REVIEW: Collide

4 07 2017

What do you do when you’re making a vehicular-centered action thriller but you don’t have the stunt budget of a “Bourne” film or the pyrotechnic capabilities of the “Fast & Furious” franchise? Hopefully not what Eran Creevy does in his film “Collide,” which is to do a low-key version of those series and not to compensate by adding onto another element.

The easiest thing to do would have been further developing Nicholas Hoult’s Casey, an American living in Germany and participating in its seedy underbelly – until he falls in love with Felicity Jones’ Juliette. They enjoy a brief courtship and fall in love quickly only for her to develop a medical condition requiring dialysis and a hefty sum of cash. In order to cover the cost of her care, Casey delves back into the Cologne black market. One simple task, however, gets him caught in the crosshairs between two kingpins.

The vast majority of “Collide” details Casey’s escape, evasion of capture and ultimate showdown with his pursuers. That makes sense: look at the poster, watch the trailer, read the logline – this is a car chase and explosions movie. But I so desperately wanted them to mean more. Creevy fails to connect them back to the human core of Casey’s mission, which makes the scenes feel like soulless metal clanging and gears shifting.

He had incredibly capable actors in Hoult and Jones to hold the emotional center, too! Jones rarely gets to be more than an accessory in “Collide,” but there are moments when Creevy rests the camera on Hoult’s shifting eyes and restless face that speak volumes for his character. The film needed about twice the length of exposition on Casey and Juliette’s relationship to make the film work. That would be just 15 minutes added onto a movie that only runs an hour and 30 minutes, and it would have made all the difference. C

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REVIEW: Noah

28 07 2014

After “Black Swan” topped my best of 2010 list, Darren Aronofsky could have made a film about virtually anything, and I would turn out to see it.  From the earliest announcement of Aronofsky’s “Noah” in 2011, I was deliriously excited to see his distinct spin on the well-known Biblical story.

I maintained faith in spite of nearly every media report drumming up controversy about the film.  It became impossible to escape stories that claimed Aronofsky was replacing the original narrative with an environmental message, or that he was purging God from the film entirely.  Going in, I had the impression that I was bound to be offended by something in “Noah,” no matter how artfully Aronofsky presented it.

As it turns out, nothing that generated headlines about the film offended me.  What did, however, was the simple and rudimentary script of “Noah.”  It felt like Aronofsky went into production with the first draft for something that shows potential for greatness but achieves little of it.

As a character, Noah feels remarkably incomplete and incoherent.  His motivations are unclear, and I’m not sure whether to interpret that as Aronofsky saying God is confused … or whether Aronofsky himself is confused.  Russell Crowe turns in a rather schizoid performance, grappling with the seeming non-sequiturs of his character as much as he is with anything relating to God.

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Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 3 (Leading)

7 01 2013

Only three days until Oscar nominations are announced!  It’s so weird to have them this early … I feel like I barely predicted at all this year.  Nonetheless, it’s time to lock in my final picks!  Today, it’s one last glimpse at the leading acting categories.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actor

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln
  2. Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables
  3. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook
  4. John Hawkes, “The Sessions
  5. Denzel Washington, “Flight

I was wrong, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ race to lose.  My gosh, he is winning everything!  Look at this chart of dominance.  It turns Anne Hathaway’s dream to shame.

DDL Dominance

He’s going to come charging into the Kodak Theatre to get that record-setting third Oscar for Best Actor.  This is like Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “Capote,” Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland,” and … well, Daniel Day-Lewis for “There Will Be Blood” levels of momentum.

Les Miz

If anyone takes him down, though, it’s going to be Hugh Jackman.  He had many doubters until the film was unveiled, and he’s taken the big three nods from BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  He will almost certainly win the Golden Globe.  Maybe, just maybe, he can stage an Adrian Brody-esque upset.

The nomination will likely be the win for Bradley Cooper, who has triumphantly exceeded expectations in “Silver Linings Playbook” and likely redefined how the industry sees him.  Well done, sir.  I’m pleased that a clear path to a nomination emerged with Critics’ Choice, SAG, and Golden Globe recognition.  I thought it might be a more uphill climb, but I have been very pleasantly surprised.

Beyond DDL, Jackman, and Cooper, my certainty stops.  I am almost positive the final two nominees will be John Hawkes for “The Sessions” and Denzel Washington in “Flight.”  They were feted by BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, missed with SAG and will likely be left out in the cold (much to my chagrin).

Master

I’m on the record as being nonplussed by Hawkes and Washington, though I greatly admire many other performances by the two actors.  For my money, Phoenix was the best performance of the year.  Several others have seen what I have seen, and he’s picked up a few critics’ groups notices.  He was also nominated by the Golden Globes, albeit in the segregated drama category, and the Critics’ Choice Awards, which had six nominees.

Sadly, it looks like Phoenix will follow the trajectory of Michael Fassbender’s work in “Shame,” my favorite performance of 2011.  Fassbender and Phoenix were both winners of the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.  Their work was widely acclaimed, and their movies were polarizing.  They won Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association among several other prizes.  They picked up key nominations from BFCA and HFPA, but their SAG snub raised some red flags.

FlightPhoenix’s journey will likely end the same way Fassbender’s did.  Repelling the Academy, Fassbender was left on the outside looking in at the Best Actor category.  Phoenix shouldn’t mind being put in the same position, however, because he hates awards season and thinks the Oscars are BS.

So it looks like I’ll be predicting the SAG nominees to repeat five-for-five.  Boring, disappointing, I know.  But there’s nothing screaming to go against conventional wisdom here.

I don’t think Richard Gere for “Arbitrage,” Jack Black for “Bernie,” Denis Lavant for “Holy Motors,” Jean-Louis Trintignant for “Amour,” or Anthony Hopkins for “Hitchcock” really have much of a chance.  Each has a few respective laurels, but the frontrunning five are just too strong for there to be a major surprise.

Then again, last year gave us not only Demian Bichir but an out-of-nowhere nod for Gary Oldman.  So we’ll just have to see.  Maybe the Academy has a few tricks up its sleeve in 2012 that we just have no way to forecast.

Best Actress

  1. Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
  4. Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone
  5. Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild

Zero Dark Thirty FYCThe dynamics at the top of the race have changed little over the past month.  It’s still a Chastain vs. Lawrence cage match, and I think we won’t really know until the envelope is opened.  They will go head-to-head at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the SAG Awards, but Viola Davis won both of those last year and lost the Oscar.  The Golden Globe will do nothing to clear up the picture as they will compete in separate categories.  I give Chastain the edge now.

But below Chastain and Lawrence, so much is fluctuating.  This is the most fluid acting category of the four in 2012, capable of many unsurprising surprises.  And if any race is suggesting that conventional wisdom and historical precedent simply won’t do, this would be it.

It would seem that Naomi Watts and Marion Cotillard would be assured nominations for “The Impossible” and “Rust and Bone,” respectively.  They’ve scored the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA hat trick of nominations, just about the best safety net you can have.  Both also look to be the only nominations for their respective movies as “The Impossible” missed the cut for visual effects and France chose “The Intouchables” over “Rust and Bone” to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

WattsI’m much more bullish on Watts, a prior nominee for “21 Grams” back in 2003, perhaps because I haven’t seen the movie yet and can visualize her more as a statistic (sorry for the bluntness, but that’s the name of the game).  I’ve read that “The Impossible” has really played the guild circuit, ginning up admiration for Watts and the cast along the way.  She got a high-profile shout-out from a mere acquaintance, Reese Witherspoon, in Entertainment Weekly that a lot of people saw.

For whatever reason, she just seems very strong to me.  The movie seems like the emotional tour de force they look for in leading performances for women.

Having said that, Marion Cotillard shows the same level of emotional devastation, just on a more subtle level.  If she hadn’t won for a French language performance, I’d be hesitant to think she could be nominated for one.  But she has, and I feel a hunch that the Oscars won’t snub her brilliant performance.  Apparently, the Academy voters really responded to “Rust and Bone,” and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t they nominate its star?

So I’ll go ahead and predict that Watts and Cotillard make it, although I could see a foreseeable outcome where one gets knocked out.  I doubt they slap these precursors in the face so hard that both get turned away.

HitchcockSAG’s fifth nominee was Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock,” who also landed a Golden Globe nod.  Mirren has become a recent darling of the Academy.  I got fooled once by not predicting her in 2009 for “The Last Station,” and a part of me thinks I might be making the same mistake again.  Check out how eerily similar these two cases of Helen Mirren in Best Actress contention are:

“Common sense would say it is going to Helen Mirren for ‘The Last Station.’  She has the respect; we know because she won this award three short years ago.  She has been nominated by the SAG and the Golden Globes, two very crucial precursors.  But she has no victories and, more importantly, no passionate supporters.”

Going back and reading this is actually kind of scary because this year, she has SAG and HFPA in her corner … and basically no one else, unless you put a lot of stock in the prognosticating abilities of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association.  The movies even received the same lukewarm reception: “Hitchcock” got a 66% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while “The Last Station” scored a 70% fresh.

I fear that the British contingent, which was a major part in making a Best Actor nomination for Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” a reality, might be muddling our ability to make a prediction here.  Will this sizable portion of the Academy come through and give Mirren a fourth nomination in seven years?  I’m not picking Mirren because a 5-for-5 match with SAG just doesn’t feel right for this field rife with contenders.  (And especially with the men looking likely to perfectly align with SAG.)

RivaPerhaps that same European bloc of voters will be split among several other contenders from across the sea.  The French Cotillard could steal some European love, as could the British-Australian Watts.  Emmanuelle Riva could also make a play for that contingent for her work in “Amour.”

The Critics’ Choice nominee has quite a case to make for her nomination.  At 85, she’s a respected figure from the French New Wave that many recognize and respect.  Sony Pictures Classics has even gotten her to do some press for the film, including an in-depth session with The New York Times that’s well worth a read.  Many critics’ groups have aligned behind her, including such notable groups from Boston, Los Angeles, New York Online, and the National Society of Film Critics.  Perhaps worth noting, she won the European Film Award for Best Actress.

But why did SAG and the Golden Globes overlook Riva?  Neither are particularly xenophobic; the Globes’ dramatic actress category has seen a number of foreign-language nominees, including a rather strange nod for Kristin Scott Thomas in 2008 for “I’ve Loved You So Long.”  And at her age, it would seem that the SAG would want to bow down at her feet, and at the very least nominate her!

Rust and Bone

I can’t predict Riva with these two high-profile misses.  Perhaps she will be the exception, but I think her nomination is a pipe dream of critics.  She’s the Sally Hawkins for “Happy-Go-Lucky” of the year, a nominee that they try to make happen but just doesn’t click with the Academy.

Even less likely is British actress Rachel Weisz, in play for “The Deep Blue Sea” thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle reminding voters that her movie exists.  A March release automatically faces an uphill climb for a nomination since it has to fight to be remembered, and the Golden Globes did reward her performance.  Perhaps she’s the big surprise, but a SAG nomination would have been the more helpful precursor notice to pick up.

Also feted by the Golden Globes was Judi Dench for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning if it wasn’t … well, Judi Dench.  However, the movie is more likely to see recognition in the Best Supporting Actress category for Maggie Smith.  For that matter, Dench is more likely to see recognition in that category as well for her work in “Skyfall.”

And now, we arrive at our final contender, Quvenzhané Wallis for her extraordinary performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Now 9, the pint-sized but spunky Wallis would be the youngest Best Actress nominee ever.  Even more impressive is that she was 6 when the movie was shot.

However, at the moment, she’s going virtually unnoticed.  Could Scott MacDonald have been right in his article on The Atlantic?

“Though she’s nine now, she was a mere six when the film was shot. To put it another way, she was not quite seven, which is the year developmental psychologists like to refer to as the age of reason: when kids start making decisions based on logic and causality. I’m no psych expert, but it seems to me this might be the sensible cut-off point for acting plaudits.

Acting requires some intentionality on the part of the actor, some conscious effort to adopt a persona other than his or her own. Even adult actors who get criticized for “playing themselves” are engaged in a series of more or less conscious decisions about how best to be themselves onscreen. A young child, meanwhile, likely isn’t thinking at all about how to be herself, let alone a character. She’s a kid, and she just ‘is.'”

Beasts

So is that it?  Have most considered her too young and written off her candidacy?  MacDonald did note that 8-year-old Justin Henry was nominated for “Kramer vs. Kramer,” so a nomination wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented.  But all she’s netted is a Critics Choice nod for Best Actress and a handful of breakout performer awards.

We will never know if she had a shot with SAG because the non-union production “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was ruled ineligible to compete.  However, the novelty of her contention should have been enough to attract the Golden Globes, but they totally snubbed the entire film.  I already floated the “too American” rationale for its exclusion, citing “True Grit” as an example, but the snub is really troubling.

The Oscars do love young nominees, though.  There have been plenty of pre-pubescent nominees in Academy history, most recently Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Saiorse Ronan and Hailee Steinfeld, though quite a bit older than Willis, nonetheless were nominees.  And in 2003, lest we forget, 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes’ performance in “Whale Rider” knocked out Nicole Kidman for “Cold Mountain” and Scarlett Johansson for “Lost in Translation.”  The young are often a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars.

I’ll lay out that Wallis would be a shocking Best Actress nominee.  If I was thinking by rules and precedents, the obvious pick would be Mirren.  If I was attempting to focus on just this season, I might have to go with Riva.  Yet I’m going with Wallis on little more than a gut feeling that maybe the Academy’s hearts were taken by a precocious tyke.

Check back tomorrow, January 8, to see my final predictions for Best Director!





REVIEW: Hitchcock

30 11 2012

It’s such a magical feeling when a movie gets you intoxicated not only on itself but on the entire craft of cinema as well.  You go into a dark room and carry in whatever baggage from the day, but you emerge joyful, reinvigorated, and transformed.

That’s how I felt when I walked out of the theater after a rapturously good time with “Hitchcock.”  Sacha Gervasi’s slice-of-biopic flick, focusing on the time when the master of suspense struggled to get “Psycho” made, strikes the right chords throughout the film.  It respects the mastery of Hitchcock but does not fear him as an untouchable deity, treating him as a man and artist just like anyone else.

But Gervasi’s film is more than just about Hitchcock or even the artistic climate into which he released what is still one of the best horror films ever made.  Clear parallels are drawn to the current day world of film production.  You know, the world where an unambitious movie like “John Carter” gets greenlit and causes a $150 million write-down while a masterpiece like “Black Swan” has to scrap together a budget but reaps it back 25 times over.

We now know Alfred Hitchcock as the legendary Hitchcock, but in his time, he struggled to have studio support for a movie that did not fit neatly into convention – even when coming off the enormous success of “North by Northwest.”  Thankfully, Hitchcock had faith in his own vision and was willing to finance it himself at enormous financial risk.

And Gervasi has wielded the knife of excoriation to jab at executives who were only looking to make a profit out of movies.  There are also a number of well-placed ironic remarks about the supposed failure of “Vertigo.”  You know, that movie that recently replaced “Citizen Kane” as the best film of all time according to Sight and Sound.  The myopia of Hollywood is lade bare to be mocked and criticized.  History has repeat itself with a vengeance.

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REVIEW: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

11 06 2011

With Woody Allen and his latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” very much the toast of the town, I figured now would be as good a time as ever to burst his balloon because the input of one 18-year-old blogger can really induce a neurotic panic attack in the famed director. I’m sorry to say that Woody doesn’t always make them like that; in fact, they usually turn out much more like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” a redundant statement of the director’s worldview that lacks the pop and charisma of his earlier work.

Allen’s annual entry into his cinematic canon, circa 2010, features a vintage cynicism and defeatism that stifles the possibility of any charm his impressive ensemble could endow the movie.  It shapes its grim worldview around this little Shakespearean nugget of wisdom: “[Life] … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  That really puts you in a jaunty, comedic mood, doesn’t it?

The movie takes shape around a group of interconnected Londoners dealing with issues of love and faith in transitory phases of life, all of which begins with the divorce of Alfie and Helena, played respectively by Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones.  She can’t get over it and begins seeing a fortune teller in distress while he quickly hits the scene and gets engaged to a prostitute, portrayed beautifully by the very funny Lucy Punch.  This puts an added strain on the marriage of their art-dealing daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her failed author of a husband Roy (Josh Brolin), tempting them to begin affairs with exotic people they see on a regular basis.  For her, it’s her boss Greg (Antonio Banderas).  For him, it’s the new Indian beauty (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame) that moved in across the street … who just happens to be engaged.

But remember, it all signifies nothing, right?  There is no point!  It’s all just a meaningless charade and a stupid exercise of emotions before we inevitably meet our mortal doom?  If you answered yes to both of those questions, perhaps you are better off saving the 90 minutes of your life that would be spent watching “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” and using them to find the beauty in life.  Because it does exist, just not in this movie.  C / 





REVIEW: Thor

2 06 2011

In 2002’s incredibly self-aware “Urinetown: The Musical,” the characters Officer Lockstock and Little Sally discuss things that can kill a show.  They first discuss titles, which can often sour first impressions of the show.  But the one thing that they can agree on is that nothing kills a show like too much exposition.  No one wants to be bogged down in details to set up the story; Americans are impatient, and they just want to get straight to the rising action.

The same goes for cinema.  Unless your name is Christopher Nolan and your movie is so intricate that it needs a manual, exposition is something that no moviegoer wants to sit through for extended periods of time.  It’s a necessary evil at times, but most filmmakers have gotten clever enough to knock it out in no time at all, some even by the time the opening credits are over.

“Thor,” however, is exposition taken to excess.  In fact, I’d even submit that the entire movie is just exposition for the upcoming Avengers movie.  The script adheres to none of the basic storytelling conventions, instead choosing to through information and explosions at us.  The former is to prepare us for the ultimate marketing event that will be “The Avengers;” the latter, to keep us mildly entertained so maybe we won’t realize their attempt to cash in on an extended exposition.

If you think I’m kidding, the plot can essentially be boiled down to this: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is exiled from Asgard to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being a little too violent, and as Odin ails, Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) ascends to the throne and does evil and selfish things.  While on Earth, Thor finds Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist studying the cosmos, and eventually gets his trademark hammer about halfway through the movie.  Thor is soon visited by friends from Asgard who are disillusioned with Loki, and a small-scale battle ensues as Loki then tries to destroy Thor and eliminate his opposition.

There’s just nothing going on that’s special in “Thor.”  Nothing merits two hours of my time or $10 from my wallet.  It’s a stagnant, slow-moving superhero movie that doesn’t deserve to be called “super.”  Heck, not even some good quality Natalie Portman gazing made it worthwhile.  It’s just a dull starter to the summer that really makes you scared for the onslaught still left to come.

I’m sure that some people will think me hypocritical for berating the lack of storytelling formula in “Thor” while decrying other movies that follow their genre’s basic outline rigidly.  But it’s not that “Thor” lacks formula; rather, it’s that “Thor” lacks substance.  It’s like Kenneth Branagh decided to adapt the film not from the comics, but from the character’s Wikipedia page.  While information may be power, it certainly isn’t entertainment.  C / 





REVIEW: The Wolfman

5 08 2010

Joe Johnston’s “The Wolfman” is a remake of the 1940s original, yet it winds up making you nostalgic for a completely different decade.  Strangely enough, it most resembles the 1980s.  Benicio Del Toro in his werewolf makeup looks like he walked straight off the set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video and somehow wound up in 1890s England.  Weird…

The movie tells the same story we have seen countless times with all sorts of predatory creatures, although it’s typically werewolves and vampires.  Some sort of flesh contact is made with the creatures, a normal person is transformed into one of them, and they subsequently find themselves living on the outskirts of society.  In fact, we just recently saw Neil Blompkamp use this formula and apply it to aliens in “District 9,” and he created something that felt refreshingly original.  Here, it’s just same old, same old.

In fact, the only thing that Joe Johnston does to add some flavor to the tired story is to amp up the violence and gore.  “The Wolfman” bears an R rating and uses that level of freedom to go hog wild on the blood.  There’s all sorts of decapitations and ripping of limbs in the movie, almost to the point where it becomes overkill.  One has to wonder if Johnston turned over the reins to some violent video-game loving teenager for these sequences.

I can’t think of the last time where I actually thought that a movie’s special effects were bad, but they certainly are here.  Blame poor planning and poor execution on the filmmakers’ part.  And there’s absolutely no relief from the hackneyed story, not even from a pair of Oscar winners, Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.  Never has the latter been so far away from his “The Silence of the Lambs” glory days.  If he doesn’t start picking better movies, I’m going to have to hold a moment of silence for his career.

And still, I just can’t get over that wolf makeup because it’s just absolutely horrific.  I find it so hard to believe that it’s the work of renowned Oscar winner Rick Baker, not some mom for a high school play.  Watching Del Toro’s wolfman fight civilians just made me chuckle; watching him fight another werewolf was as funny as any comedy this year.  The suspenseful, climactic battle scene just feels like a dreadful”Scary Movie” parody of the wretched “Twilight” series.  D /