The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Review: Joy (UK Cert 12A)


Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two, who has always wanted to create things. Her parents Rudy (Robert de Niro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) are divorced and Rudy has just returned to Joy's home after finishing with his latest girlfriend, whilst Terry spends her days watching TV soaps. The only sane person in the house is grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) who encourages Joy to pursue her passion. Soon, Joy has a project- a self-wringing mop. Whilst this might not sound like the most gripping premise for a film ever, Joy transcends its traditional and predictable rags-to-riches storyline with a winning performance by the ever-dependable Lawrence in her third collaboration with director David O. Russell (after American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook). 

Russell directed and wrote the script, rewriting a story from Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids). The film is based in part on the story of Joy Mangaro, a housewife and inventor from Long Island, New York who invented the Miracle Mop. However, Joy's surname is never given in the film and the Miracle Mop is never named as such (except on the QVC screen). So it's not a biopic of Mangaro per se, more a film inspired by her life and story. 

Jennifer Lawrence's central performance as Joy is the best thing in the film. She's an unflappable lynchpin against the more outlandish excesses of some of the other characters who are trying to appear quirky but come across as irritating (Madsen especially, who is a terrific actress but has been given a bum role here). And whilst the film follows the tried and true pathway of rags-to-riches- plucky outsider has an idea and succeeds against the odds despite attempts to derail them- Lawrence is never less than watchable, whether negotiating in the boardroom for a shot at getting her mop advertised or dealing with her crazy family. She's been getting some awards recognition which is well deserved.

Robert de Niro's performance is broad but good, and he gets one of the most memorable wedding toasts ever seen on film. Diane Ladd is great in her supporting role as Joy's grandmother and film's narrator. There's a nice supporting turn by Bradley Cooper as QVC executive Neil Walker whom Joy meets whilst trying to get the mop marketed. What's also nice is the temptation is resisted to have Neil as a love interest for Joy. It's made clear very early on that Joy doesn't need a handsome prince to save her.

The script is quite uneven in places, relying on whimsy in place of anything concrete; the soap angle could quite easily be excised from the film with no major structural issues. There's some interesting use of flashback- you see the entire relationship of Joy and Tony's (Edgar Ramirez) relationship from first meeting to signing the divorce papers in about ten minutes flat- but there are elements of telling, not showing which is irking. 

Generally speaking, the film is decent enough but it can't decide what it wants to be. It could have been a much more straightforward biopic and been better for it. Still, Lawrence's performance saves it from being totally mediocre.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tez

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

In Memoriam 2015


The world of film and entertainment have lost several luminaries this year. Whilst we wrote full tributes to Leonard Nimoy, Sir Christopher Lee and Ron Moody throughout the year, there were several deaths we were unable to pay tribute to at the time. Here then are tributes to several of those stars, from in front of and behind the camera, who sadly passed away this year.


Few people get to redefine the genre they work in once, let alone twice. But that's what Wes Craven did. Firstly, by directing one of the seminal 1980s horror movies- A Nightmare On Elm Street- and introducing the world to one of the best-known horror characters of all time. In 1996, Craven directed Scream which paved the way for a new generation of horror films with a knowing wink to the conventions of the past. He directed all four Scream films as well as Vampire In Brooklyn and- the only non-horror film he did- Music Of The Heart.

James Horner has over 150 credits as composer, working on documentaries, feature films and TV. Composing music for such films as Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Aliens, Willow, The Rocketeer, Sneakers, Apollo 13, Jumanji, A Beautiful Mind, Troy, The Amazing Spider-Man and Southpaw, Horner won two Academy awards for his musical work on Titanic.

Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie won an Academy Award for his work as director of photography on The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. Lesnie worked on the following two instalments of the Lord Of The Rings saga, and worked on the three Hobbit movies as well. He was also cinematographer for Babe, The Water Diviner and the 2005 version of King Kong.

Robert Loggia in Scarface (1983)
Known for playing cops, mafiosa and other authority figures, Robert Loggia's career spanned seven decades. A versatile actor, he could play anything from Joseph in The Greatest Story Ever Told to Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat (opposite Ingrid Bergman as Golda Meir). He is best known for his roles in Scarface, Prizzi's Honor, Independence Day and Jagged Edge (for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar).

As the suave secret agent John Steed, Patrick Macnee was one of the defining figures of the 1960s. Whilst he will always be associated with The AvengersMacnee's film career was varied - he was an uncredited extra in Laurence Olivier's 1948 film of Hamlet, and played Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes In New York (opposite Roger Moore as Holmes) as well as playing Sir Godfrey Tibbett in Moore's last James Bond film A View To A Kill.

Geraldine McEwan had a distinguished stage and television career, perfoming with the Royal Shakespeare Company and being nominated for both Olivier Awards and Tony Awards for her stage work. On screen, she starred in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, won a BAFTA for her performance as Mother in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, played the witch Mortianna in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and the cold-hearted Sister Bridget in The Magdalene Sisters. She later went on to play Miss Marple. 

Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man
Irish actress Maureen O'Hara is best known for starring opposite John Wayne in five films, the best of which is The Quiet Man. Spotted by Charles Laughton (who gave her the surname O'Hara; her birth surname was FitzSimons), she also starred in How Green Was My Valley, Miracle On 34th Street, Rio Grande and The Parent Trap. She was awarded an honorary Oscar at the 2014 Governors Awards. 

Welsh-American character actor Roger Rees appeared in such diverse fare as Robin Hood: Men In Tights, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Frida, The Prestige and The Scorpion King, whilst also winning the Tony award for his stage performance as Nicholas Nickelby and appearing opposite Sir Ian McKellen in Waiting For Godot. Rees also had television roles in Warehouse 13, Elementary and The West Wing.

Omar Sharif made his English language film debut as Sherif Ali in Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role. Three years later, he played the lead in Doctor Zhivago. He also appeared opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and the sequel Funny Lady and took roles in The 13th Warrior and Hidalgo. Away from the silver screen, he was known as one of the best players of contract bridge, even licensing his name to a bridge computer game.


Terry Pratchett wrote more than seventy novels, including 41 set in the fantasy land of the Discworld, several of which- Hogfather, Going Postal and The Colour Of Magic- have been adapted for TV. Pratchett was also a fierce advocate for social issues, including conservation and assisted dying, and spoke eloquently and passionately about his own diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's. 

One of the ten most influential cinematographers in movie history, Haskell Wexler was director of photography on many classic films such as In The Heat Of The Night, The Thomas Crown Affair and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He won two Academy Awards for his work on Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and Bound For Glory


Others who passed away this year include:

  • Oscar-nominated actor Theodore Bikel
  • British actor George Cole
  • American actress Catherine E. Coulson
  • American actress Yvonne Craig
  • Swedish actress Anita Ekberg
  • Writer and director Richard Glatzer
  • Producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr
  • Director John Guillermin
  • Icelandic actor Gunnar Hansen
  • Indian-British actor Saeed Jaffrey
  • French actor Louis Jourdan
  • Swedish author Henning Mankell
  • Oscar-nominated French actress Colette Marchand
  • Screenwriter Melissa Mathison
  • Cinematographer and director Albert Maysles
  • British actor Warren Mitchell
  • American actress Betsy Palmer
  • British author Ruth Rendell
  • Australian actor Rod Taylor
  • American actress Mary Ellen Trainor
  • Producer Jerry Weintraub
  • American actress Grace Lee Whitney
  • American actress Holly Woodlawn

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two (UK Cert 12A)


To nick a quote from everyone's favourite time-travelling physician, 'it's the end, but the moment has been prepared for'. And so we reach the end of The Hunger Games saga with Mockingjay: Part Two.

Picking up almost straight after the end of Part One, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been traumatised by her attack by the unstable Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). However, the rebellion against the Capitol continues and Katniss continues to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. Starting with neutralising a threat in District 2, the rebels continue their march toward the Capitol to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland), leading to Katniss' final confrontation with Snow...

It's a frustratingly inconsistent film. There are some great intimate character moments, for instance- the conversation between Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) about their respective love for Katniss; the wonderful showdown between Katniss and Snow in the greenhouse- but several of the action scenes are muddy and either really badly shot or really badly edited, making it difficult to see who's doing what to whom. 

There's no scene that displays this more clearly than the sewer sequence where Katniss and her team are chased by Mutts (zombie-like creatures with massive teeth). The tense build-up is handled really well- almost playing like a sequence from a horror film (and pushing the boundaries of the 12A certificate)- but once the Mutts attack, the camerawork goes to pot, as does the lighting, and you're left with a morass of limbs. Frankly if Katniss hadn't screamed the name of the person who died, I wouldn't have been able to work it out. I know they're going for a kinetic pace but it's done at the cost of seeing what's going on.

Screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong are mostly faithful to Suzanne Collins' source material. When I first read Mockingjay, at several points, I had a thought of 'how the hell are they going to do this on screen?' Like Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay is dark. In places, really dark (and this is a franchise that starts with the idea of children killing each other for sport). There's a particularly defining moment in the book which, when I first read it, gave me a lump in the throat. That moment is reproduced here and it's a ballsy move by the filmmakers to include it.  

Performance-wise, as all the rest have been, it's solid across the board. Lawrence is as watchable as ever as Katniss, whilst Donald Sutherland's performance has more steel and substance to it than in Part One; he's much less Bond-villain. No complaints either about Julianne Moore who brings a steely determination to the role of President Coin. Josh Hutcherson probably gives his best performance as Peeta, as he struggles to undo the torture he underwent in the Capitol whilst Liam Hemsworth is as dependable as ever as Gale. You can tell what was filmed after the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman- there's a scene at the end where Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) gives Katniss a letter from Plutarch, where it seems obvious that- had Hoffman still been around- Plutarch would have given the news himself.   

Several actors get short-changed in this instalment, although make an impact when they do appear. I'm thinking specifically of Jena Malone, whose acerbic Johanna Mason has been one of the standout performances in the saga, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks, who is always superb as Effie. You can also add Gwendoline Christie to this list- the Game Of Thrones star pops up very briefly at the beginning as District 2 leader Commander Lyme but gives a suitably commanding performance.

Despite my grousing, the film is not a complete disaster and rounds The Hunger Games saga off competently. But it's exactly that: competent. Not good, not great. Competent. It had the potential to be superb but sadly, for me, that potential hasn't been realised. 

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Clue (1985)


If I was ever stranded on a desert island with a TV/DVD player and only eight movies, Clue would definitely be one of them. Recently celebrating its 30th anniversary (it was released in America on 13th December 1985), it's a raucous, endlessly quotable, comedy murder mystery. Clue was the first film to be based on a board-game. There have been others since, but Clue is the original and best. 

Directed and written by Jonathan Lynn (from a story by Lynn and John Landis), it takes the basis of the board-game as the jumping-off point. Six people- Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mr Green, Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum- are invited to Hill House for dinner, where they meet the butler Wadsworth and the maid Yvette. Their host Mr Boddy arrives and announces he has been blackmailing them all. The six are given weapons and told to kill Wadsworth - however, it's not the butler who dies, but Mr Boddy. But who killed him, where, and with what? It's not too long before the body count starts to rise and the utter absurdity of the situation reaches boiling point. 

A point of clarification here: the film is based on the American version of the game, hence the name Clue (rather than Cluedo). It is for this reason that Michael McKean's character is Mr Green, not Reverend Green, the victim is Mr Boddy (rather than Dr. Black) and one of the weapons is the wrench and not the spanner. Incidentally, the house in the film is named after producer Debra Hill.

Clue plays like an Agatha Christie novel told through the filter of a 1940s screwball comedy. Performance-wise, it's solid across the board. For me, this is Tim Curry's second best film role (I'm sorry, but his performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show will always be his best to me) and he is just superb as Wadsworth: dry, sarcastic, unflappable (at least to start with). It was very nearly a different story as both Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp) and Rowan Atkinson were originally considered for the role before Lynn- who had known Curry for years- personally asked him on board. 



Eileen Brennan is great as Mrs Peacock, starting off as relatively normal and chatty before becoming more and more unhinged as the night goes on. Lesley Ann Warren (a late replacement for Carrie Fisher) vamps it up something rotten as the sultry Miss Scarlet, whilst Madeline Kahn threatens to add petty larceny to a possible murder charge with her performance as Mrs White almost stealing the entire show. Michael McKean's performance as Mr Green is hilarious; his cries of 'I didn't do it' getting more and more shrill as the bodies start to mount up. Martin Mull gives a dignified air to Colonel Mustard, even in the mounting absurdity around him, whilst Christopher Lloyd's thoughtful Professor Plum rounds the main cast off with style. 

Lynn's script absolutely crackles with hilarious one-liners and delicious non sequiturs. It has been known for a group of my friends to spend many an inebriated- and not so inebriated- night quoting from the film. I have too many favourites to list them all- and several of the best ones run the risk of spoiling main plot points- but it's a rare script where almost every line is a good one. Madeline Kahn gets some of the best lines and I do have to mention her sublime ad-lib of 'I hated her... so much... flames... flames on the side of my face...' There's also a lot of great visual comedy as well, some very black comedy involving a few of the dead bodies and- the coup de grace- the final fifteen minutes of the film where Wadsworth explains the solution which has the entire cast running from room to room. 

One of the things most people know about Clue is its ending. Or, rather, endings. Yep, the movie has three different endings. If you watch it on DVD, all three endings are played one after the other (with interstitial cards between). However, you also have the option of watching one of the endings picked at random. When shown in cinemas, one ending were randomly distributed so it wasn't ever sure exactly who was doing it (something that critics had a particular beef for). For my money, the third and final ending is a much more satisfying one (which actually makes sense). 

On first release, the film didn't get particularly good reviews- Roger Ebert said 'Fun... is in short supply' whilst New York Times critic Janet Maslin claimed the film had 'little genuine wit'. It makes me wonder what film they were watching. It didn't do well at the box office either (making $14.6 million on a budget of $15 million). Considered a bit of a flop, it was destined to be an embarrassing little blot on the copy books of all involved, good only for late-night TV reruns and home video. However, in these formats- and with all three endings together- the film started to garner some interest and, through word of mouth, it is now considered a bona fide cult classic.

Clue is a Marmite film. People either love it or hate it. Well, I love it. It's got a dream cast. It's fun, and it's funny. Very funny. I've seen the film twenty times or more and I smile every time. Peter Bogdanovich once said 'the only true test of a movie is time'. Well, Clue passes that test with flying colours. Thirty years after its release, it's still being quoted and enjoyed, and rightly so.

Tez

For more information about Clue, take a look at this brilliant Buzzfeed article by Adam B. Vary and also check out Cluedofan.com for all things Clue and Cluedo.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Awards Season 2016: Critics' Choice Movie Awards Nominations


More awards season shenanigans today with the announcement of the nominations for the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards.


Here are a selection of their nominees:

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight

Best Director
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Ridley Scott (The Martian)
Steven Spielberg (Bridge Of Spies)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Johnny Depp (Black Mass)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Supporting Actor
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

A lot of the same names are coming up in a lot of the same categories, which does indeed strengthen their chances of an Oscar nod. 

As with last year, there's a bit of overlap between these categories and some of the genre awards, with Charlize Theron nominated twice for Mad Max: Fury Road (as Best Actress and Best Actress in an Action Movie) and Jennifer Lawrence nominated twice for Joy (Best Actress and Best Actress in a Comedy). Interestingly, Matt Damon doesn't pop up twice for The Martian. In fact, The Martian isn't mentioned at all in the Comedy awards. Strange, that. 

When all categories are taken into account, it's Mad Max: Fury Road that leads the nominations with a whopping 13. Carol, The Martian and The Revenant all have nine, whilst Spotlight has eight.

That's the last little bit of awards season stuff for this year (who said 'thank goodness for that'?) but it all continues in earnest in the first full week of January with the Producers Guild award nominations on 5th January and the BAFTA nominations on 8th January.

Normal blogging service will now resume.

Tez

Friday, 11 December 2015

Review: Bridge Of Spies (UK Cert 12A)


Inspired by true events, Bridge Of Spies tells the amazing story of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer who- during the height of the Cold War- was asked to defend Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) who had been arrested for espionage. Later, Donovan was asked to help negotiate the prisoner exchange of Abel for a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell).

Hanks is always a safe pair of hands. Here, he's an engaging presence as Donovan, a gee-shucks All-American guy, determined to play fair even in the toughest circumstances. It's the kind of role James Stewart would have played if this had been made in the 1950s. He puts his professional reputation on the line, first by defending Abel and then trying to appeal the decision. It puts his family in the firing line (literally, at one point) but he is prepared to go all the way to Berlin- and have to lie to his family- to help facilitate the exchange. It's a solid performance throughout.

Rylance puts in a dignified and measured turn as Abel, his voice barely raising throughout. He's remarkably calm, even in the face of a possible death penalty. When asked if he's nervous or afraid, Abel replies stoically 'would it help?' His accent wanders occasionally, although generally settles on a Scottish burr. He has some great interplay with Hanks and the two make a good pairing. As for the other actors, it's a solid job across the board even if the characters aren't particularly fleshed out. Amy Ryan isn't given much to do as Donovan's wife (although she is a warm and sympathetic presence) whilst Alan Alda feels wasted in the role of Donovan's boss. Stowell does well as the clean-cut All-American boy although his characterisation doesn't really go much beyond that. 

The script- by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen- is tightly plotted and, in places, surprisingly wry. The threat of nuclear war is ever present and the point comes home in Donovan's young son and his school lessons. Steven Spielberg's direction is as good as you'd expect. It's a long film (141 minutes) but really doesn't feel it; you get swept up in the story. The entire look of the film is just superb - the period detail is spot on and even the bombed out ruins of Berlin look authentic. 

I went into Bridge Of Spies with, admittedly, not very high expectations. I was expecting a solid drama. Instead, I got an exceptional piece of film-making, telling the story of an American hero who very few people will have heard of (and more should). 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Awards Season 2016: Golden Globe Nominations


Today sees the announcement of the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards, awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The HFPA split their awards, giving certain categories for both Drama and Musical or Comedy, rather than just going for the out-and-out drama as most awards tend to do.


Below is a list of some of the nominees:

Best Picture - Drama
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Best Picture - Musical or Comedy
The Big Short
Joy
The Martian
Spy
Trainwreck

Best Director
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Ridley Scott (The Martian)

Best Actor - Drama
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Will Smith (Concussion)

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Steve Carell (The Big Short)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Al Pacino (Danny Collins)
Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear)

Best Actress - Drama
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
Melissa McCarthy (Spy)
Amy Schumer (Trainwreck)
Maggie Smith (The Lady In The Van)
Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

Best Supporting Actor
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)
Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress
Jane Fonda (Youth)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Can anyone who has actually seen The Martian tell me if it is indeed a comedy or a musical? IMDb lists the genres of the film as Adventure, Drama, and Sci-Fi. Maybe they've missed something. Maybe Matt Damon suddenly bursts out into a rendition of 'Life On Mars?' (like Jessica Lange in American Horror Story: Freak Show). Maybe there are sudden custard pies to the face. Maybe there's a string of knob gags. Or maybe the producers- seeing a rather full and massively competitive Drama category- have done what The Tourist did a few years ago and went for the Musical/Comedy route in order to get nominated. Maybe I'm just being massively cynical.

There's quite a bit of cross-over from yesterday's SAG Award nominations, although interestingly the HFPA stated that Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were going to be listed in the Lead Actress category for Carol and The Danish Girl respectively rather than in the Supporting Actress category. It'll be interesting to see where other award bodies will go with this. 

Interesting to see the two nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road, given that it's the kind of genre movie that tends to get overlooked. 

Next up for awards season will be the nominations for the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards, which will be announced on Monday December 14th

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Awards Season 2016: SAG Awards Nominations


So, awards season is getting into full swing with today's announcement of the nominations for the 22nd Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. These are for actors voted on by actors.


Below is a list of film nominations:

Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture
Beasts Of No Nation
The Big Short
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
Trumbo

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Johnny Depp (Black Mass)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Helen Mirren (Woman In Gold)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)
Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)
Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

As well as Helen Mirren picking up two nods, so too does Mark Rylance (who is also nominated in the TV awards for Wolf Hall) and Idris Elba (in the TV awards for Luther). 

Another 'Good Showing For The Brits(TM)' with Fassbender, Redmayne, Mirren, Elba, Rylance and Winslet's nods. No love for Maggie Smith in the film category for The Lady In The Van; however, she does get a nod in the TV awards for Downton Abbey.

It's interesting to see that SAG have put Rooney Mara in the Supporting Actress category for Carol rather than Leading Actress and I do wonder whether other awards will do the same.

Tomorrow (10th December) sees the nominations for the Golden Globes, so expect more awards season malarkey then.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Review: Steve Jobs (UK Cert 15)


When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was lauded as a genius, the man who revolutionised home computing, a pioneer, a visionary. Even before he passed, his name was one everyone knew. There was a lacklustre (and unofficial) biopic movie released in 2013 starring Ashton Kutcher but this one is based on the official biography by Walter Isaacson, adapted for screen by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle.

The film focuses on three points within Jobs' profession career: the 1984 launch of the Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the NeXT and the 1998 launch of the iMac. Immediately before each launch, we see Jobs preparing to give his trademark speeches, pushing his programmers to deliver the goods, dealing with his Head of Marketing and trying to interact with the girl whom the courts declared to be his daughter (although he initially did not acknowledge her as such).

Michael Fassbender pulls off an amazing balancing act of getting you to admire Jobs whilst simultaneously wanting to punch him in the face. If this is what Jobs was really like, it's amazing that he ever got anyone to work for him: he's a complete control freak, an out-and-out ruthless bastard, a Machiavellian gameplayer, a supremely arrogant, condescending, egotistical bully- and yet utterly charismatic at the same time. There has to be something more there, otherwise he'd never have inspired such loyalty as you see in his Head of Marketing, Joanna Hoffman (who stayed with him for this entire period, even when he was out in the cold from Apple). 

Hoffman is played by Kate Winslet, who affects an Eastern European lilt to play the Polish-born Hoffman. She is the voice of reason, Jobs' anchor, his confidante and 'work wife' who deals with his demands with unflappable equanimity. Winslet's performance is strong, trading verbal spars with Fassbender and being one of the few who can stand up to him. Seth Rogen puts in a decent dramatic turn as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, pushing Jobs to acknowledge the team who worked on the Apple II in his newer endeavours. There are scenes between Wozniak and Jobs which have a real dramatic punch, especially the one where Wozniak tells Jobs 'you can be decent and gifted at the same time'.

Not all performances are as good as others, however, with Katherine Waterston's shrill and overbearing performance as Chrisann Brennan (the mother of Jobs' daughter Lisa) being particularly grating. I get that the character is supposed to come across as a bit flaky and annoying- trying to get Jobs to accept his paternal responsibilities when he still questions his paternity- but it's the one wrong note in an otherwise solid cast.

Sorkin's script is, as you would expect, tight and quick with lots of staccato punchy dialogue and flashbacks within the scenes. It's very play-like, the dialogue could easily lend itself to a stage adaptation. However, the script never really gets behind the spiky exterior- although it does attempt a last-minute redemption job with his relationship with Lisa which just about works. Do you really get to know more about Jobs the man? A little. For instance, I didn't know that he was adopted and I didn't know he had a daughter. So you get to know more about his biography (for want of a better word). But the psychology doesn't run very deep- the film implies that a lot of Jobs' controlling personality came down to the fact that he was adopted, which is mentioned a lot- and he remains relatively inscrutable.

This is certainly a superior movie to the Ashton Kutcher one and the performances- especially those of Fassbender, Winslet and Rogen- are very strong. However, I think you'd have to have a specific interest in Jobs to really enjoy it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Review: Carol (UK Cert 15)


In 1950s New York, aspiring photographer Therese Belivet works in a department store. Into her life comes Carol Aird, an older woman who is looking for a Christmas present for her daughter. After Therese returns a pair of gloves that Carol left on her desk, their relationship deepens and Therese finds herself falling for Carol.

Patricia Highsmith (The Two Faces Of January, The Talented Mr. Ripley) originally published the novel The Price Of Salt under a pseudonym in 1952. The novel was republished under her own name, and retitled Carol, in 1990. Now, director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There.,Velvet Goldmine) with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett as the leads.  

Cate Blanchett is just superb as Carol, glamorous and positively oozing classic Hollywood elegance. She evokes memories of Lauren Bacall and Rita Hayworth throughout. Carol is divorcing from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) due to a previous affair she had with another female friend which has ramifications over custody of her daughter. There are several powerful scenes where Blanchett absolutely shines, none less than an emotional meeting towards the end with her lawyers. You really feel for her throughout. It's one of Blanchett's finest performances and any awards hype she gets is truly deserved.

If Blanchett evokes Bacall, the one thought going through my head was how much Rooney Mara reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. Mara's performance as Therese is similarly excellent, really selling the emotional confusion as Therese comes to terms with her feelings for Carol- there's a particularly nice scene where she obliquely discusses it with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy) who dismisses it as a 'crush'. What's also lovely is you can see Therese really blossom as a character, starting out as quite naive before becoming more grounded as the film goes on. Therese is in no way a supporting character, she's every bit a lead. 

The supporting cast are all good. Lacy and Chandler could easily have come off as brutish macho stereotypes but both put in strong performances as they come to terms with Therese and Carol's relationship, although actions which Harge takes throughout the course of the film undeniably put your sympathy at Carol's feet. There's also a stellar turn by Sarah Paulson (who really should be a better known actress than she is) as Abby, Carol's friend and former lover. 

Under a different director and in the hands of a lesser actress, Carol could have come across as a predatory lesbian who grooms the unworldly Therese. Thankfully, whilst Carol is the driving force behind their relationship, there's never any sense of coercion or manipulation. Their relationship is tender, tentative, initially restrained before breaking out into passion. It's real. It's rare to see a relationship between two women that is presented as honestly as it is here (especially when you consider the period setting). That's thanks in no small part to the wonderful script by Phyllis Nagy. 

The entire period detail of the film is immaculate, so massive props to the production designer, set decorators, costume, hair and make-up whose combined talents make this a sublime film to look at. 

This would work as a great companion piece to Haynes' 2002 film Far From Heaven (starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert and Dennis Quaid) which similarly took a look at relationships that would have been considered taboo. Both films have the period setting and Douglas Sirk aesthetic, yet quietly subvert them. Both features stand-out performances by their lead actresses and their supporting casts. Both films are a joy for cinephiles.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Awards Season 2016: Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations


So here we go, Awards Season 2016 is off with today's announcement of the 31st Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations. These awards recognise films made wholly or partly outside the traditional studio system. 

Below is a selection of nominations:

Best Feature
Anomalisa
Beasts Of No Nation
Carol
Spotlight
Tangerine

Best Director
Sean Baker (Tangerine)
Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts Of No Nation)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson (Anomalisa)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
David Robert Mitchell (It Follows)

Best Male Lead
Christopher Abbott (James White)
Abraham Attah (Beasts Of No Nation)
Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind)
Jason Segel (The End Of The Tour)
Koudous Seihon (Mediterranea)

Best Female Lead
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Bel Powley (The Diary Of A Teenage Girl)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Tangerine)

Best Supporting Male
Kevin Corrigan (Results)
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)
Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

Best Supporting Female
Robin Bartlett (H.)
Marin Ireland (Glass Chin)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa)
Cynthia Nixon (James White)
Mya Taylor (Tangerine)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Carol leads the field with six nominations in total (including, rather interestingly, two Best Actress nods- rather than relegating one of them to the Supporting Actress category), while Beasts Of No Nation and Spotlight each have five. 

The next major announcement for awards season isn't until 9th December with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, so you get a bit of a break from this vapid nonsense until then.

Tez

Sunday, 22 November 2015

For Your Consideration: Possible Contenders For Awards Season 2016



It's that time of year again, folks.

For the next 3 months-ish- the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations are announced this coming Tuesday (24th November), the Academy Awards are on February 28th 2016- the blog will be littered with awards season stuff. So, apologies if you're not a fan and welcome if you are.

As usual, here's some wild prognostication about what could make a showing in this awards season.


Fresh off the back of his Academy Award win this year for The Theory Of Everything, Eddie Redmayne might get another Best Actor nod for his work as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl. Similarly, Hooper might get recognised for his direction and Alicia Vikander may get a Best Supporting Actress nod for her performance as Wegener's wife Gerda. 


I'm Not There director Todd Haynes reunites with Cate Blanchett for Carol, a love story based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers On A Train). Blanchett plays the eponymous Carol who falls in love with a younger woman, played by Rooney Mara. Both Blanchett and Mara could get acting nods and the film may get a Best Picture nomination.



It might be another Good Showing for the Brits(TM). Maggie Smith's imperious turn in The Lady In The Van might see her get a Best Actress nod (virtually guaranteed for BAFTA, although whether the appeal will travel is not known). Similarly, Carey Mulligan's powerful performance in Suffragette should see her getting noticed as Best Actress, along with Helena Bonham Carter in the Supporting Actress category.


Two films based around the movie business might also feature. The first is Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers' latest film (which stars Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton and George Clooney). The second is Trumbo, about the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted and imprisoned during the Communist witchhunts of the 1950s. Bryan Cranston might get a Best Actor nomination for playing Trumbo. 


Biopics tend to do well, so there should be some recognition for Johnny Depp's superbly chilling performance as mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger in Black Mass whilst several members of the cast of Steve Jobs have also been pointed out as being particularly award-worthy, namely Michael Fassbender (as Jobs) and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman). There's also been some buzz about Seth Rogen's performance as Steve Wozniak, so who knows, he might also get a mention (hell, Jonah Hill's got two Oscar nominations so anything's possible!)


On the subject of biopics, David O. Russell's latest film Joy may similarly do well. The story of Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop, it stars Jennifer Lawrence in the title role with Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro in supporting roles. All three actors have had awards nominations- and in Lawrence's case, a win- working with Russell, so lightning might strike twice (thrice, in some cases). 


But what about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Could it get a Best Picture nod? Frankly, I've no idea. The original Star Wars did- but has been the only one of them so far to get that recognition. I fully expect the technical categories to be where the film will get a mention, similarly with films like SPECTRE and the Marvel movies.


The timetable for the major awards in 2016 is as follows:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
Nominations announced: November 24th 2015
Awards ceremony: February 27th 2016

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards
Nominations announced: December 9th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 30th 2016

Golden Globes
Nominations announced: December 10th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 10th 2016 (hosted by Ricky Gervais)

Critics' Choice Awards
Nominations announced: December 14th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 17th 2016

Producers' Guild Of America (PGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 5th 2016
Awards ceremony: January 23rd 2016

Writers' Guild Of America (WGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 6th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 13th 2016

BAFTA Film Awards
Nominations announced: January 8th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 14th 2016

Directors' Guild Of America (DGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 12th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 6th 2016

Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
Nominations announced: January 13th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 27th 2016

Academy Awards (Oscars)
Nominations announced: January 14th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 28th 2016 (hosted by Chris Rock)


So, in the immortal words of Bette Davis in All About Eve...


Tez