REVIEW: Jason Bourne

1 08 2016

As the Hollywood star machine continues to run on empty, feeding in no-name indie stars hungry for a career boost that can increase their international value to fund passion projects, we probably have to get used to a new cliché known as the “distinguished gray.” These films are third, fourth or maybe even fifth installments of long-running – primarily action – franchises which would rather turn the age of their leading men into a pivotal plot point than invest the energy to recast, reboot or otherwise retool the series. (And yes, I say men because seniority is generally a negative attribute for women over 40.)

Jason Bourne” ditches whatever the heck Jeremy Renner’s spinoff was and resurrects the titular character with Matt Damon, now pushing 46 and not attempting to hide those light streaks of hair near his ears. He’s in hardbody shape, though more out of necessity for the character and less out of an unspoken invocation to gawk at his figure. Bourne seems more tired and weary than his formerly spry, curious demeanor in the original trilogy.

In a sense, can anyone blame him? In this iteration of “Jason Bourne,” the world outside the frame seems to weigh heavier on the proceedings than ever before. The CIA must deal not only with the post-Snowden scrutiny of their surveillance behemoth but also with the whims of capricious Silicon Valley tech magnates, whose often radical views pushing for a more open society pose a threat to the agency’s very existence. No wonder Bourne seems content to bare-knuckle box in the sandy outskirts of Athens like Daniel Craig’s James Bond luxuriated in womanizing and heavy drinking in “Skyfall.”

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REVIEW: The Homesman

29 11 2014

The HomesmanHistorically speaking, the Western has not been the most hospitable type of movie to the female gender. This philosophical statement from the genre’s patron saint, John Wayne, pretty much says it all: “I stick to simple themes. Love. Hate. No nuances. I stay away from psychoanalyst’s couch scenes. Couches are good for one thing.”

Writer/director Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” provides an interesting rejoinder to that legacy of rugged masculinity through its protagonist, Hilary Swank’s Mary Bee Cuddy.  She is a gritty, hard-working single farmer in the Nebraska Territory who still maintains a sense of empathy and caring.  So, in other words, she balances traits that are socially gendered for both sexes.

She also initiates her own destiny rather than waiting around for someone else to save her, boldly proposing marriage to other landowners in order to consolidate property.  Unsurprisingly, in the 19th century just as today, men greet such a woman with suspicion.  And their favorite word to describe Cuddy?  Bossy, the very word for girls that outspoken feminist Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban.

Cuddy’s resolve certainly stands out not only for the film’s phylum but also within the movie itself, as women are otherwise made victims of rape or cruelly objectified by men.  This message is undeniably worthwhile, yet little else about “The Homesman” is.   The film is a meandering mess that no amount of advocacy can fully redeem.

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REVIEW: Hope Springs

14 01 2013

Hope SpringsBe careful, for “Hope Springs” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

David Frankel’s comedy disguises itself as a comedy in the vein of “It’s Complicated” where Meryl Streep has issues with her sex life.  But it’s anything but that.  Laughs are sparse, unless you find uncomfortable erotic fantasies being spouted by Tommy Lee Jones to be uproarious.

Instead, “Hope Springs” plays like “Blue Valentine” with an AARP card.  We see Streep and Jones’ married couple, but there’s no love or passion anymore.  Sure, they are held together by their children, their house, and 31 years of commitment.  But they don’t touch each other, kiss each other, or even sleep in the same bed anymore.

I suppose it’s effective as a drama, largely because the dynamic is devastating and depressing between the couple in question.  Channeling some of his Oscar-nominated performance as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln,” Tommy Lee Jones constantly bullies his wife into submission and silence.  And when that wife is America’s sweetheart Meryl Streep, it just makes you angry.

When they go to couples therapy with an eerily stoic Steve Carell as their shrink, it’s hard to believe that this marriage can be fixed in anything less than a Hollywood movie.  And things get better, but I was hardly convinced or left smiling.  Between “Hope Springs” and “Amour,” 2012 has been a year where the movies have frightened me about where love and marriage eventually end up.  C2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 11, 2013)

11 01 2013

Melquiades Estrada

Most people recognize Tommy Lee Jones’ calling as an actor.  The Academy sure does, giving him one Oscar in 1993 for “The Fugitive” and a chance at another one in 2012 for “Lincoln.”  But what few people know is that if Jones gave up his day job and took up directing full-time, he would be incredibly successful.

Just take a look at his debut feature, “The Three Burials of Meliquiades Estrada,” and tell me the man does not have serious talent.  While I was watching it, I kept thinking about all the reasons why I shouldn’t like it or that it shouldn’t be working.  But it did, and for that very reason, it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Jones’ film is based in a strong script from Guillermo Arriaga, one full of tenderness and deliberation.  And perhaps the best sign of a good director is to let the story shine brightly and take precedence.  Though maybe Jones’ style isn’t flashy, the appropriately ambling pace and quaintness of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” feels like just the right fit.

Jones also lends his acting talents to the film, bringing the movie an undeniable sense of Texas gallantry and steadfastness.  As Pete Perkins, a noble ranch hand, he goes to whatever means necessary to ensure that his friend Melquiades Estrada gets a proper burial.  It takes him across the border, crosses his paths with various interesting people, and entangles complicated alliances.  But he will keep his word to Melquiades at all costs.

He also manages to get fine performances out of his cast, which includes a very physically committed Barry Pepper along with January Jones and Melissa Leo well before they were mainstream names.  But the real triumph of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is, well, Tommy Lee Jones himself.  He makes the film feel so natural and easygoing, almost as if every other movie is a NASCAR racer and his is a horse clipping along.  It’s that kind of brilliant direction where you almost think the film is directing itself.  Pretty impressive for a first film.





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: Men in Black III

28 12 2012

Arriving 10 years (half my lifetime) after the last sequel, there’s really no reason for “Men In Black III” to have been made except for Will Smith to come out of hibernation into a safe franchise sure not to ruffle anyone’s feathers.  And indeed, Barry Sonnenfeld’s threequel about as harmless as they come.  It’s a nondescript blend of humor and action, friendly to those who don’t know the series as well as the apparently numerous people for whom Sony felt they needed to make this movie.

“Men in Black III” is essentially tied back to the first two films in the series by the presence of Will Smith’s J and Tommy Lee Jones’ K.  But it’s mainly the Smith show as Jones bolts quickly (probably off to film “Hope Springs” and “Lincoln“) as he gets killed off by a former foe … in 1969.  With J as the only person left in this alternate universe that remembers K, he decides to embark on a time-travel adventure back in time to save his partner and restore the natural course of history.

The mission takes him to Cape Canaveral, lingering racial discrimination, and most importantly, Josh Brolin’s younger version of K.  Brolin is totally game to do his best Tommy Lee Jones impersonation, which doesn’t feel all that different from another character of his that could go by a single letter: W.

Brolin is the highlight of “Men in Black III” since Will Smith brings nothing new to the table.  He’s played out K too much, and not just in the “Men in Black” franchise.  Smith turned down the lead in “Django Unchained” last year, a role that would have been quite a departure for him.  Though the two films barely overlapped in shooting schedules, it would be nice to see Smith put up the black shades and tie and don the garb of a new, surprising character.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Lincoln

1 12 2012

I am by no means saying that “Lincoln” is not a smart movie.  I think the writing is very clever, the angle is interesting, and the words take the feel of political poetry.  And Daniel Day-Lewis gives a very meticulous and impressively restrained performance as the iconic 16th President.

But these two things do not necessarily a great movie make.  Director Steven Spielberg ultimately did not make a compelling argument as to why “Lincoln” is cinematic, and that is by far the most crucial component of a film’s success.  We don’t experience film on a page; we watch it on a screen.  And though I often sat wondering how much I would love to pore over Tony Kushner’s script, I never felt like I needed to see it on screen.  (Perhaps it would have been better served as a closet script, one meant to be read, not filmed.)

The history lesson is interesting in that it features a tight, narrow focus rather than the broad canvases in some of Spielberg’s earlier historical films such as “Schindler’s List” or “Amistad.”  Kushner’s grueling, often tedious procedural and insistance on parading new characters onto screen in rapid fire succession makes “Lincoln” feel more like an “Amistad,” meant to go straight into the DVD player in high school American history courses.  If it weren’t for the cavalcade of notable Oscar-recognized talent, it would feel no different than those dramatized History Channel specials that teachers show to give their students a break.

I have no problem with the Spielberg pendulum shifting towards education rather than entertainment and showmanship.  However, if such a changing dynamic is to work, Spielberg needed to shift his approach.  In “Lincoln,” he largely doesn’t.  In the first two hours of the film, we are bombarded with facts, details, and events.

Then, as the film comes to a close, the movie slows down and begins to amble.  We get generous close-ups of the people whose tireless efforts we have been following, as if Spielberg is telling us, “Here, feel for them … now!”  Perhaps after spending a semester watching all his films, I am hyperaware of his trademark shot and can fairly easily resist the pull.  But I wasn’t actively resisting or anything, they just didn’t work here.  The technique would have been great if “Lincoln” were more in the mold of “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan,” histories built around deep emotions.  He can’t simply pull the technique out to achieve a similar effect for an entirely different film.

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