REVIEW: Fences

8 01 2017

The measure of a successful theatrical adaptation is often how far it can distance itself from the conventions of the stage. The underlying expectation is that untethered from the limitations of sets, the suspension of disbelief, the necessity of projection, the primacy of dialogue, and so on, only then will the play will become a film. But that logic does not explain Mike Nichols’ “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” nor does it explain Denzel Washington’s “Fences.”

August Wilson’s play takes place in the family home and yard of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a ’50s-era Pittsburgh patriarch. The concentrated location makes sense logistically for the stage to minimize scenic design costs, but it also fits thematically for a story so immediately concerned with matters of domestic concern. As Troy works through his past shortcomings, his present stagnation and his future worries for his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and children, his blustering and ruminating does not really work anywhere but his house. Opening it up to other locations or breaking up his long, aimless rambling would distill and distort the very essence of “Fences.”

August Wilson is not alive to see how Denzel Washington tended to the script he left behind (though his estate likely saw to his wishes being met), but he would almost certainly be proud to see how the essence of the theatrical experience remained in tact. “Fences” keeps the power in the word and the performance, leaving many important events shaping their current woes and strife unvisualized. We don’t need flashbacks to show us what an expert line reading can tell us, both about the event and the way its ramifications still affect even the smallest of decisions in their lives.

Read the rest of this entry »

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REVIEW: The Magnificent Seven

19 12 2016

“Progressive” is hardly a common adjective used in conjunction with the western genre, at least ones that are made in the classical (as opposed to revisionist) style. And yet that’s essentially what “The Magnificent Seven” is at its core. All things considered, Antoine Fuqua’s film is an emblematic Obama-era movie – if not in content, than at least in themes and representation.

Gone is the lone gunman or the reluctant savior of the John Wayne era. In comes the diverse band of outsiders who must collaborate and cooperate to save a small frontier town from hostile takeover. These gunslingers might not always see eye to eye, but they can unite over a common goal of helping out the endangered townspeople. Moreover, they do not just glide in as mercenary heroes; they also train the citizens to fight alongside them for control of their land. While they might lack funding, they more than compensate for that deficit with a surplus of ingenuity.

The setup of the sometimes bitter racial, cultural and partisan divides from Nic Pizzolato and Richard Wenk’s script can get a bit tedious. But by the time the final battle for the heart and soul of Rose Creek arrives, all elements of “The Magnificent Seven” cohere. I found myself invested not only in the fate of the characters but also in the very ideals at stake. Both on and off the screen, that fight is far from settled. B2halfstars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 18, 2013)

18 01 2013

When you think of the films of Spike Lee, I can imagine some of the things that come to mind are didactic, pugnacious, and aggressive political commentary.  In other words, you would think of a movie that looks nothing like “Inside Man,” a tight thriller about the perfect bank robbery.  But precisely because it resists the trappings of a typical Spike Lee movie, it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (And also because it’s an AWESOME movie!)

You’ve seen plenty of movies about bank robbers, but none quite like Clive Owen’s Dalton Russell.  He’s got a master plan to pull off the perfect heist, one that slowly and cryptically unveils itself in Spike Lee’s film.  Russell is interested in more than just getting quickly in and out with the money; he’s willing to play the long game with the police and the hostages in unconventional ways.  The tension is high as you wait to see when, if ever, his master plan will unravel.

Remarkably, it manages to hold up as some curious players with some very powerful ulterior motives enter the fray.  Namely, there’s the wild-card of Jodie Foster’s power broker tampering with everything she can to keep some secrets hidden inside the bank.  With so many people operating in the shadows and shades of grey, it makes the the quest of the righteous Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) all the more urgent and compelling.

There’s rarely a dull moment in “Inside Man,” and Lee manages to pull it off without ever needing to pull out a boombox and blare “Fight the Power.”  There’s a little bit of commentary on multiculturalism in New York, but it’s hands-off and not particularly distracting from the point of the film.  Which is, of course, to entertain for two hours and then yank the rug out from underneath the audience.





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!





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Pre-Season Predictions, Part 2

29 11 2012

Best Actor

  1. Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
  3. Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master
  4. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Denzel Washington, “Flight

The past two years have seen the leading man of the Best Picture winner take home Best Actor.  So I’m going out on a limb for Hugh Jackman.  I know it sounds illogical at the moment.  But the hope is that in a few months, we will all look back at this post and say, “Wow, Marshall!  I can’t believe you had such foresight!”  Although it’s very likely that we also look back and say, “Wow, Marshall, you were really dumb not to see the steamroller of Daniel Day-Lewis coming a mile away.”

And indeed, when Time boldly declares him the greatest living actor (take that, Jack Nicholson!), it’s kind of hard to deny an incredibly palpable sense of momentum of Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln.”  It’s the role of the moment, and he’s gotten tons of press and raves.  It could be 2007 all over again where Day-Lewis leads the conversation from the get-go and never lets up.

Fun tidbit that just popped into my head: Meryl Streep will be presenting Best Actor this year.  Imagine the sight, a three-time winner handing the third Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis.

I’m still hoping that the critics groups can revive the heat for “The Master,” and Joaquin Phoenix in particular.  His performance is mesmerizing and animalistic, and I think they should recognize that.  He’s also a two-time nominee, so that makes his edginess slightly more pallatable for them.  But if the movie flops on the precursor circuit, he could find himself in danger.  Heck, even if it does do well, it could fall victim to the same prudish mentality that snubbed Michael Fassbender’s incredible work in “Shame.”

Though Bradley Cooper may be best known for “The Hangover” series, he does great work in a fantastic attempt to get people to take him seriously.  An attempt that worked as well as the rest of the movie, I’d argue.  Though many consider him (and the rest of the movie) to be lightweight, I think it will touch the same nerve as “The Fighter” did in 2010.  Granted, Mark Wahlberg was not nominated for Best Actor … but Will Smith was a big marquee star when he went serious in 2001 for his nominated role in “Ali.”

And I know plenty of people fawned over John Hawkes’ committed physical performance in “The Sessions.”  But the film has tanked with audiences.  And Denzel Washington, whose “Flight” has done very well at the box office, is breathing down his neck.  I think it has to be considered advantage Washington at the moment.

But in summary: it’s the two locks, Jackman and Day-Lewis, in a battle royale.  Phoenix, Cooper, Washington, and Hawkes competing for three slots.  (Outside spoilers could include Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock,” Richard Gere in “Arbitrage,” and Jack Black in “Bernie.”)

Best Actress

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

It might be a little too soon, but I’m about ready to call the race for Jennifer Lawrence.

She’s had one heck of a year between heading up the $400 smash “The Hunger Games” – and actually giving a heck of a performance in it as well.  We will forget about “House at the End of the Street” and pretend she went 2-for-2.  She’s shown versatility this year, and that’s going to work big time in her favor.  It also helps that her character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tiffany, is a perennial favorite archetype at the Oscars: flawed, messy, but ultimately lovable and embraceable.

It looks like her main competition will be Jessica Chastain’s gritty, steely CIA agent from “Zero Dark Thirty.”  Chastain’s epic 2011 brought her an Oscar nomination for “The Help,” and her grace and cheer really went over well with everyone.  As far as I’m concerned, she’s the new Amy Adams, who was the new Julianne Moore/Cate Blanchett/Kate Winslet.

I think we are set for a battle to rival the Best Actor race.  Especially because at the Globes, Lawrence will compete in comedy and Chastain will compete in drama.  Unless one totally dominates the critics groups, I think the two could essentially be tied until the SAGs when they go head-to-head.  (BFCA will clarify some, but they could always tie like 2008/2009.)  That’s when the momentum shifted to Jean Dujardin last year, although they chose Viola Davis over eventual champion Meryl Streep.

And maybe I’m underestimating young Quvenzhané Wallis, whose spunk powered “Beasts of the Southern Wild” into the indie spotlight over the summer.  Had the Oscars been held after Cannes or at the end of August, she probably would have been the favorite to win.  But after Lawrence and Chastain’s performances were revealed, she’s lost some of her thunder.  Unless the critics groups and early precursors make a strong contribution to her campaign, she should be content with a nomination and all the attention it adds to her career going forward.

Marion Cotillard deserves score a nomination here as well, and given the incredibly weak field, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Upon seeing the film a second time last week, I realized that where “La Vie En Rose” was a total transformation, “Rust and Bone” is a radically different movie for her.  She’s so much subtler and rawer.  It’s enormously affecting.  See it when you get the chance.

I think Cotillard’s contention bodes ill for Emmanuelle Riva, whose work in “Amour” apparently has Academy voters talking.  Two French-language performances nominated for Best Actress in one year?!  That seems a little much.  So I think the few passionate supporters of “The Impossible” will get Naomi Watts to edge out Riva (or Keira Knightley for “Anna Karenina” and Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock”) and sneak into the race in a movie with very little overall buzz.  Just like she did in 2003 with “21 Grams.”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Robert DeNiro, “Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Eddie Redmayne, “Les Miserables”
  3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master
  4. Alan Arkin, “Argo
  5. Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

I have legitimately no idea how to call this category.  None.  Which is fun.  Last year, Christopher Plummer had the lead from the beginning of the summer and never let up.  And the other four nominees were a mystery until nominations morning.

In 2012, we don’t even have the benefit of a frontrunner.  I’m saying Robert DeNiro has the lead at the moment because it’s the first time in decades he can be taken seriously by the Academy.  He hasn’t been nominated in 20 years and hasn’t won in 30 years.  And hey, guess what – the Oscars can make a Meryl out of him by giving him a third golden man!  It’s a lighter role for DeNiro yet still features plenty of depth in heart.  This category has been all about career achievement awards recently, making DeNiro a perfect fit.

On the other hand, young, upstart Eddie Redmayne is apparently the scene stealer of the supporting cast of “Les Miserables.”  With Russell Crowe apparently polarizing audiences, I think voters will likely rally around Redmayne.  He has a showy number at the end, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” that will stick with viewers as they leave the theater.  If he can build consensus and doesn’t have to deal with vote-splitting, he could emerge a victor.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is just going for his second Oscar, but I think plenty of people would argue he’s an actor headed for the stature of Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert DeNiro.  He will get to two, and maybe “The Master” will get him there.  He won a prize at Venice (a tie with Joaquin Phoenix), and his co-lead status will help.

But I think his strength in the category will be largely determined by how well the movie does.  If it comes on strong (as I anticipate it might), he could be a serious threat to win.  But if it fires blanks, Hoffman will no longer be fighting to win and likely fighting to get nominated.

Alan ArkinAlan Arkin is likely in for “Argo,” but he’s only in the film for a handful of scenes.  He makes them the most funny and entertaining scenes in the film, though.  But I can’t help but wonder if he’s not as much of a shoo-in as some people think.  He’s already earned his lifetime achievement award – I mean, Best Supporting Actor prize in 2006 for “Little Miss Sunshine.”  And “Argo” may not be an actor’s movie.  So we will see.

As for that last slot, my brain says Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln” because a rising tide lifts all ships.  But I also wonder if Russell Crowe or Sacha Baron Cohen might make two nominations here for “Les Miserables,” the first time any movie would achieve such a feat in this category in over 20 years.

Or maybe Leonardo DiCaprio gets nominated for “Django Unchained” as so many are predicting.  I just can’t given how down to the wire the editing process is.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
  2. Sally Field, “Lincoln”
  3. Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables”
  4. Helen Hunt, “The Sessions
  5. Amy Adams, “The Master

Thanks for coming, everyone.  You did your best, but you weren’t good enough.  Anne Hathaway apparently gives a performance for the ages and makes everyone cry.  She has won.  It’s over before it even began.

So I just hope they don’t waste the other four nominations on people who don’t need them.  Since the other ladies aren’t really in contention to win, the word “Oscar nominee” could do wonders for a young actress’ career.  Like Samantha Barks, whose Eponine has plenty of tears she can jerk from her show-stopping “On My Own.”

And it could do a great deal to make the case for “she’s overdue to win” for Amy Adams, given that this would be her fourth nomination in her seven years since bursting on the scene.  That’s incredible.  At five, an eventual win becomes nearly guaranteed.

I don’t think she would have much of a chance to win, and probably wouldn’t be nominated if it weren’t such a weak year for the field.  “The Master” gives her very little to work with, but she’s fiercely intimidating and steely in what little she has.  I think unless the film totally collapses in the season, she will be able to squeeze in.

I bet Sally Field rides the coattails of “Lincoln” to a nomination, but she has won twice.  Would the Academy really crown two new Meryls in a year?  Past winner Helen Hunt will also probably figure into the race too, but I think her spot is at jeopardy given the film’s dismal box office performance.  She will need to stake a claim fast in the category or she runs the risk of getting forgotten.





REVIEW: Flight

24 11 2012

Denzel Washington has wowed audiences by playing both sides of the hero-villain spectrum.  Just look at the two performances that earned him Oscars.  1989’s “Glory” saw him as an almost angelic soldier fighting in the first all-black company in the United States Army, while 2001’s “Training Day” had him as a cop so devious and corrupt you wanted to jump through the screen and put a bullet through his head.

In “Flight,” Washington plays in the shades of grey of Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic pilot who becomes a hero after steering his malfunctioning plane to safety with his unconventional wisdom.  The catch is that Whitaker was high on cocaine and drunk as a skunk when he did so.  Of course, the public blindly adores him in a way reminiscent of Sully, the pilot who landed his vessel in the Hudson River and had a memoir in Barnes & Noble faster than you could say “American Airlines.”  But Whitaker has plenty of baggage that he can’t come to grips with and can’t compress into one of the overhead bins.  (Sorry, the puns with “Flight” are just endless.)

Because it’s a Denzel Washington performance, it’s fascinating to watch.  He owns the screen with a commanding presence rivaled by few in cinema these days.  But because Washington has such well-known and well-defined extremes, it’s fairly easy to tell what he thinks of Whitaker.

While he may have the moments of tough, firm leadership that Coach Herman Boone exhibits, Whitaker is clearly more in the model of a Frank Lucas or an Alonzo Harris.  It’s impressive that Washington can convey meaning through the mere iconography of his stature; however, in a movie like “Flight” that depends on our shifting judgements of the protagonist, that strength becomes a liability.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Safe House

3 03 2012

We all know Denzel Washington is an outstanding actor.  Most of us know that the same could not be said for Ryan Reynolds.  (For those that refute this, ask yourselves whether you are in love with his physique or his performances.)  “Safe House” amounts to little more than a “Bourne”-lite adventure reaffirming these virtually self-evident conclusions.

The adventure takes us to South Africa, where the dullness of Matt Weston’s (Reynolds) humdrum job supervising a CIA safe house has begun to take a psychological toll as he feels stuck and unable to move up the institutional ladder.  This would be an Occupy-friendly film if only Reynolds were complaining about not having a job; later, the film delves into a new favorite action movie trope that would also have the vagrants of Zuccotti Park licking their chops: THE GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT!  All of them!  Just working the government destroys your soul and taints your brain!  I get it, Hollywood, you love 1968 and want to keep the spirit of skepticism and distrust of institutions alive … but that was four decades ago and the schtick is getting a little old.  Maybe it’s time for a new target.

But the monotony of his vocation gets suddenly broken when a captured criminal is brought it – young Cornel West!  Just kidding, Denzel Washington’s rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost only looks like him.  The difference between the scholar and the character is that Frost is much better at getting people to see things his way.  As the latest Hannibal Lecter knock-off, Frost is hardly as frightening as might be expected, but Washington’s calm portrayal certainly makes him an eerie wild-card and a ticking time bomb.

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