment:

Imagine if The Godfather had starred Laurence Olivier and Tommy Lee Jones.

That may sound strange but it actually could have happened.  When Francis Ford Coppola first started his search for the perfect actor to play Don Vito Corleone, he announced that he could only imagine two actors pulling off the role.  One was Marlon Brando and the other was Laurence Olivier.

As for Tommy Lee Jones, he was among the many actors who auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone.  At the time, Jones was 26 years old and had only recently made his film debut in Love Story.  As odd as it may be to imagine the quintessentially Texan Tommy Lee Jones in the role, Coppola always said that he was looking for a brooder as Michael and that’s definitely a good description of Jones.

Of course, as we all know, neither Olivier nor Jones were ever cast in The Godfather.  Marlon Brando played Don Vito and Al Pacino was cast as Michael.  However, a few years later, Olivier and Jones would co-star in another family saga that combined history, organized crime, and melodrama.  That film was 1978’s The Betsy and, interestingly enough, it even co-starred an actor who actually did appear in The Godfather, Robert Duvall.

Of course, now would probably be a good time to point out that The Godfather is perhaps the greatest American film of all time.  And The Betsy … well, The Betsy most definitely is not.

The film’s German poster even gives off a Godfather vibe

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Betsy exposes the secrets of Detroit.  Decades ago, Loren Hardeman founded Hardeman Motors and started to build his considerable fortune.  Sure, Loren had to break a few rules.  He cut corners.  He acted unethically.  He had an affair with his daughter-in-law and then drove his gay son to suicide.  Loren never said that he was perfect.  Now in his 80s, Loren has a vision of the future and that vision is a new car.  This car will be called the Betsy (named after his great-granddaughter) and it will be the most fuel-efficient car ever made.

Since the film appropriates the flashback structure used in The Godfather Part II, we get to see Loren Hardeman as both an elderly man and a middle-aged titan of industry.  Elderly Loren is played by Laurence Olivier.  Elderly Loren spends most of the film in a wheelchair and he speaks with a bizarre accent, one that I think was meant to be Southern despite the fact that the film takes place in Michigan.  Elderly Loren gets really excited about building his new car and, at one point, shouts out “Wheeeeeee!”

Middle-aged Loren is played by … Laurence Olivier!  That’s right.  Olivier, who was 71 years old at the time, also plays Loren as a younger man.  This means that Olivier wears a hairpiece and so much makeup that he looks a bit like a wax figure come to life.  Strangely, Middle-aged Loren doesn’t have a strange accent and never says “wheeeee.”

To build his car, Loren recruits race car driver Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones).  Angelo’s father was an old friend of Loren’s.  When Angelo agrees, he discovers that the Hardeman family is full of drama and secrets.  Not only is great-granddaughter Betsy (Kathleen Beller) in love with him but so is Lady Bobby Ayers (Lesley-Anne Down), who is the mistress of Loren’s grandson, Loren the 3rd (Robert Duvall).

Because he blames his grandfather for the death of his father, Loren the 3rd has no intention of building Loren the 1st’s car.  Loren the 3rd wants to continue to make cars that pollute the environment.  “Over my dead boy!” Loren the 1st replies.  “As you wish, grandfather,” Loren the 3rd replies with a smile.

But we’re not done yet!  I haven’t even talked about the Mafia and the union organizers and the automotive journalist who ends up getting murdered.  From the minute the movie starts, it’s nonstop drama.  That said, most of the drama is so overdone that it’s actually more humorous than anything else.  As soon as Laurence Olivier shouts out, “Wheeeee!,” The Betsy falls into the trap of self-parody and it never quite escapes.  There’s a lot going on in the movie and one could imagine a more imaginative director turning the trashy script into a critique of capitalism and technology.  However, Daniel Petrie directs in a style that basically seems to be saying, “Let’s just get this over with.”

The cast is full of interesting people, all of whom are let down by a superficial script.  Nothing brings out the eccentricity in talented performers quicker than a line of shallow dialogue.  Jane Alexander, who plays Duvall’s wife, delivers all of her lines in an arch, upper class accent.  Edward Herrmann, playing a lawyer, smirks every time the camera is pointed at him.  Katharine Ross, as Olivier’s mistress and Duvall’s mother, stares at Olivier like she’s trying to make his head explode.  Tommy Lee Jones is even more laconic than usual while Duvall always seems to be struggling not to start laughing.

And then there’s Olivier.  For better or worse, Olivier is the most entertaining thing about The Betsy.  He doesn’t give a good performance but he does give a memorably weird one.  Everything, from the incomprehensible accent to a few scenes where he literally seems to bounce up and down, suggests a great actor who is desperately trying to bring a spark of life to an otherwise doomed project.  It’s a performance so strange that it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Tomorrow, we take a look at another melodrama featuring Robert Duvall, True Confessions!

 

Lisa’s Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For February


Could Black Panther be the first comic book movie to receive an Oscar nomination?

Last year, around this time, we were asking the exact same question about LoganLogan didn’t pick up a Best Picture nomination but it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, which would seem to suggest that the Academy is slowly coming around to accepting that so-called “Super Hero Films” can also be legitimate Oscar contenders.

As for Black Panther, it is currently the most critically acclaimed and financially successful film of 2018.  For those who say that there’s no way the Academy will ever nominate a comic book film for best picture, it should be remembered that there was a time when people said that Academy would never nominate a horror comedy for Best Picture.  Much like Get Out, Black Panther could prove the naysayers wrong.

Anyway, here are my Oscar predictions for February.  As always, it ‘s really way too early to be making these predictions.  Usually, Sundance provides at least a little bit of a guide but this year, Sundance was pretty low-key.  The most obvious Sundance Oscar contender — Burden — doesn’t even have a release date yet.

Also, the uncertain status of The Weinstein Company has thrown a lot of films into limbo.  Some of the unreleased TWC films might find homes with other studios.  Others will probably be left in limbo.  Then again, even if those films do get a release, I doubt the Academy is going to nominate any films stained with the noxious fingerprints of the Weinsteins.

Even more than usual, the guesses below are random.  At this time next year, we’ll probably look at this list and laugh.  Some of you might laugh today.

Check out January’s picks here!

Best Picture

Black Panther

Boy Erased

Burden

Colette

First Man

Mary, Queen of Scots

A Star is Born

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Widows

The Women of Mawren

Best Director

Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

Andrew Heckler for Burden

Richard Linklater for Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Steve McQueen for Widows

Josie Rourke for Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Untitled Adam McKay/Dick Cheney film

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Garrett Hedlund in Burden

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Viola Davis in Widows

Keira Knightley in Collette

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Saorise Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Bridges in Bad Times at the El Royale

Robert Duvall in Widows

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Rami Malek in Papillon

Forest Whiteaker in Burden

Best Supporting Actress

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Leslie Mann in The Women of Mawren

Lupita Nyong’o in Black Panther

Margot Robie in Mary, Queen of Scots

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January!


How early can one predict the Oscars?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  You can predict the Oscars at any time during the year.  However, predicting them correctly is next to impossible before October.  That said, I’m going to give it a shot!

Now, to be clear, this is not an attempt to predict who and what will be nominated later this month.  Instead, these are my predictions for what will be nominated next year at this time!  I’ll be updating my predictions every month of this year.

So, with all that in mind, here are my way too early predictions for what will be nominated in January of 2019!  As of right now, these predictions are a collection of instinct and random guesses.  For all we know, some of these films might not even get released in 2018.  In all probability, we’ll look back at this list in December and laugh.

 

Best Picture

Chappaquiddick

First Man

Lizzie

Mary Queen of Scots

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Mortal Engines

A Star is Born

Widows

Wildfire

The Women of Marwen

 

Best Director

Desiree Akhavon for The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Paul Dano for Wildfire

Steve McQueen for Widows

Robert Zemeckis for The Women of Marwen

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in The Women of Marwen

Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Joaquin Phoenx in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

 

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Widows

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Carey Mulligan in Wildfire

Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots

Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie

 

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Daniels in The Catcher Was A Spy

Bruce Dern in Chappaquiddick

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Robert Duvall in Widows

Hugo Weaving in Mortal Engines

 

Best Supporting Actress

Elizabeth Debicki in Widows

Claire Foy in First Man

Leslie Mann in The Women of Marwen

Kate Mara in Chappaquiddick

Kristen Stewart in Lizzie

 

A Movie A Day #337: Colors (1988, directed by Dennis Hopper)


Los Angeles in the 80s.  Beneath the California glamour that the rest of America thinks about when they think about L.A., a war is brewing.  Bloods vs Crips vs the 21st Street Gang.  For those living in the poorest sections of the city, gangs provide everything that mainstream society refuses to provide: money, a chance to belong, a chance to advance.  The only drawback is that you’ll probably die before you turn thirty.  Two cops — veteran Hodges (Robert Duvall) and rookie McGavin (Sean Penn) — spend their days patrolling a potential war zone.  Hodges tries to maintain the peace, encouraging the gangs to stay in their own territory and treat each other with respect.  McGavin is aggressive and cocky, the type of cop who seems to be destined to end up on the evening news.  With only a year to go before his retirement, Hodges tries to teach McGavin how to be a better cop while the gangs continue to target and kill each other.  The cycle continues.

Colors was one of the first and best-known of the “modern gang” films.  It was also Dennis Hopper’s return to directing, 17 years after the notorious, drug-fueled disaster of The Last Movie.  Hopper took an almost documentary approach to Colors, eschewing, for the most part, melodrama and instead focusing on the day-to-day monotony of life in a war zone.  There are parts of Colors that are almost deliberately boring, with Hodges and McGavin driving through L.A. and trying to stop trouble before it happens.  Hopper portrays Hodges and McGavin as being soldiers in a war that can’t be won, combatants in a concrete Vietnam.  Colors is nearly 20 years old but it holds up.  It’s a tough and gritty film that works because of the strong performances of Duvall and Penn.  The legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler vividly captures the harshness of life in the inner city.  Actual gang members served as extras, adding to the film’s authentic, documentary feel.  Among the actors playing gang members, Don Cheadle, Trinidad Silva, Glenn Plummer, and Courtney Gains all make a definite impression.  In a small but important role, Maria Conchita Alonso stands in for everyone who is not a cop and who is not a gang member but who is still trapped by their endless conflict.

One person who was not impressed by Colors was future director John Singleton.  Boyz ‘n The Hood was largely written as a response to Colors‘s portrait of life in South Central Los Angeles.