January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
What I think gets nominated, what I think will win, what I think should win:
I’m going by my own opinions and gut instincts over what the industry logic is dictating.
I am 100% certain the official lists for acting will look NOTHING like my lists come Thursday morning.
1. American Hustle
2. The Wolf of Wall Street- SHOULD WIN
4. 12 Years A Slave- WINS
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. Dallas Buyers Club
9. The Butler
10. Captain Phillips
1. Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave – WINS
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
3. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
4. David O. Russell, American Hustle- SHOULD WIN
5. Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
1. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club- WINS
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- SHOULD WIN
4. Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
5. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
1. Cate Blanchette, Blue Jasmine- WINS/SHOULD WIN
2. Amy Adams, American Hustle
3. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
4. Judi Dench, Philomena
5. Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Colour
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club- WINS
2. James Gandolfini, Enough Said
3. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
4. James Franco, Spring Breakers- SHOULD WIN
5. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle¬- WINS/SHOULD WIN
3. Octavia Spencer, Frutivale Station
4. June Squibb, Nebraska
5. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
1. Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace- SHOULD WIN
2. Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine- WILL WIN
3. Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Spike Jonze, HER-
5. Eric Singer, David O. Russell, American Hustle
1. John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave WINS/SHOULD WIN
2. Terence Winter, American Hustle
3. Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
4. Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
5. Destin Cretton, Short Term 12
1. Alfonso Cuarón Mark Sanger, Gravity WINS/SHOULD WIN
2. Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
3. Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
4. Daniel P Hanley, Rush
5. Thelma Schoonmaker, The Wolf of Wall Street
January 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Jack Nicholson, recipient of three Academy Awards and twelve-time nominee, is notorious for not mincing his words and for having a rather large ego that he thankfully takes credit for, whether it’s justified or gets him in trouble. As such, he’s put a ton of quotes out into the media explaining her personal opinions and motivations. One of the common topics of his quotes regards his opinions on awards. If anybody is an expert on the subject, it’s Jack, as he’s affectionately known. One of his quotes is perhaps the most honest bit of fodder for Hollywood glory as they come: “When I read the part, I knew I’d win the Oscar for it.”- In regards to Terms of Endearment (1983). There are many more Nicholson quotes covering his over-under odds making on award winning movie-to-movie, nomination-to-nomination.
I appreciate Nicholson’s candor. Nowadays celebrities are required to downplay their desire for money or awards. Baseball players, the greatest benefactors of free agency, love to tell the media “This was just the most comfortable situation for my family” when they take the largest contract they can find. Or they say a lesser offer made them feel “disrespected”. Those quotes can’t be attributed to any one person. They’re habitual within the sport. Likewise, in Hollywood, when someone tries to talk to a star about their reported payday, such as Depp’s $55 million upfront guarantee for ‘Pirates 4’ or Downey, Jr.’s $50 million payday from the ‘Avengers’ they either claim the money gives them peace of mind to buy their privacy or they play entirely coy about it. They rarely come out and say “The economics dictate that that is what I am worth. Period.”
Awards are no different. Awards are part of the Hollywood power machine. They’re either symbolically confirming that your body of work is important, such as Alan Arkin’s best supporting actor Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine” regardless of that actual performance’s merit, or it’s the result of calculated campaigning out of the Weinstein Brothers’ playbook. It’s why the generally unremarkable “Shakespeare in Love” swept the best actress and best picture categories against “Saving Private Ryan”, which is generally regarded as the better film that was nominated that year. Other examples might come down to generational bias such as the bland and un-offensive “Forrest Gump” (a good but schmaltzy film) winning over the game-changing “Pulp Fiction” in 1995.
What is perhaps most fascinating about this concept is when a film is green-lit, production-designed, cast, advertised and pushed on all fronts that it should be pre-ordained to win awards, only to collapse under the weight of its own hubris. There are many examples of this such as the 2006 Steve Zaillian re-make of 1949’s “All the King’s Men”. It starred Sean Penn taking over for the role that won Broderick Crawford an Oscar. For the remake, Sean Penn was supported by Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins Kate Winslet: the list goes on for a while. All of them are either Oscar winners or perennial Oscar nominees.
In the run up to a new year of film releases and the awards season, a plethora of articles are written highlighting the potential heavy hitters for those coveted statues. As with any sport (make no mistake: awards are most definitely a sport) it’s all mostly hype, with only a few true blue chips panning out. Past years have seen films like 1998’s Oprah Winfrey-starring “Beloved” get tons of costly publicity (to the tune of $80 million shelled out between production, advertising and distribution) only to fizzle at the box office with less than $23 million in total.
Sometimes films are so clearly designed to have praise heaped upon them that the public and the industry itself turns their back on the product out of a sense of being insulted by the pandering, by the shameless begging of the ad campaigns and the actors transparently ham-fisted, scenery chewing performances.
I was not reviewing movies again when The Butler was released. Had I been reviewing at the time, I would have immediately called the film on its overt political aspirations. Not the politics depicted in the film, nor the statements the film’s shifting time periods make upon United States history. No, I am speaking of the politics within Hollywood itself, in the here and now, in the real world. It’s widely known amongst Hollywood professionals, entertainment journalists and film geeks that handing out statues in Hollywood is as much a pay-off for one thing or another as it is a genuine recognition for being The Best of that year. The Butler managed a respectable slow-burn box office of $116 million domestic on a modest $30 million production budget and $27 million advertising campaign. Released August 16th of 2013, the film is still a noticeable theatrical presence on the eve of its VOD release. The film, written and director by Oprah Winfrey’s favorite butt buddy Lee Daniels, starring previous “career-achievement” best actor Oscar winner Forrest Whittaker as the titular butler, follows said butler through a series of U.S. presidencies as he works as an a-political but U.S. policy-privy white house butler. Winfrey plays Whittaker’s wife in a performance that is bombastic at times, quiet at others and thoroughly preening for awards-consideration. Now that said-awards season is underway, with Oscar nominations to be announced this Thursday, the Butler has been utterly forgotten for statue-consideration. Perhaps it’ll achieve its main goal of Oscar nominations, but that is highly doubtful given the already over-crowded field.
Looking at this year’s contenders, there are other obvious Oscar-bait movies such as “American Hustle” and “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Twelve Years A Slave” (also about African-American history). Why, then, are those three aforementioned films garnering awards-attention even if they, too, seem designed and pre-destined for end of year “best of” recognition? What is the dividing line between wanna-be’s and the genuine article?
In this writer’s humble opinion, it’s the difference between Kanye West releasing quote after quote declaring himself the best there ever was, versus a magazine like Rolling Stone declaring Dr. Dre to be the highest ranking hip-hop impresario on their list of 100 greatest musical acts of all time. Nobody told the Rolling Stone magazine staff to declare things that way. Nobody leaned on them or espoused the opinion of the best while including him or herself in the debate.
When independent arbitrators with no ties or stakes in the final tabulations declare someone the best, that declaration is arguably of an objective pseudo-scientific nature, as opposed to the favoritism and pandering that is either inherently assumed or undeniable when an award is bestowed to individuals who have outright demanded their own anointing.
It’s the difference between despots like Kim Jong-Il or Saddam Hussein winning a ‘democratic election’ versus the relatively honest political process we experience stateside. It’s not a terrible thing for someone to acknowledge they’re the best, but perhaps it is only advisable to do so as a post-script to objective analysis, rather than expressing a predisposition in regards to one’s own worth to their industry.
January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
(8/10) When selling a script, one of the key factors in it getting at least noticed, let alone sold, is adhering to structure. There’s a basic set of rules for screenwriting, first and foremost being roughly 1 page equals 1 minute of film, that dictates certain things need to happen by a certain page (or minute count) in order for the film to not drag or for the film to not feel too abrupt and to fall within a 90-120 minute run time. Within that structure, the writer is then asked to get creative so as to stand out from the endless line of amateurs trying their hand at creating the next great Hollywood movie. This means an original story, or unique characters or clever dialogue and so on. If you watch most movies carefully, you can sort of notice where each note is hit, but they waffle by a minute here, five minutes there.
In the case of Cold Comes The Night, the structure is technically flawless. At the 5 minute mark we know not only what our protagonist’s main motivation is, but what their status quo is like and what they’d like changed. By the 10 minute mark we have all our key players introduced. At the 15 minute mark we have the inciting incident that sets off the story that is the excuse for this film existing. Every single line of dialogue moves the story forward or reveals something new about the characters, every action adds to the suspense or the mystery and, again, moves the story forward. This is precision film making at its best. Now, based on what I have said so far, it seems that I am implying the film is rote, or predictable. I am and I am not. On the one hand, the logic of the film is air tight, forcing the characters actions and developments in ways that are essentially believable. On the other hand, these are all multi-dimensional characters so that what come out of their mouths and how their thought process works is not particularly rote. This makes for the perfect storm of swift story telling and kinda-sorta edge of your seat thrills.
Chloe (Alice Eve- dressed down; possibly eschewing any make-up though I could be wrong about that) is a single mother working a hotel managing job in a small North East town. The motel is notorious for its prostitution and generally degenerate or sketchy occupants. The kind of hotel with an hourly rate. You know that one, usually by a highway entrance or exit, that never needs to post a ‘No Vacancy’ sign. She manages the entire place single handedly. Social workers are breathing down Chloe’s neck to change residences for the sake of her child, Sophia (Ursula Parker, lest they be forced to place her in a foster home for her own safety and well-being. It’s clear that she is oblivious or indifferent to the motel’s issues and lives a fairly normal child hood, minus a father-figure.
The barely-functional motel is protected, in the good sense and the bad sense, by a local cop named Billy (Logan Marshall-Green aka the poor man’s Tom Hardy) who gives Chloe tips on how to keep the motel safe and investigation free, while enabling illicit activities to quietly continue without it hurting her. This precarious existence is jeopardized by the arrival of two men driving an old Jeep Cherokee. Quincy (Robin Taylor) is its ornery, childish driver, who is giving swift and safe passage to a mysterious half-blind Russian named Topo [Bryan Cranston, still (or already) sporting his end-of-the-run ‘Breaking Bad’ beard].
When Quincy does as undiagnosed, ornery ADHD suffering people do and manages to muck up simple instructions due to a passing fancy, he unwittingly forces Topo to acquiesce Chloe’s assistance in his mission. This is where the plot obviously thickens and I must stop describing and start critiquing.
As I said before, the film is structurally perfect and runs a tight 90 minutes with credits. As the mystery and suspense ramps up, co-writer/director Tze Chun keeps the proceedings moving a mile a minute, with one situation starting happening and concluding in three to five minute chunks, with causality for the next chain of events, careening towards the endgame for the filmmakers. There’s a screenwriting guru named Paul Golino who has a book called “The Sequence Approach” dictating six three act mini-movies which will perfectly push the movie from the inception to the conclusion. Each of the six 3-act mini movies could, to some degree, function on their own as a short story. Together they make up the novel-length movie. This is pulpy neo-noir at its best. Tze Chun understands his characters inside and out.
If the film feels oddly satisfying, like a perfect meal or a craving that you feed which hits the spot, that’s because it was specifically designed, almost at a chemical level, to feel that way. Tight, logical, efficient, stimulating. As an audience member I have no complaints. Great acting, great direction, perfect writing, with just enough exposition and just enough cliches thrown in to breed familiarity and prevent us from being confused about a single aspect of the story or its characters.
In limited release or Video On Demand
January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
Lutrell wrote a book about his experience, titled Lone Survivor. The movie was adapted for the big screen by writer/director Peter Berg, a director known for bombastic action movies of questionable artistic merit or even watchability. He was at the helm for the mediocre military thriller ‘The Kingdom’ and the disastrous board game adaptation (yes, board game) ‘Battleship’, which turned out to be a weak clone of the already flimsy ‘Transformers’ films.
Berg reminds us from ‘Lone Survivor’ why he’s a director worth taking endless chances on. Here he gets back to the guts and glory machismo sensitivity he displayed at the helm of another real life non-fiction book to screen adaptation ‘Friday Night Lights’. While less docudrama this time around, Lone Survivor is no less soul piercing in its ability to make senseless violence feel more heartfelt and tear-inducing than Nicholas Sparks on his best day.
With stoic performances from principal cast members Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, all sporting rather epic beards, this will be the current decade’s definitive war film. After a quickie pre-amble showing all the men on base goofing around, being brotherly and getting debriefed about their mission, the movie wastes no time getting down to brass tacks, showing how Luttrell and his team mates’ scouting mission is compromised by a group of Taliban-friendly goat herders made up of an old man and two young pre-teens. The team gets a strong sense they are Taliban-friendly, but they are unarmed and thus the rules of war legally dictate nothing can be done to them. They must be released, even though the SEALS know it will prove costly, as over two hundred Taliban fighters are languishing in a village at the bottom of a small mountain region and would surely descend upon their position swiftly and with deadly intentions. After working out the pros, cons, legal and illegal choices, the men are ordered by their first in command Lieutenant Michael Murphy (an impressively unassuming and convincing Taylor Kitsch- who woulda thunk it?) to release the men.
Thus begins a hellish day-long fire fight between four crack shots and hundreds upon hundreds of guys spraying Kalashnikov rounds in their general direction, along with rocket launcher rounds and mortars. As the SEALS get chewed up by a wayward accurate enemy round here and a powerful rocket blast there, they tumble down the rocky mountainside running short on ammo and spare energy due to their humanly impossible to overcome injuries, from direct hits to their abdomens, arms, legs, feet and buttocks to horrific gashes on their faces and probable bone fracture from impacts on rocks and against tree trunks. It’s a brutal sight to see and for a while it seems endless, which is a blessing in disguise, for at least during this section of unrelenting carnage, the SEALS are still alive.
We see them expertly take out Taliban fighter after Taliban as if their enemy were of the automated video game mind, programmed to aim poorly and die easily. Sadly, this was very real and they were eventually overwhelmed until all but Luttrell perished slowly, violently and knowingly. Their deaths are re-enacted with intimate detail and, for the most part, limited fanfare. However, when push comes to shove, as a film ‘Lone Survivor’ is very much in the mindset of jingoistic, Gung-ho rah-rah Go America features of yesteryear. The kind of movie John Wayne wishes he could have made. Still, the movie is about soldiers in battle worrying more about the man next to him than his own self-preservation. It’s about the clichéd but all too real essence of brotherhood: That bravery means a willingness to sacrifice yourself in the worst conditions, so that your brethren can take one more breath than you, increase their chances however incrementally to survive and go home to their wives, their children, their domestic business dealings- the American way of life that our armed forces die to preserve.
I couldn’t help but shed tears for the Hollywood produced carnage, knowing actors were being paid exponential fees to play soldier compared to the middle-class men and women of our armed forces. They sucked me in, chewed me up and spit me out a true believer in the power of the visual medium for conveying experiences that only the bravest of us are willing to or capable of enduring in all its messiness.
Heart strings taught, streams down my cheeks: Oorah. Get some. Semper Fi. To the last bullet. Thank you to Marcus Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), and the dozens of other U.S. soldier who perished in those Afghan Hills during Operation Red Wing.
January 10, 2014 § 2 Comments
(7/10) In a previous post I said this film wasn’t worth reviewing. In some sense, this is true, as the Paranormal Activity series has an undeniable formula that they do not deviate from one iota. It is the supernatural slash ghostly equivalent of the SAW franchise, replete with nearly identical call-backs to previous installments of the series despite seemingly unrelated new characters occupying the film’s faux home video footage and, ahem, paranormal activities.
The smartest aspect of this latest installment is that the characters feel like people you could enjoy following through just about any genre. Star Andrew Jacobs is charismatic and cinema appropriate good looking; though obviously a very young adult, Jacobs exudes the kind of raw, natural on-screen presence that would make him fit multiple genres.
The sequel also steeps itself in Latino culture, with many scenes consisting of mostly non-subtitled Spanish dialogue, though the film reminds us these are definitely American kids. They aren’t the white bread bland Americans of the previous installments and that’s what makes this movie a reputable sequel rather than a tired retread of the bland, interchangeable characters from the first four ‘Activity’ films.
All in all, you get exactly what you pay for with this series, even if the setting is a bit fresh and the characters far more interesting (relatively speaking) than any prior incarnations.
January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
I did not review a film this weekend because I was indisposed with familial responsibilities and the only major release was “Paranormal Activity 5: The Marked Ones”, an essentially review-proof film, though the reviews I did read gave it relatively high marks. I skipped it. Also there was nothing new On Demand that I felt held any value in critiquing at this point.
If I have any “loyal” readers, I want to let you know this is my only “job”. I do this blog in the absence of any kind of work opportunity. I am officially part of The Lost Generation. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in Writing & Literature. I cannot find work of any kind. I moved back in with my parents, who met at Harvard Business School in the 1980’s, after a few months of “living on my own” by way of them paying for my apartment so I could pretend to be an adult for a little while. When no work materialized, I admitted defeat and, in simple terms, moved back home over the holidays. I gave up my lease, got my deposit back and now my life is in boxes in the garage.
I obsessively read and comment daily on sites such as Twitter.com, Cracked.com, JoBlo.com, Slashfilm.com, Latino-Review.com, IMDB.com et. al. because after seven months of job searching, the only offers I got were predatory commission-only insurance sales jobs trying to confuse elderly individuals into switching their insurance carrier to line the pockets of these seeming shell companies in barely-populated corporate offices in the outskirts of town, where applicants are herded into a room and pitched a life of making $100-300k a year easy despite zero sales experience and so on. That’s the closest I have come to gainful employment. So I write this blog to feel productive.
Personally, I have thrown in the towel. I no longer look for work. I play the lottery and I glance around online for open editorial/journalistic/writing positions for popular websites or subsidiaries of media conglomerates, but that’s as good as it gets. I have applied for every imaginable type of retail, behind-the-counter, seasonal and blue collar entry level job there is to apply for, with nary a call back.
I spend my time writing speculative articles, fiction and screenplays; lifting weights, watching movies, walking the dog, as above reading articles online, reading books, cooking and sleeping- lots of sleeping. Most jobs I look at require a minimum of multiple years of professional experience. I feel my degree is worthless. A lot of people tell me I am a brilliant writer. My parents can’t tell me often enough how brilliant my writing is. Sadly, complements don’t pay cash.
I’m not asking for a hand out. I’m not complaining. A lot of this is out of my hands. A third of my generation is in the exact same position I am in. However, I can’t help but feel like a failure on a personal level. Many factors led to this economic strife in which I am part of the worst employment statistics in 80 years. The middle class is essentially dead and gone.
I honestly feel that playing the lottery is no less likely a way for me to achieve financial solvency than searching as I have, for employment. Obviously the odds of being hired are astronomically better than winning the lottery, but as an abstraction, gambling on 1 in 259 million odds is no less reasonable than applying for employment in an economy where my degree has given me few marketable skills and the longer I go without that first job, the longer I’ll go without that first job, the longer I’ll go unemployed after graduation, the less likely someone will be to hire me, etc. It’s a vicious cycle, is what I am saying.
Anyway, I am trying to get a press pass so I can be an “official” film critic, at least for myself. My honest hope is that it leads to readership numbers strong enough for me to be poached by a long-established film news and review site, or a pop culture site, which would give me said gainful employment that is proving so elusive.
Thanks for putting up with me, thanks for reading my reviews.
January 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
(8/10) Written by Chris and Eddie Borey, Open Grave is the latest entry to a popular horror/thriller sub genre, that of a group of people waking up with no memories, but plenty of guns, ammo and gory surroundings to cause plenty of distrust and confusion. When the original SAW came out nine years ago, it took horror fans by surprise, delighting us with the simple and original concept of a twisted but oddly moralistic serial killer who kidnaps his victims, drugs them unconscious then allows them to try and escape upon waking, only to find themselves in increasing danger the closer they get to freedom, thanks to his deadly booby traps. It was a fresh take on an old trope, but quickly devolved into near-self parody, including the indie thriller Unknown, which boasted a strong cast with the likes of Greg Kinnear, Jim Caviezel and Barry Pepper while the SAW franchise relied on relative unknown (natch) actors to fill the endless ranks of victims through SEVEN sequels in just seven years.
With three years of SAW-less movies or lesser knockoffs like The Collector it’s high time, but Hollywood standards, for a worth successor to step up and scare us while making us think, just a little. Enter the Borey Bros. and director Gonzalo López-Gallego, director of the well advertised but underwhelming Apollo 18, a found-footage horror film set in space. With Open Grave Gallego has proven that a strong script can prove a promising director. Starring South African Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame, Open Grave is a fairly standard but well studied entry to this decade old trope. Waking up in a mass grave, Copley’s character remembers little to nothing at first, finding himself amongst a group of seeming survivors where nobody knows what is going on, but that something awful has happened and there are those amongst the group who may not be trustworthy, regardless of their equally wiped memories.
The film unfolds into standard fare chaos of blood, guts, bullets and octane with a decent body count and plenty of red herrings to keep the proceedings interesting right up until the final shot. Copley is good, but the stand out of the cast is German actor Thomas Kretschmann, as the seeming leader of the survivors, who begins to unravel as the film wears on. He’s an underrated actor stateside who always manages to steal his scenes in American productions. The rest of the cast is adequate, with the third lead played by Erin Richards, a relative newcomer and unknown actress who comes off with the charms of a poor man’s Alice Eve.
The survivors begin to piece together that there may have been some kind of a mass genocide or chemical attack that wiped out many, many people and for one reason or another, there are six survivors with various innate abilities (one can read many foreign languages, another is an crack shot with a gun, etc.) and these abilities cause them to band together or break off into factions. The ending is typically nihilistic for the genre, leaving an opening for endless sequels just like other horror/thriller flicks.
All in all an expert entry into a tried and true formula.