REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

20 11 2015

Much like the “Harry Potter” series, the final installment of “The Hunger Games” departs radically from the formula of all entries that came prior. “Mockingjay – Part 2” does not actually feature the Hunger Games themselves, the main event that involves children killing children to placate the masses of a dystopian future. Without this intense action set piece to which the story can build, everything else cannot help but feel like a bit of a letdown.

“Mockingjay,” for many fans of the series, represented the least of Suzanne Collins’ books. So, in a sense, it is not terribly surprising that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” ends on a similarly underwhelming note. But even that is unlikely to put a damper on what will surely be one of the highest grossing films of the year; the four-year relationship Jennifer Lawrence built between viewers and her Katniss Everdeen is truly remarkable.

Without the games, “Mockingjay – Part 2” seems rather confused as to what kind of movie it wants to be. Some aspects of political semantic games and propaganda messaging remain from Part 1, primarily at the outset. These leftovers just further serve to reinforce the sense that a two-part finale was an unnecessary protraction of events.

Read the rest of this entry »





F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 19, 2015)

19 11 2015

Jack Goes BoatingAs I watched the climax of “The Hunger Games” series, my mind drifted away from the action on screen thanks to the presence of a fairly blatantly digitized Philip Seymour Hoffman. The resemblance was uncanny, sure, but everything about his facial expressions and mannerisms were wrong.

These pixels, as directed by someone behind a computer, went for obvious. Hoffman never went for what was expected. He always mined the ugliest parts of the soul and dredged up compellingly raw responses.

It’s a pity that he only got one chance to step behind the camera because it really showed a more sensitive, tender side than we ever saw from him. “Jack Goes Boating,” the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a film of simplicity. Yet in the absence of complication comes a rushing of heart in this wonderfully touching love story.

Hoffman stars as Jack, a socially awkward but good-natured limousine driver. He’s not necessarily looking for romance, but his co-worker Clyde (John Ortiz) tries to set him up with someone. That person is Amy Ryan’s Connie, a similarly sweet woman who stands as her own greatest obstacle. (Meanwhile, little does Clyde know that trying to facilitate one relationship will put the one with his wife under duress.)

Don’t expect fireworks or cinematic bravura from “Jack Goes Boating,” but anticipate feeling unexpectedly moved as these two battered souls make their best attempt at love. Hoffman and Ryan are wholly affecting as they struggle to overcome their own personalities to make the impression and connection they so desire. It’s a real shame we did not get to see more of this vulnerable, lovable and embraceable Philip Seymour Hoffman in his all too brief lifetime.





REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

20 11 2014

Unlike the “Harry Potter” finale, which ran over 800 pages in length, the last installment of “The Hunger Games” probably did not necessitate a two-part cinematic conclusion.  But alas, the filmmaking team thought they could find enough action in the story, and the Lionsgate executives had confidence that they could market two films.  So now, audiences are stuck with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.”

Though the film runs a full 30 minutes shorter than both its predecessors, it feels significantly longer.  Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in his penultimate role) do bring an aura of prestige to the relatively calm proceedings, yet that is not enough to boost the low energy that plagues the first half of “Mockingjay.”  While there is a thrilling final rescue scene and one quasi-action sequence in the middle, the inside baseball of Panem politics occupies the majority of the two hours.

Perhaps “Mockingjay” could inspire the next generation of political publicists, a prospect simultaneously encouraging and frightening.  The film offers an introductory course to how semantics, misinformation, and outright propagandizing can be used by governments as well as social movements to recruit followers and repel criticisms.  The overarching lesson of “Mockingjay” may very well be that the camera is mightier than the sword.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man

27 07 2014

A Most Wanted ManDirector Anton Corbijn came into film through photography, a background which makes itself quite evident in “A Most Wanted Man.”  There’s a certain placidity and patience in the proceedings that seem to bear the mark of a photographer’s cool distance.

Corbijn’s perspective gives this adaptation of John Le Carre (the mind who gave us “The Constant Gardener” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“) a distinct flavor, one that adds rather than detracts from the mix.  Though this spy film tackles counterterrorism, it lacks a definite endgame like “Zero Dark Thirty” had to push it along.  Instead, the focus is on the seemingly never-ending process of apprehending terrorists, not the final product of those efforts.

The calm collectedness and careful restraint of Corbijn does a great job highlighting the grimy, laborious legwork done by a Hamburg, Germany intel unit headed up by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Günther Bachmann.  He has a knack for foresight and playing the long game, two traits that put him at odds with the more impetuous, results-driven German intelligence community (not to mention the American embassy, represented by Robin Wright’s ambassador Martha Sullivan).

Bachmann quietly enters the fray to handle the curious case of a Chechen, Issa Karpov, who washes up in Hamburg and enters the city’s network of Muslim terrorist cells.  His approach is to use this refugee as a pawn to gain access to the real power players and continue working up the chain.  Along the way, Bachmann must join forces some unwilling participants, including a shady banker (Willem Dafoe’s Tommy Brue) and a lawyer who provides counsel for terrorists (Rachel McAdams’ Annabel Richter).

“A Most Wanted Man” does drag on occasion, but it’s consistently interesting thanks to the way Corbijn’s direction allows us to savor the careful maneuvers of counterintelligence chess.  While the film might be a little less ostensibly artistic than his last outing, 2010’s “The American,” Corbijn’s chosen aesthetic for the piece suits the highly-plotted story quite well.  It also allows Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what will sadly be his last leading role, to quietly show his mastery over the craft of acting one final time.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: Pirate Radio

21 01 2013

Musical theatre thrives on the creative sparks of others.  Not to diminish the many accomplishments of that art form, but in recent years, just about everything has been an adaptation.  (Except “The Book of Mormon” – you go Trey Parker and Matt Stone!)  Many have been taken from books, but recently, the trend has become to adapt films onto the stage.

One of the greatest advances has been the invention of the “jukebox musical,” where a story forms around immediately recognizable music, whether a fictional tale like “Mamma Mia!” or a biographical one such as “Jersey Boys.”  (It also gave us “Rock of Ages,” but we can pretend it didn’t.)

Before you ask, no, “Pirate Radio” is not an adaptation of a Broadway or a West End musical.  There’s plenty of music, but the record player does all the singing.  However, I felt that while watching Richard Curtis’ film, it was practically BEGGING to be staged as piece of musical theatre.  The music is phenomenal, and there’s so much capability for it to define a generation – because it does.

The story of the film isn’t all that interesting: banned from playing rock and roll on normal British airwaves, a group of rebels broadcast it in international waters.  The gang is full of eclectic types, ranging from characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy to then unknown Chris O’Dowd (the cop from “Bridesmaids“).  There’s little character or story development, and when the boat finds itself in peril, I could have cared less what happened to whom.  Not to mention that it feels interminable even at 20 minutes shorter runtime from its British release under the name “The Boat That Rocked.”

But with some slight tweaking of the story – a little bit less of the people on the boat, a little bit more of the people on land, the same amount of the government censors led by an uptight Kenneth Branagh – “Pirate Radio” could actually play quite well on stage given the caliber of music.  Think about it … and I’d like to request royalties if it happens because of this review.  C2stars





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 2 (Supporting)

6 01 2013

With the 2012 Oscar race now immobile until nominations are announced Thursday morning, January 10, now it’s time to take one last look at the contenders and the pretenders before the dust settles.  Today, I’ll be looking at Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, two categories replete with former winners and nominees all vying for Oscar glory.

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

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables
  2. Sally Field, “Lincoln
  3. Helen Hunt, “The Sessions
  4. Amy Adams, “The Master
  5. Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy

The race is Anne Hathaway’s to lose, and I’d be amazed if she did.  Even though so many critics are against “Les Misérables,” few can deny the power of her performance.  Some of the snootier groups have snubbed her, but take a look at this impressive domination of the category!

Hathaway Dominance

Safe to say, wins from the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards should lead her charge to take the stage at the Kodak Theatre.  Or they will hear the people scream.

FYC Anne HathawayAlthough, in the event of a “Lincoln” sweep (and me sticking my head in an oven), Sally Field could go 3-for-3 and win here for “Lincoln.”  She’s certainly had her fair share of recognition along the precursor circuit, including a high-profile win from the New York Critics’ Circle.

But in a year that could crown Daniel Day-Lewis (and maybe Robert DeNiro) a three-time champion, people will be aware that they would be ranking Field in an elite pantheon with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, I bet they think twice and vote Hathaway.

Or maybe they vote Hunt, who’s all but assured a nomination for her work in “The Sessions.”  It’s the kind of role the Oscars eat up (good-hearted woman who likes to let loose), and the Best Actress of 1997 for “As Good As It Gets” has picked up the Big 3 nominations (Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, SAG) along the way.  I think lukewarm support for the movie hurts her chances to win.  So does the fact that she’s competing against Anne Freaking Hathaway.

Beyond Hathaway, Field, and Hunt, the other two nominations are pretty much up for grabs.  The way I see it, there are 3 women vying for those two spots are Amy Adams for “The Master,” Maggie Smith for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and Nicole Kidman for “The Paperboy.”  Each has missed a key stop on the circuit: Adams crucially at SAG, Smith with the Globes and Critics’ Choice, and Kidman only with Critics’ Choice.

The PaperboyOn paper, the smart money would be on Nicole Kidman to snag a nomination.  SAG is always the best indicator of actors’ sentiment, and she also has a key Globe nod.

But the Golden Globes are notorious for sucking up to stars so they have to show up to the ceremony.  They are also notable for having many favorite actresses who seem to get nominated for just about anything they do, and this goes well beyond your obvious Meryl Streep.  Nicole Kidman has been nominated for a whopping 10 Golden Globes and has won 3.  So I take their nomination with a grain of salt.

SAG also usually throws a major out-of-left-field nominee into the fray, which at first sight could be considered Kidman.  (Then again, since Maggie Smith has shown up nowhere else, maybe that would be her.)  Last year, it was Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar,” although most thought it was Demian Bichir for “A Better Life” … until he got an Oscar nomination.  In 2010, it was Hilary Swank for “Conviction.”  2009 gave us Diane Kruger for “Inglourious Basterds.”

But “The Paperboy” is, well, quite frankly a bad movie.  And a part of me thinks the Academy will recoil at just how trashy and terrible it is.  There’s certainly precedent for an actor being nominated for a bad movie: Cate Blanchett got a Best Actress nomination for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” which had a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Sean Penn was nominated for the 34% fresh “I Am Sam.”  “The Paperboy” currently sits at 39%.

I predicted the snob factor would keep out Melissa McCarthy of “Bridesmaids” last year because she was crass and defecated in a sink.  I was wrong.  McCarthy didn’t even have the Globe nod that Kidman earned.  So, with that in mind, I will predict Nicole Kidman to get a bizarre Best Supporting Actress nomination for a role that involves her urinating on Zac Efron’s face.

The other spot, I believe, will go to Amy Adams for “The Master.”  Yes, the SAG snub hurt.  But she’s a new Academy darling, garnering three Best Supporting Actress nominations in six years.  And I’ll continue to assert that the Academy, though perhaps not quite ready to anoint her with a statue quite yet, wants to increase the inevitability of her win.  At four nominations, the cries of “why hasn’t she won yet?” will grow louder and louder.

Best ExoticAlthough don’t get me wrong, maybe they will not go with a perennial Oscar bridesmaid but rather a crowned Oscar queen.

Two-time winner Maggie Smith’s SAG nod makes her a formidable foe, though the fact that the Globes didn’t nominate her is troubling.  They were big fans of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” nominating it for Best Picture (musical/comedy) and Judi Dench for Best Actress.  If they loved it so much, where was Maggie Smith?  I suspect SAG got sentimental for a more senior member, like they did in 2010 for Robert Duvall in “Get Low.”

Another possibility I wouldn’t count out is Judi Dench for “Skyfall.”  It’s a sentimental swan song for Dench in the M role, and it will be one of her final roles since she’s going blind.  She won in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love,” which she was in for all of six minutes.  In this meaty, tragic role, could the Academy be won over?  The BFCA was and gave her a Critics’ Choice Award nomination, although that was in a field of six.  I don’t think Dench is out of the question, but I would still be shocked if she cracked this field.

The BFCA also nominated Ann Dowd of “Compliance,” a character actor who has paid her dues … and now is paying for her own campaign.  She won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, although that group has faded in relevancy since they are no longer first out of the gate.  Perhaps a surprise nomination is in store for a hard-working non-star, in the Demian Bichir/Richard Jenkins mold?  A more relevant precedent, however, might be Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom.”  However, she had the awards machine of Sony Pictures Classics working for her all fall.

But I’m sticking with Adams and Kidman.  I don’t have strong enough of a gut feeling to predict Dench or Dowd, and I don’t think Smith has enough heat to make it in the field.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Robert DeNiro, “Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln
  3. Alan Arkin, “Argo
  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master
  5. Javier Bardem, “Skyfall

Arkin

There are four set nominees in the field: DeNiro, Jones, Arkin, and Hoffman.  The latter three all scored the trifecta of nods from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA, which essentially assures them nominations.  Last year saw two such actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton, get snubbed by the Academy.  I can’t pinpoint precisely why they got knocked out other than a strong field for DiCaprio in Best Actor and a strong competitor for Tilda Swinton in Rooney Mara.

The person I would assume is in the worst position is Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master” since it isn’t a slam-dunk Best Picture nominee like DeNiro, Jones, and Arkin’s movies are.  But Hoffman, the movie’s only SAG nominee, appears to be the one performance everyone can line up behind for the film.  And he’s been nominated for movies that did not play well with the Academy at large, as demonstrated by his nod for 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Argue as you might about the former being a sure thing because he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination, but watch his acceptance of their highest honor, the CecilB. DeMille.  Now tell me if you think the voting body of less than 100 would want to nominate someone after he essentially slapped them in the face a la Ricky Gervais?

If he’s nominated, I think DeNiro could win.  Though he has won twice, he hasn’t been nominated in two decades.  There’s a comeback narrative for one of the greatest actors of our time, and it may be too soon for Arkin and Hoffman to win again.  In the event of a “Lincoln” sweep, a rising tide could lift all ships including that of Tommy Lee Jones.

But who gets the fifth slot to compete against these four prior winners?  I had hoped it would be Eddie Redmayne or Russell Crowe for “Les Misérables,” but those are highly unlikely now.  If they were to pop up, put all your money on “Les Misérables” to win Best Picture.

Magic MikeCould it be Critics’ Choice nominee Matthew McConaughey for “Magic Mike?”  He’s had quite the career turnaround in 2012, and a nomination would be a nice pat on the back.  A nomination would be in the pattern of Robert Downey, Jr. in 2008 for “Tropic Thunder,” another unconventional comedic role from a resurgent actor.

McConaughey is unlikely, however, because the SAG Awards and Golden Globes overlooked him, two groups key to making people take Downey, Jr. seriously.  Though he won prestigious prizes from the New York Film Critics’ Circle and the National Society of Film Critics, McConaughey might have to wait until next year for his shot at Oscar glory.  Something tells me his massive weight loss for “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” is screaming Oscars 2013.

SAG didn’t leave off Javier Bardem for “Skyfall,” on the other hand.  Bardem, himself a prior winner in the category, would fit right in with the rest of the nominees.  His Silva from the movie would be the first Bond villain ever to be nominated for an Oscar, and though I was averse to his creepiness, others don’t seem to share my reservations.

Villains have been dominating the Best Supporting Actor category since Bardem’s win for “No Country for Old Men” in 2007.  There was Heath Ledger’s posthumous win for “The Dark Knight” and Christoph Waltz’s victory for “Inglourious Basterds.”  We’ve also seen nominations for Josh Brolin’s murderous monster in “Milk,” Stanley Tucci’s creepy rapist in “The Lovely Bones,” and Jeremy Renner’s tough-as-nails Jem from “The Town.”  Being bad has never been so good.

But the same argument could be made for Leonardo DiCaprio’s vile slave owner Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained.”  Tarantino wrote the despicable Hans Landa, the character that won Christoph Waltz an Oscar.  Could he earn DiCaprio his fourth Oscar nomination – or perhaps his first win?  I’d love to see it, but I’m worried about vote-splitting between DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, back in the race for a character in “Django Unchained” not all that different than his Oscar-winning Hans Landa.

DjangoBoth DiCaprio and Waltz received nominations from the Golden Globes, but neither showed up on the Critics’ Choice list nor the SAG.  The latter can be explained by a lack of screeners being sent to the nominating committee, but the former is troubling.  I considered “Django Unchained” to be a non-factor in the season until it found some very vocal critical supporters and a large audience.  So I have to think at least one actor from the movie will show up, but I don’t think there’s a consensus on who that should be.

Waltz has won from a number of critics’ groups across the country, but none of them are particularly worth noting.  DiCaprio won from the National Board of Review, which is a far more significant accolade than anything Waltz has received.  If it was just Waltz from “Django Unchained” that DiCaprio had to contend with, I would predict him to receive his first Oscar nod since 2006’s “Blood Diamond.”  But there’s also Samuel L. Jackson from the movie, and many people are also a big fan of his performance.

Had “Django Unchained” unfurled earlier in the season, perhaps there would have been time for consensus to form around one actor.  DiCaprio could have helped himself by doing some press for the movie, yet he’s been remarkably silent.  The moment just doesn’t feel right for him either; I suspect 2013 will be more fortuitous for him with a juicy role in ‘The Great Gatsby” and another re-teaming with Martin Scorsese in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

So, in the absence of consensus, I think vote splitting will knock out all Tarantino’s performers, paving the way for Javier Bardem’s fourth Oscar nomination.

Check back tomorrow, January 7, for my final predictions in the leading acting categories!





REVIEW: The Master

18 10 2012

It has been a very long time since cinema has been graced with anything quite like “The Master.”  Everyone must concede that whether or not Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film works for them on a personal level, as a piece of cinematic art, it is one of the few films of our time that deserves to be called truly iconoclastic.  It answers to no man, no convention, and no expectation.  It boldly sets sail into uncharted waters, and even if that ride isn’t one of unparalleled brilliance, it’s one of true unfamiliarity.

If you are looking for the film to entertain, you’re likely to find yourself disappointed.  “The Master” is an extremely challenging watch, particularly on a first viewing when you expect to feel the plot building towards some sort of a decisive climax.  It really doesn’t.  Anderson, who writes all the films he directs, takes a very unique approach to this story by really just letting the characters marinate on screen.  They have very little forward momentum and just seem to sort of let themselves be blown around by the wind.

Which means that if you want to enjoy “The Master,” or get anything out of it, you are going to have to engage with it on a much deeper level.  Namely, I highly recommend that to even begin to extrapolate some meaning from it, you need to see it twice.  You are going to have some snap judgements on the film that may be incorrect due to the assumptions and the expectations you carried in with you.  Absorb the basic chain of events, ruminate on them for a little while, and then go back.  Without worrying about the outcome of events, you’ll be able to start seeing how many levels Anderson’s script is working on.

Read the rest of this entry »