Here Are The Independent Spirt Nominations!


The nomination for the Independent Spirit Awards were announced earlier today.

Making a very good showing were Tar, Women Talking, and Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Not showing up at all was Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, which failed to even pick up a lead performance nomination for Brendan Fraser.  Seeing as how Fraser has been viewed as being the Oscar front runner for a few months now, his lack of a nomination definitely took observers by surprise.

Anyway, here are all the nominees!

FILM CATEGORIES

Best Feature
“Bones and All” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
“Our Father, the Devil” (Resolve Media)
“Tár” (Focus Features)
“Women Talking” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)

Best Director
Todd Field – “Tár” (Focus Features)
Kogonada – “After Yang” (A24)
Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
Sarah Polley – “Women Talking” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Halina Reijn – “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (A24)

Best Lead Performance

Cate Blanchett – “Tár” (Focus Features)
Dale Dickey – “A Love Song” (Bleecker Street)
Mia Goth – “Pearl” (A24)
Regina Hall – “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (Focus Features)
Paul Mescal – “Aftersun” (A24)
Aubrey Plaza – “Emily the Criminal” (Roadside Attractions)
Jeremy Pope – “The Inspection” (A24)
Taylor Russell – “Bones and All” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Andrea Riseborough – “To Leslie” (Momentum Pictures)
Michelle Yeoh – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)

Best Supporting Performance

Jamie Lee Curtis – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
Brian Tyree Henry – “Causeway” (A24/Apple Original Films)
Nina Hoss – “Tár” (Focus Features)
Brian D’Arcy James – “The Cathedral” (Mubi)
Ke Huy Quan – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
Trevante Rhodes – “Bruiser” (Onyx Collective)
Theo Rossi – “Emily the Criminal” (Roadside Attractions)
Mark Rylance – “Bones and All” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Jonathan Tucker – “Palm Trees and Power Lines” (Momentum Pictures)
Gabrielle Union – “The Inspection” (A24)

Best Breakthrough Performance
Frankie Corio – “Aftersun” (A24)
Garcija Filipovic – “Murina” (Kino Lorber)
Stephanie Hsu – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
Lily McInerny – “Palm Trees and Power Lines” (Momentum Pictures)
Daniel Zolghardi – “Funny Pages” (A24)

Best Screenplay
“After Yang” (A24) – Kogonada
“Catherine Called Birdy” (Amazon Studios) – Lena Dunham
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24) – Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
“Tár” (Focus Features) – Todd Field
“Women Talking” (MGM/United Artists Releasing) – Sarah Polley

Best First Screenplay
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” (A24) – Sarah DeLappe, Kristen Roupenian
“Emergency” (Amazon Studios) – K.D. Dávila
“Emily the Criminal” (Roadside Attractions) – John Patton Ford
“Fire Island” (Searchlight Pictures) – Joel Kim Booster
“Palm Trees and Power Lines” (Momentum Pictures) – Jamie Dack, Audrey Findlay

Best First Feature
“Aftersun” (A24) – Charlotte Wells (director), Mark Ceryak, Amy Jackson, Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski (producers)
“Emily the Criminal” (Roadside Attractions) – John Patton Ford (director), Tyler Davidson, Aubrey Plaza, Drew Sykes (producers)
“The Inspection” (A24) – Elegance Bratton (director), Effie T. Brown, Chester Algernal Gordon (producers)
“Murina” (Kino Lorber) – Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (director), Danijel Pek, Rodrigo Teixeira (producers)
“Palm Trees and Power Lines” (Momentum Pictures) – Jamie Dack (director), Leah Chen Baker (producer)

John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $1,000,000)
“The African Desperate” (Mubi) – Martine Syms (writer, director, producer), Rocket Caleshu (writer, producer), Vic Brooks (producer)
“A Love Song” (Bleecker Street) – Max Walker-Silverman (writer, director, producer), Jesse Hope, Dan Janvey (producers)
“The Cathedral” (Mubi) – Ricky D’Ambrose (writer, director), Graham Swon (producer)
“Holy Emy” (Utopie Films) – Araceli Lemos (writer, director), Giulia Caruso (writer, producer), Mathieu Bompoint, Ki Jin Kim, Konstantinos Vassilaros (producers)
“Something in the Dirt” (XYZ Films) – Justin Benson (writer, director, producer), Aaron Moorhead (director, producer), David Lawson Jr. (producer)

Best Cinematography
“Aftersun” (A24) – Gregory Oke
“Murina” (Kino Lorber) – Hélène Louvart
“Neptune Frost” (Kino Lorber) – Anisia Uzeyman
“Pearl” (A24) – Eliot Rockett
“Tár” (Focus Features) – Florian Hoffmeister

Best Documentary
“A House Made of Splinters” (Madman Entertainment) – Simon Lereng Wilmont (director), Monica Hellström (producer)
“All that Breathes” (HBO) – Shaunak Sen (director, producer), Teddy Leifer, Aman Mann (producers)
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (Neon) – Laura Poitras (director, producer), Howard Gertler, Nan Goldin, Yoni Golijov, John Lyons (producers)
“Midwives” (POV) – Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing (director, producer), Mila Aung-Thwin, Ulla Lehmann, Bob Moore (producers)
“Riotsville, U.S.A.” (IFC Films) – Sierra Pettengill (director), Sara Archambault, Jamila Wignot (producer)

Best Editing
“Aftersun” (A24) – Blair McClendon
“The Cathedral” (Mubi) – Ricky D’Ambrose
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24) – Paul Rogers
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (A24) – Dean Fleischer Camp, Nick Paley
“Tár” (Focus Features) – Monika Willi

Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)

“Women Talking” (MGM/United Artists Releasing) – Sarah Polley (director), John Buchan, Jason Knight (casting directors), Shayla Brown, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Kira Guloien, Kate Hallett, Judith Ivey, Rooney Mara, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand, Michelle McLeod, Liv McNeil, Ben Whishaw, August Winter (ensemble cast)

Best International Film
“Corsage” (Austria/Luxembourg/France/Belgium/Italy/England) – dir. Marie Kreutzer
“Joyland” (Pakistan/USA) – dir. Saim Sadiq
“Leonor Will Never Die” (Philippines) – dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar
“Return to Seoul” (South Korea/France/Belgium/Romania) – dir. Davy Chou
“Saint Omer” (France) – dir. Alice Diop

Producers Award (presented by Bulleit Frontier Whiskey  – The Producers Award, now in its 26th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.)
Liz Cardenas
Tory Lenosky
David Grove Churchill Viste

Someone to Watch Award (The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 29th year, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition)
Adamma Ebo – “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul”
Nikyatu Jusu – “Nanny”
Araceli Lemos – “Holy Emy”

“The Truer Than Fiction Award” (The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 28th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition)
Isabel Castro – “Mija”
Reid Davenport – “I Didn’t See You There”
Rebeca Huntt – “Beba”

Lisa Marie Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Nightmare Alley (dir by Guillermo del Toro)


In March, CODA won the Oscar for Best Picture.

By May, I think most people had forgotten about it.

I point this out not to be snarky about CODA (which, for the most part, I found to be a well-made and sweet-natured movie) but to just point out that occasionally, the Oscar for Best Picture Of The Year does not go to the nominee that’s necessarily going to be remembered and watched by future generations.  CODA’s victory is not a travesty, regardless of what some members of Film Twitter insisted.  This isn’t like when Green Book won.  It’s just that CODA seems to be destined to be remembered in much the same way that we remember Argo and Spotlight, i.e. a well-made and well-acted film that gets the job done but don’t necessarily stick around in your mind for long after you watch it.

In fact, looking back at all of the 2021 Best Picture nominees, the one that has really stuck with me is Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley.

Nightmare Alley tells the story of Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a drifter who, in 1939, gets a job with a carnival.  Stan is running from his past.  He’s haunted by visions and dreams of a dying old man and a burning farm house.  When we first meet him, he avoids alcohol which is perhaps a good thing as getting drunk at the carnival just makes someone easier to exploit and, ultimately, the carnival is all about exploitation.  The carnival’s owner, Clem (Willem DaFoe), specializes in tricking alcoholics into becoming opium-addicted “geeks,” who bite the heads off of chickens for gawking country audiences.

It’s not a glamorous life but it’s one that allows Stan to hide from his past.  He comes under the tutelage of Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and her husband, Pete (David Straithairn).  They teach him how to give “cold readings,” and Stan proves to be an eager student.  Pete tells Stan to never pretend to be able to speak to the dead and, from the minute that Pete says it, we can tell that Stan is already thinking about how much money he could make by doing just that.  Stan also appears to fall in love with Molly (Rooney Mara), a performer whose act involves a fake electric chair.  When Stan eventually abandons the carnival, Molly goes with him.  When Stan finds success as a fake medium, Molly is his assistant.

Stan becomes quite a success in Buffalo, trading in his shabby clothes and his unshaven appearance for a tuxedo and suave mustache.  With success comes arrogance and Stan soon ignore what Pete told him about pretending to be able to speak to the dead.  When Stan meets a psychologist named Dr. Lillian Rith (Cate Blanchett), he gets involved in a plot to con a judge who is still mourning for his deceased son.  It also leads to Stan meeting a corrupt and murderous businessman (Richard Jenkins).  Ignoring Pete’s lesson sets off a chain of events that leads Stan right back to where he started.

There’s something wonderfully subversive about taking Bradley Cooper, a legitimate movie star who is probably one of the most personable and likable actors working today, and casting him as such a sleazy character.  This isn’t a case, as in American Hustle or even The Hangover movies, where Cooper is playing a goof who gets in over his head.  Instead, Stan is someone who uses his eager manner and his natural charm to cover up the fact that he’s hollow on the inside.  Watching the film, you’re never quite sure as to whether or not Stan truly cares about any of the people who come into his life.  Does he love Molly or is he just using her?  Does he care about his friends from the carnival or is he just manipulating them into acting as a shield to keep out his former life?  When he goes against Pete’s lessons about pretending to speak to the dead, is he motivated by greed or arrogance?  Or does he truly want to believe that he’s somehow become the all-powerful psychic that he pretends to be?  Stan becomes a success because he knows how to con everyone but eventually, he meets someone who is even emptier than he is.  Ultimately, Stan cons himself.  He tricks himself into believing that he’s more clever than he actually is and he ends up facing the fate that he secretly always knew was waiting for him.  Cooper gives an outstanding performance as Stan.  Both he and del Toro cleverly play with what audiences expect when they see Bradley Cooper onscreen.  In the end, the film suggests that not even charm can ward off karma.

Nightmare Alley is work of what Lucio Fulci called “pure cinema,” one in which the imagery and the emotions generated by that imagery is even more important than the story itself.  The sets, whether it’s the carnival or Dr. Ritter’s office or the Buffalo ballroom where Stan cons the wealthy, are large and ornate.  The cinematography is gorgeous.  The supporting performances are arch and witty.  Cate Blanchett’s and Rooney Mara’s costumes are to die for.  Nearly every shot feels as if it could have been lifted from a particularly vivid dream.  Guillermo del Toro’s love of cinema is evident in every frame of Nightmare Alley.  It’s a film that celebrates the grandeur and the power of imagination and also warns about the destructive power of hubris.  Despite the fact that del Toro has gone on the record saying that there’s nothing supernatural about Nightmare Alley, it’s still a wonderful film for the Halloween season.  The costumes are beautiful and the final third of the movie plays like an homage to the classic German expressionistic horror films, with Blanchett playing her role as a mix of Dr. Caligari and a classic noir feeme fatale.  Nightmare Alley is a big, flamboyant, and unforgettable work of pure cinema and, looking back, it’s my favorite film of 2021.

It’s a film that stays with you.

Here’s The Teaser for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley!


Here’s the first teaser for one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Nightmare Alley!

Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, Shape of the Water, won the Oscar for Best Picture. Could Nightmare Alley pull off the same feat? I have no idea but the trailer looks good and I’ll watch Bradley Cooper, Willem DaFoe, and Cate Blanchett in anything. Nightmare Alley is scheduled to be released on December 17th.

Incidentally, Nightmare Alley is based on a novel, which was previously adapted into a film way back in 1947. That version, which is considered to be a noir classic, was directed by Edmund Goulding and starred Tyrone Power, Jr in the lead role.

Horror Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (Samuel Bayer)


“Hey, you guys!  The 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is on TV!”

“Alright!  I NEVER MISS A ROONEY MARA HORROR MOVIE!”

Indeed, way back in 2010, there a lot of hype accompanying the release of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  It came out at a time when a lot of classic horror films were being rebooted for no particular reason.  Halloween got a reboot.  Friday the 13th got a reboot.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre has gotten a reboot.  So, it was just kind of expected that Nightmare on Elm Street would get a reboot, bringing the story into the modern age and making the story less problematic and blah bah blah.

And yet, for all the hype that accompanied the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, it was pretty quickly forgotten.  If I remember correctly, it failed to live up to box office expectations and, as a result, there was never a sequel to this reboot.  Jackie Earle Haley never got a second chance to play Freddy Krueger and, to be honest, that’s probably for the best.  Haley’s a great actor who deserves better than to be typecast as the actor who played the second best version of Freddy Krueger.  No matter how good a performance Haley could have given in any of the hypothetical sequels to the Nightmare reboot, he would have been overshadowed by Robert Englund’s definitive interpretation of the character.

Today, the movie seems to be best remembered as one of the films that Rooney Mara made before she was cast in the title role of David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Mara plays the role of Nancy, the sleep-deprived teenager whose friends are all having nightmares and dying in various grotesque ways.  In Nightmare on Elm Street, Rooney Mara is even more boring than usual but then again, the same can be said of just about everyone else in the movie, with the exception of Jackie Earle Haley and Clancy Brown.  The majority of the actors just go through the motions.  It’s as if they decided that, since they were appearing in a horror movie, they didn’t really have to make any sort of effort to do anything interesting with their characters.  One need only compare the performances of Heather Langenkamp and Rooney Mara to see why the original Nightmare On Elm Street remains a classic while the remake has been forgotten.

Of course, another reason why the reboot has been forgotten is because it’s not really that scary.  The original Nightmare is still scary.  The original can still give you nightmares.  Robert Englund’s performance still holds up.  The death of Tina is still terrifying.  The scene where Nancy looks at the gray streak in her hair and says that she looks like she’s in her 20s is still funny.  Nightmare on Elm Street still holds up.  The reboot, however, falls flat in the scares department.  I think part of the problem is that the dreams are too obvious in the reboot,  In the original, the waking world would segue so effortlessly into the dream world that you were always kept off-balance.  In the remake, the dreams are too easy to spot and they’re too dependent on CGI to be convincing as a actual nightmares.

The remake does do one interesting thing.  There are several scenes in the film that seem to be designed to hint that maybe, in life, Freddy was actually innocent of the crimes for which was accused and that he was just set on fire because he was a convenient scapegoat.  That’s an intriguing idea and it certainly would have brought a whole new dimension to Freddy and his quest for revenge.  Just imagine how much of a mind-screw the film would have been if it had been revealed that Freddy had actually been framed by one of the same adults who later set him on fire.  Unfortunately, after making you think that the movie might actually do something unexpected, the film then reveals that Freddy actually was guilty and the whole story becomes a bit less interesting.  Revealing that Freddy was just a somewhat slow handyman who was wrongly accused would have brought some subversive life to this film but this reboot has no interest in being subversive.

Ignore the remake.  Watch the original.

Film Review: Mary Magdalene (dir by Garth Davis)


“Dress more like the Virgin and less like the Magdalene.”

That’s something my grandmother always used to tell me and my sisters.  That’s because, Mary Magdalene — who is described in the Gospels as being a woman who traveled with and supported Jesus — is often mistaken for being the “sinful woman” who scandalized Simon the Leper by anointing Jesus’s feet.  As such, there’s a tradition that Mary Magdalene was either a former prostitute or, at the very least, a formerly promiscuous woman who repented and followed Jesus.  That said, there’s nothing in the canonical gospels that supports that tradition and, in all probability, the sinful woman was another Mary, Mary of Bethany.  In 1969, Pope Paul VI officially removed all reference to Mary Magdalene being the sinful woman but it’s still fairly common for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as being a former prostitute.

Mary Magdalene, which was released briefly in theaters last year, attempts to set the record straight by imagining a different backstory for Mary Magdalene.  In fact, the whole theme of this movie seems to be, “See?  She wasn’t a prostitute!”  And that’s fine except, while watching the movie, I really had to wonder if it was somehow an improvement to instead portray her as being the most boring person in Judea.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the filmmakers were so proud of themselves for making Mary Magdalene a feminist that it didn’t occur to them that they might also want to make her an interesting character as well.

In this movie, Mary Magdalene (played by a dependably dull Rooney Mara) is a young Jewish woman who rebels against the wishes of her family and refuses to enter into an arranged marriage with Ephraim (Tzachi Halevy) and who instead decides to follow a preacher named Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix).  As portrayed in this movie, Jesus is charismatic but often moody, preaching a good message (though the film seems to interpret that message as mostly being vague Gnostic liberalism) while getting annoyed with almost everyone around him.  Jesus often seems to be exhausted by his followers, especially Judas (Tahar Rahim) who is way too eager for Jesus to lead an armed uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire.  Meanwhile, Jesus’s main disciple, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), often finds himself growing jealous of Mary Magdalene and the trust that builds between her and Jesus.  While this film does not go the Jesus Christ Superstar route of portraying them as being a couple, it also leaves little doubt that Mary Magdalene, who is defying not just Rome but also the entire patriarchy, understands Jesus and his teachings in a way that the male disciples never will.

As a film, Mary Magalene takes itself and its story very seriously and it generally eshews the type of grandeur that one might expect from a biblical epic.  That low-key approach may be historically accurate but it’s not much fun to watch and, with a running time of 120 minutes, the action just kind of plods along.  Rooney Mara can give a good performance when she has the right material but here, she’s often just reduced to just wanly staring off into the distance.

As for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus …. well, the casting actually works better than you might think.  Phoenix plays Jesus as being a passionate leader who is haunted by his destiny.  With his long hair and his scruffy beard, Phoenix is not a glamorous Jesus but he’s very much a credible one.  The film is probably at its best in the scene where Jesus witnesses the money changers in the temple.  Rather than playing Jesus as being simply enraged, Phoenix plays him as being deeply disappointed.  One gets the feeling that he’s looking at what is happening in his father’s house and he’s thinking, “These are the people I’m supposed to sacrifice my life to save?”

Mary Magdalene is one of those films that took forever to actually show up in theaters.  The Weinstein Company was originally set to release the film in early 2017 but the release was pushed back to 2018, for reasons that have never been particularly clear.  Eventually the Weinstein Company pulled out of distributing the film and, for that, I’m thankful.  The idea of any film about Jesus carrying the Harvey Weinstein name is just too terrible to think about.  The film was then picked up by IFC, who gave it a perfunctory release in 2019.

It’s a flawed film, even though it’s heart may be in the right place.  The approach that it takes is just too low-key to be consistently interesting.  Sometimes, bigger is better.

A Halloween Film Review: A Ghost Story (dir by David Lowery)


To quote Taking Back Sunday:

“What’s it feel like to be a ghost?”

That’s the question that is asked in the hauntingly beautiful film, A Ghost Story.

How to describe the plot of A Ghost Story?  It’s not going to be easy because A Ghost Story is a film that defies easy description or categorization.  It’s power comes less from the specifics of the story and more from the mood that it creates.  A Ghost Story makes you think and it makes you feel and, to a certain extent, you’re just going to have to take my word on that.  This is one of those film that, to truly understand, you simply must see.

Casey Affleck plays C and Rooney Mara plays M.  They live in a small house, near Dallas.  They’re like any couple, really.  Sometimes, they appear to be in love.  Sometimes, they appear to be on the verge of breaking up and never seeing each other again.  Sometimes, they are happy.  Sometimes, they are sad.  The film starts with an almost random series of scenes, showing their life together.

Suddenly, we see a smashed car sitting in front of the house.

Just as abruptly, we’re in the hallway outside a sterile hospital room.  We can see that, inside the room,  M is staring down at a body on a slab.  The body has been covered with a sheet.  M leaves.  Slowly, the sheet-covered body sits up.  We watch as the sheet-covered ghost walks down the hallways of the hospital.  Briefly, it pauses to look at what appears to be a portal to … somewhere else.  The ghost does not enter the portal and the portal closes.

We spend the rest of the movie following that sheet-covered ghost as he wanders through our world.  No one living sees it and the ghost never says a word.  He watches as M mourns over his passing.  Time passes.  People enter and leave the house.  Life goes on but the ghost is stuck forever where he is, powerless to do anything other than occasionally break a dish, play a piano, or open a book.  Time passes.  The ghost sees the future, the past, and the present.  Why is the ghost still there?  Does the ghost know?  Is the ghost just waiting for someone who it has forgotten?

If I’m making A Ghost Story sound like a sad movie … well, it is.  There are moments of humor, largely coming from the fact that the ghost is literally a sheet with some eye holes.  For the most part, though, this film is a somber meditation on life, death, and what makes it all worth the trouble.  It’s a film that makes you wonder whether you would have entered that portal or if you too would have returned to your old house so that you silently watch the world go on without you.

From the stillness of the morgue to the view of a futuristic cityscape that the ghost can see but probably no longer appreciate, director David Lowery gives some truly beautiful and haunting images while telling this story.  (It’s not surprising to learn that the Dallas-based Lowery previously worked on Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color.)  A Ghost Story came out earlier this year and really didn’t get the attention that it deserved.  It’s a thought-provoking film and definitely one of the best of the year.

Film Review: Song to Song (dir by Terrence Malick)


You’re watching a movie called Song to Song.  It’s about beautiful people in a beautiful city.

In this case, the city is Austin, Texas.  The people are all involved in the Austin music scene and they’re played by actors like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett.  A good deal of Song to Song was filmed at the Austin City Limits festival and several real-life musicians appear as themselves, though only Patti Smith is on screen long enough to make much of an impression.  To be honest, both the music and Austin are almost incidental to the film.  Though the movie was sold as an Austin film and it premiered at SXSW, it could have just as easily taken place in Ft. Worth.

The film is made up of short, deliberately obscure shots.  The camera never stops moving, floating over images of sunsets, sunrises, and oddly empty streets.  Because the film was shot with a wide-angle lens, you’re never not aware of the expanse around the characters.  At times, all of those beautiful film stars run the risk of become specks on the landscape, as if the film itself is taunting the characters for thinking that they are more important than nature.

Who are the characters?  It’s not always easy to say.  There are plenty of voice overs but it’s rare that anyone directly states what they’re thinking or who they are.  When the characters speak to each other, they mumble.  The dialogue is a mix of the banal and the portentous, a sure sign of a film that was largely shot without a script.  Eventually, you turn on the captioning so that you can at least understand what everyone’s muttering.

Michael Fassbender plays Cook.  Cook appears to be a music producer but he could just as easily be a businessman who enjoys hanging out with and manipulating aspiring stars.  People seem to know him but nobody seems to be particularly impressed by him.  Cook spends a lot of time standing in front of a pool.  Is it his pool?  Is it his house? It’s hard to say.  Cook is obsessed with control or maybe he isn’t.  Halfway through the film, Fassbender appears to turn into his character from Shame.

Ryan Gosling is BV.  BV appears to be a lyricist, though it’s never made clear what type of songs that he writes.  At one point, you think someone said that he had written a country song but you may have misheard.  BV appears to have an estranged relationship with his dying father.  BV may be a romantic or he may not.  He seems to fall in love easily but he spends just as much time staring at the sky soulfully and suggesting that he has a hard time with commitment.  BV appears to be Cook’s best friend but sometimes, he isn’t.  There’s a random scene where BV accuses Cook of cheating him.  It’s never brought up again.

Rooney Mara is Faye.  Faye contributes most of the voice overs and yet, oddly, you’re never sure who exactly she is.  She appears to be BV’s girlfriend and sometimes, she appears to be Cook’s girlfriend.  Sometimes, she’s in love and then, just as abruptly, she’s not.  She may be a singer or she may be a songwriter.  At one point, she appears to be interviewing Patty Smith so maybe she’s a music journalist.  The film is centered around her but it never makes clear who she is.

Natalie Portman is Rhonda.  Rhonda was a teacher but now she’s a waitress.  She might be religious or she might not.  She might be married to Cook or she might not.  Her mother (Holly Hunter) might be dying or she might not.

And there are other beautful people as well.  Cate Blanchett plays a character named Amanda.  Amanda has a relationship with one of the characters and then vanishes after four scenes.  There’s an intriguing sadness to Blanchett’s performance.  Since the first cut of Song to Song was 8 hours long, you can assume her backstory was left on the cutting room floor.  (And yet strangely, it works that we never know much about who Amanda is.)  Lykke Li shows up, presumably playing herself but maybe not.  Berenice Marlohe and Val Kilmer also have small roles, wandering in and out of the character’s lives.

There’s a lot of wandering in this movie.  The characters wander through their life, stopping only to kiss each other, caress each other, and occasionally stare soulfully into the distance.  The camera seems to wander from scene to scene, stopping to occasionally focus on random details.  Even the film’s timeline seems to wander, as you find yourself looking at Rooney Mara’s forever changing hair and using it as a roadmap in your attempt to understand the film’s story.

“I went through a period when I thought sex had to be violent,” Rooney Mara’s voice over breathlessly explains, “We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.”

As you watch Song to Song, you find yourself both intrigued and annoyed.  This is a Terrence Malick film, after all.  You love movies so, of course, you love Malick.  Even if his recent films have been flawed and self-indulgent, he is a true original.  You want to support him because he’s an artist but, as you watch Song to Song, the emphasis really does seem to be on self-indulgence.  The images are beautiful but the characters are so empty and the voice overs are so incredibly pretentious.  Should you be mad or should you be thankful that, in this time of cinematic blandness, there’s a director still willing to follow his own vision?

At times, Song to Song is brilliant.  There are images in Song to Song that are as beautiful as any that Malick has ever captured.  Sometimes, both the images and the characters are almost too beautiful.  The music business is tough and dirty but all of the images in Song to Song are clean and vibrant.

At times, Song to Song is incredibly annoying.  It’s hard not to suspect that the film would have worked better if Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara had switched roles.  Mara can be an outstanding actress with the right director (just check out her performance in Carol) but, in Song to Song, her natural blandness makes it difficult to take her seriously as whoever she’s supposed to be.  Portman has much less screen time and yet creates an unforgettable character.  Mara is in 75% of the film and yet never seems like an active participant.

At times, the film is annoyingly brilliant.  Malick’s self-indulgence can drive you mad while still leaving you impressed by his commitment to his vision.

And then, other times, the film is brilliantly annoying.  Many directors have mixed overly pretty images with pretentious voice overs but few do so with the panache of Terrence Malick.

Even fans of Terrence Malick, of which I certainly am one, will probably find Song to Song to be his weakest film.  Even compared to films like To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song is a slow movie and there are moments that come dangerously close to self-parody.  Unlike Tree of Life, where everything eventually came together in enigmatic poignance, Song to Song often feels like less than the sum of its parts.  And yet, I can’t totally dismiss anything made by Terrence Malick.  Song to Song may be empty but it’s oh so pretty.

 

Insomnia File #25: The Winning Season (dir by James C. Strouse)


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!

If, last night, you were up at 11:45 then … well, you were probably like most people.  To be honest, I don’t know if The Winning Season, which aired on Cinemax last night, really counts as an insomnia file.  Being up at midnight probably doesn’t qualify as insomnia.

That said, The Winning Season is an extremely sweet and likable movie that, until I came across it last night, I had previously heard nothing about.  Even if it wasn’t directly inspired by insomnia, this was a film that I was happy to discover and I’m going to recommend that, if you haven’t seen it, you discover it too.

Of course, I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked that I loved this film because it stars Sam Rockwell.  Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite actors.  It’s not just that he’s talented and that he frequently takes risks and chooses interesting projects, though all of that is certainly true.  There’s a sincerity to Sam Rockwell’s performances.  He’s one of those actors who, when you watch him, you feel as if he’s literally opening up his heart and soul to you.  There are few actors who can make me cry quite as effectively as Sam Rockwell.  That he didn’t win an Oscar for Moon (and has, in fact, never even been nominated) remains one of the most glaring mistakes in the history of the Academy Awards.

Sam Rockwell is at the center of The Winning Season and it’s hard to imagine the film working with anyone other than him in the leading role.  Sam plays Bill, a former high school basketball star who is now a divorced alcoholic with a 16 year-old daughter that he struggles to communicate with.  Like many of Rockwell’s character, Bill is irresponsible but he means well.  Bill spends most of his time drinking and working as a busboy at a restaurant.

One night, Bill is approached by his former teammate, Terry (Rob Corddry).  Terry is now a high school principal and he has an offer for Bill.  Terry needs a new coach for the Girls’ Basketball Team.  Even though Bill doesn’t consider Girls’ Basketball to be a real sport, he accepts the position.

And you can guess what happens.  When Bill is first hired, no one takes the team seriously.  There’s only six players on the team and none of them — not even the ones played by Emma Roberts and Rooney Mara — believe that they have a chance at a winning season.  In fact, their best player breaks her ankle before the season even begins.  After a rough start, Bill and the girls bond and soon, they start to win games.

Again, it’s not surprising but it is incredibly sweet.  And, as predictable as it may be, the film still throws in a few unexpected twists.  One thing that I liked is that, even after they started to get good, the team still struggled and lost the occasional game.  They didn’t all magically become the best basketball players ever and, for that matter, Sam didn’t magically become the best coach in the world.  This is an unapologetic crowd pleaser that still keeps one foot in reality.  Everyone, in the film, fully commits to their roles.  In particular, Margo Martindale is great in the role of Bill’s assistant.  It’s always a pleasure to watch two good actors play off of each other and Martindale’s scenes with Sam Rockwell are fun to watch.

But really, the entire film belongs to Sam Rockwell.  Sam Rockwell can take the most predictable dialogue imaginable and make it sound like poetry.  About halfway through the film, Bill loses his driver’s licence and is reduced to showing up at the games on bicycle.  There’s little that is more adorable than Sam Rockwell pedaling across the screen.

The Winning Season is an incredibly sweet and likable movie.  I’m glad that I discovered it.

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

Film Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (dir by Travis Knight)


Kubo_and_the_Two_Strings_poster

How is it that, this weekend, so much hype is being given to War Dogs and Ben-Hur — two films that you knew weren’t going to be any good from the minute you first saw their trailers — while one of the best films of the year is running the risk of being overlooked?

I just got back from seeing Kubo and The Two Strings and I am insisting that, if you haven’t already, you go out and see it right now.  If you’re busy today, I understand.  See it on Sunday.  You can even see it on Monday if you have to.  But the important thing is that you see it soon.  For the most part, 2016 in cinema has almost been as bad as 2016 in politics.  The year has been dominated by big spectacles, the majority of which do not even attempt to create any sort of emotional connection with the audience.  Don’t get me wrong — there have been some good films but not hardly enough.  Fortunately, Kubo and the Two Strings is the type of film that, if people actually go and see it, can help to redeem an entire year.

In short, I want to wake up on Monday and I want to read that Kubo and The Two Strings won the weekend.  Make it happen!

Kubo and The Two Strings is an animated film and yes, you need to see it in a theater and yes, you need to see it in 3D.  It’s one of the most visually stunning films that I’ve seen this year and, even better, it’s a film that actually has a heart.  When I watched Kubo and The Two Strings, I found myself both laughing and crying and feeling a renewed excitement about the potential of cinema.

Somewhat appropriately, this magical film is about magic, not just spell-casting magic but also the magic that we all have within our soul and locked away in our memories.  Taking place in ancient Japan, it tells the story of Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a one-eyed child who lives in a cave with his sickly mother.  Most of the time, his mother is so out-of-it that she can only sit at the cave entrance and stare out at the distant ocean.  But occasionally, she is lucid enough that she remembers her past and she tells stories about how Kubo’s father was a mighty warrior who battled monsters and went on heroic quests.  She also remembers that Kubo’s grandfather is an evil demon, who is searching for his grandson and who hopes to take away his other eye.

Kubo supports his mother by going into a nearby village and, through the use of origami, magic, and music, telling stories to the townspeople.  His mother always warns Kubo not to say out after sunset.  Inevitably, however, Kubo does just that and soon, his demonic aunts appear in the village.  (The aunts, who are voiced by Rooney Mara, are truly scary.)  The village is destroyed and Kubo’s mother sacrifices her life to save him.

This, of course, all leads to Kubo going on a quest of his own.  He has to find his father’s armor so that he can defeat his grandfather.  Helping him in his quest is Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, providing comic relief to an occasionally grim film).  But really, the quest is less about finding the armor and more about Kubo both growing up and coming to terms with the loss of his parents.  Yes, Kubo and The Two Strings may be an animated film and it may be a fantasy and it may feature bits of comedy but it’s a film that inspires very real emotions.  It’s a film that made me cry and it earned every single tear.

(Seriously, I dare you to watch the final five minutes of Kubo and The Two Strings without tearing up.)

Visually, this is an amazing film.  The images are often beautiful, sometimes frightening, and occasionally awe-inspiring.  Kubo’s aunts are pure nightmare fuel and his confrontation with his grandfather (voice by Ralph Fiennes) is magical in more ways than one.  Even beyond that, Kubo and the Two Strings creates a world that feels as real as our own.  It not only visualizes and celebrates film magic but also real-life magic as well.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a great and magical film and it’s one of the best of the year so far.  If you haven’t seen it, go out and see it.  If you’ve already seen it, go see it again.  Don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-ray.  Don’t say, “I’ll see it on cable.”  Don’t wait for Netflix.  See it on a big screen and see it now.

Seriously, don’t miss your chance to experience this movie the way it was meant to be experienced!

 

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions


2013 oscars

Can you believe that the Oscars are just a few hours away!?  This is actually shaping up to be an exciting year.  Even though I’m fairly certain that I know who and what is going to win, there’s still a strong possibility that we could have a few upsets when the winners are announced on Sunday night!

Well, I guess I better hurry up and post my predictions.  Below, I will list both what I think should win and what actually will win.

(If you want to see which films I would have nominated if I had all the power, please check out my What If Lisa Determined The Oscar Nominations post!)

Okay, here we go!

Best Picture:

Should Win: Brooklyn

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Director:

Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Best Actor:

Should and Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress:

Should and Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Best Supporting Actor:

Should and Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress:

Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol

Will Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Screenplay:

Should Win: Inside Out

Will Win: Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Big Short

Best Animated Feature:

Should and Will: Inside Out

Best Art Direction:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Cinematography:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Costume Design:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Danish Girl

Best Editing:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup:

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Mixing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Editing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Visual Effects:

Should Win: Ex Machina

Will Win: The Martian

Best Original Score:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song:

Should Win: “Earned it” from Fifty Shades of Grey

Will Win: “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

Best Documentary Feature:

Should and Will Win: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film:

Should Win: Can’t say because I haven’t see any of the nominated films

Will Win: Son of Saul

Documentary Short:

Should Win: ????

Will Win: The Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness

Animated Short:

Should Win: ?????

Will Win: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

Live Action Short:

Should Win: ??????

Will Win: Stutterer