45years-ps-2*** (out of five)

Andrew Haigh’s third feature follows his second, Weekend (2011) in depicting an intimate portrait of two people in a relationship. In Weekend, that relationship was just beginning; here, it’s deep – forty-five years deep. That’s the anniversary looming at the end of the week for Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtney) and Kate’s planning a big party with all their friends. But at the beginning of the week, Geoff receives a letter (in the post!) that upsets the marriage’s careful balance, and causes Kate to question… well, pretty much everything.

Like in Weekend, Haigh favours a super-realist style, rarely using music, keeping his camera calm and mainly in close-up on Kate, whose story this most definitely is (there are scenes where, although talking, Geoff isn’t actually seen on camera). How much you feel pulled into her dilemma relies in large part on how much you can take away from Rampling’s silent, thoughtful gaze, as she goes about her week, increasingly distressed, but dealing with it in the way of the mature, tasteful English woman.

I started losing patience with it. After the umpteenth lingering shot of Rampling’s silent face, I was thinking, “Come on, cut already.” I found Weekend similarly indulgent. Rampling is extremely good in the role (and nominated for an Oscar) but her silent visage is just required to bear too much dramatic weight; the film is based on a short story, and I can imagine it working best in that format.

Courtney is also excellent, and the setting – the foggy, canal-strewn countryside of Norfolk, with occasional forays into the town of Norwich – is interesting and used well (if, like Rampling’s face, a little too much). The film definitely has intriguing things to say about all sorts of big things: ageing, marriage, being British; indeed, ageing in a British marriage. The couple live in an old-fashioned way that will shock the digi-generation, spending their nights listening to classical music with books and a digestif. I think at least one of them would have a computer – and the internet, which would alter the story significantly – but their world, and the film, is closed, chilly, and rooted in the past.

Opens Feb 18 in Australia.

Now that I’ve seen all eight nominees for this year’s Best Picture, here’s my ranked list, from favorite to least favorite. Bear in mind, they’re all very good this year.

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Big Short
Room
Spotlight
Brooklyn
The Martian
Bridge of Spies
The Revenant

Your comments most welcome.

11201971_ori****1/2 (out of five)

Romantic, moving, embracing and thoroughly old-fashioned, Brooklyn is a gorgeous film centred by a major performance by Saoirse Ronan, who is making no mistakes in fulfilling the promise she showed when she received her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for Atonement, in 2007, when she was thirteen years old.

Now she’s nominated for Best Actress for Brooklyn, and, were Brie Larson not the favourite for Room, it would have to be Ronan’s to lose. She carries this terrific picture, appearing in almost every scene, and at times director John Crowley simply frames her face in full close-up, in silent contemplation, and lets her eyes – and, thus, her inner life – let you know everything you need.

Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced Aylish), a young woman for whom there seem to be no job prospects in her native Ireland. A priest in America sponsors her to travel there, and she takes a passage to Brooklyn, where she learns to overcome homesickness, learn a profession, and open up her heart to a young man (an amazing turn by Emory Cohen).

There are other performers in the film – Julie Walters is wonderful, just wonderful, as the head of a small boarding house for young women in which Eilis lives, and so-hot-right-not Domhnall Gleeson gives a subtle and dignified performance – but I cannot over-emphasize the degree to which Ronan bears the weight of this fine movie and is primarily responsible for its success. Just as Crowley, in every way, unashamedly uses the romantic filmmaking language of the fifties, so too does his movie embrace its own nature as an old-school “star vehicle”. It lives or dies on Ronan’s performance, and it definitely lives, with energy and beauty and grace. Nick Hornby has done a brilliant job of adapting Colm Tóibín’s novel, and all the art departments have done a sterling job in actualising an Ireland and Brooklyn of the 1950s but also of the romantic mind. A stunner.

steve-jobs-movie-poster-800px-800x1259*** (out of five)

I don’t know this for a fact, but Michael Fassbender may say more dialogue in Steve Jobs than any actor in any feature film in history. He never stops talking and he’s in every scene. Compare this to his Oscar competitor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who spends The Revenant grunting, spitting, huffing, crying, moaning and groaning, but rarely says a word. Comparing them as performances is a little like comparing the chicken and the ibis – they’re both birds, but…

Fassbender plays (very well) a Steve Jobs of the mind – specifically of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s mind. Jobs walks and talks, continually joined and left by a succession of people important to him, as he prepares for three product launches (I won’t mention which ones as they’re kind of fun surprises if you’re a big nerd). If you’re familiar with The West Wing the style will be very apparent. Almost all of these interactions are dialogues, so you’ve got Fassbender with Kate Winslet as his longstanding and fiercely loyal marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, Fassbender with Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, Fassbender with Katherine Waterston as an ex-girlfriend and three actresses playing his daughter Lisa over the years, and, most excitingly, Fassbender and Seth Rogan playing (very well) Steve Wozniak.

If you don’t know who Wozniak is there’s probably no enjoyment for you in this film, and, indeed, the biggest strike against it is that it doesn’t have any compelling reason to exist. Jobs was adequately covered on the big screen in Jobs (2013) and this film doesn’t add anything new to the conversation other than to make Jobs look like a big dick. Sorkin’s writing is often self-conscious and Danny Boyle’s direction often lapses into melodrama and over-simplification; at times both artists, great when at their best, seem to be working off bullet points. The project nearly died many times over when directors (such as David Fincher) and actors (such as Leonardo DiCaprio) walked away (see The Sony hacks for all the details) and it feels like it was only actually kept alive – and made – to assuage Sorkin’s ego. It has very little mass appeal and will probably be remembered as a curiosity and little more. Jobsians will be disgusted at what is, pretty much, a straightforward character assassination and non-techheads could easily become bored.

But Fassbender is electrifying and pulls you through if you’re interested at all in technology, the Apple computer story myth, or the history of the personal computer. He makes this role look easy – and, trust me, it was the hardest gig of its year. Sorry, Leo, that’s the truth.

maxresdefault**** (out of five)

These days I stay until the end of the credits, not because I want to see if a Marvel movie throws me a bone, but because often end credits give you intriguing insights into a film’s production, from acknowledging tax credits (so that’s why so-and-so was shot in the Isle of Man) to revealing how many stunt people were involved (Mad Max: Fury Road many many; something CGI-heavy like a Marvel movie, less than you’d expect).

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s remarkable animated feature Anamolisa’s end credits reveal that the film is indeed the work of old-school “puppeteers” (stop-motion animators) rather than computer whizzes; they also reveal thousands of thanked patrons who contributed to the film’s production via Kickstarter, which answered my question, “Wow, how in the world did this get made?”

That’s the question because the film is so personal, so unique and so blatantly non-commercial that I can’t imagine anyone who has ever heard the term “bottom line” giving it a dollar. Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Synecdoche New York) maintains a resolutely independent stance, telling the stories he damn well wants to tell, and good on the Kickstarters for letting him.

So Anamolisa won’t be for everyone. It’s certainly not for children, despite being animated. It’s the story of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a business author and English expat living in Los Angeles who goes to Cincinnati to deliver a talk. Michael is suffering from some sort of psychological malfunction (he could indeed have the full-blown Fregoli Delusion – google it if you want to go into the film a little armed, don’t if you want to go in cold) and may be in the mood to disrupt, add to or at least spice up his unexpectedly structured life, if just for a night. We’re privvy to that night, set mainly in Michael’s upscale, rather characterless hotel.

While the film has an even and perhaps slow pace, it skips from incident to incident so precisely that I was hanging on each of its movements as though it were an action thriller (and it is so not an action thriller), desperate to see what happened next. Kaufman’s script may be some sort of wonderwork, and the voice performances by Thewlis, Tom Noonan and Jennifer Jason Leigh are perfect and extremely moving. This is a very niche film that may totally entrance the right audience. I keep thinking about it – it got inside me and it’s sticking around. Definitely worth trying if you want something original.

be240428821047.55d3fa67d63ca**** (out of five)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s follow-up to his Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman is a visually extraordinary while being dour, bleak, slow at times, and not really about very much. Essentially, it’s a big fat art house western, with an incredibly simple storyline. It is almost entirely a visual picture, but the visuals are goddamn amazing.

They’re shot in Canada mostly, Montana a little, and Argentina for the final sequence, by Emmanuel Lubezki, who will make Oscar history when he wins his third consecutive gong for Best Cinematography. He frames these majestic, awe-inspiring landscapes impeccably – breathtakingly – but he also uses handheld and Steadicam in revolutionary ways. Faces are boldly proportioned, filling half the huge frame (he used a large-format digital camera with tight lenses, from 12-21mm); points of view shift from objective to subjective mid-shot; and, although nothing like those in Birdman, there are some pretty wild long takes. And he shot the whole thing in natural light, and almost entirely in “magic hour”, the hour and a half before sunset (the cast and crew would rehearse all day and then shoot like crazy in the late afternoon). Ultimately, the film stands as a monument to both classical and radical cinematography, and Lubezki is a genius of his craft.

Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio play Fitzgerald and Glass, two fur trappers working for a company represented by Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When Glass is injured (wait’ll you see how he gets injured!) his incapacitation poses a problem for the group, and the resolution of this quandary sets the stage for a story of survival and revenge.

Hardy, who has had one hell of a year, with this, Fury Road, and his astonishing turn as twins in Legend, is fantastic, echoing Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, Wrath of God. Gleeson is also excellent – the best I’ve seen him. Weirdly, DiCaprio, who is considered a shoo-in to win the Best Actor Oscar, is the least engaging. His Glass grunts and shuffles and moans and crawls and bleeds and whimpers and shudders a lot, but he barely speaks, and when he does it’s in a coarse, unengaging whisper. He’s a bit of a cypher in the centre of more interesting stuff. The amount of suffering he’s put through is almost comical at times in its relentlessness – just when you think he’s doing okay, into the rapids he goes! He’s also lumbered with visions and flashbacks involving native Americans that I simply didn’t buy. I’m one of those people who still find his boyish looks distracting, and here, a major plot element is that he’s the father of a teenage son, which didn’t gel for me.

Mad Max: Fury Road is still the more audacious, entertaining and simply brilliant film in this year’s Oscar race, but there’s no denying The Revenant’s boldness. If it had been a little tighter – and perhaps had a bit more dramatic weight to go along with its visual virtuosity – it could have been a classic.

Spotlight

Posted: January 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

image****1/2 (out of five)

At least I know Boston, because I don’t really know the Catholic Church, and the more entwined you are with the Catholic Church, the more (even more) you’ll appreciate the dilemmas and obstacles involved in Todd McCarthy’s quite brilliant telling of the year the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team – a small, deliberately isolated, independent feature team of journalists who could pretty much take as long as they wanted to research and write a story (WOW!) – published details of The Church’s vile shenanigans that opened the way to greater public understanding of centuries of top-down acceptance of peadophilic abuse by its priests.

There’s a moment in this deliberately procedurally-focused film where the Spotlight team acknowledge that they were all at least “raised” Catholic. That’s why the film’s impact will hit closest to home for Boston Catholics – this is a “City Film”, and if it had been called Boston, we would all have been fine with that.

Part of the brilliance of Todd McCarthy’s film is that, even if you come from Timbuktu, you can at least “get it”, although I imagine that the billion or so people whose entire faith will be shattered will have the strongest experience. The fact that this has been going on for years isn’t news to us science folks, and it’s not really news to Catholics either. The film isn’t an exposé; it’s a “workplace” flick, brilliantly acted, and, if you’re a smart adult, I can’t imagine you won’t be completely engrossed by it. It’s excellent. There is only one problem, and it’s a very hard one to solve: actor John Slattery seems to be cursed by a unique actor’s gift: he cannot not be funny, and he’s not really meant to be funny talking about priests diddling small boys. He’s miscast, which is a shame. Everyone else is exceptional, although why Rachel McAdams is nominated for an Academy Award for a “listening attentively” role is a little baffling.