Archive for January, 2016

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.

IMG_2264Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

***1/2 (out of five)

Extremely respectful to the vision of Charles M. Schulz, The Peanuts Movie will probably seem like some ancient text to modern kids. But their parents can wallow in nostalgic metaphysical ennui (as the strip always seemed to encourage); even the music of the fifty-year-old television specials is used. There’s a plot – The Little Red-Haired Girl arrives in town and Charlie Brown tries to impress her – but the whole thing is way more existential than that. Just like the strip. The film is the first, and supposedly only to be ever, endorsed by Schulz’s son Craig who administers the intellectual property empire: there will be, according to Craig, no sequel (and Craig and his son Bryan wrote the screenplay here). There doesn’t need to be. Schulz’s genius will live in B&W 2D forever, and this charming film will simply stand as the very worthy homage to it, without being particularly brilliant in its own right. That said, there’s no way I won’t be buying it for my own kid. What other films for children teach in an hour – about life, the universe and everything – Schulz could teach in a line, and this film reflects that. It’s undeniably about decency, goodness, and love. And Snoopy.

image(“Roadshow” 70mm Version)

**** (out of five)

Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature film is his sixth best. I know this is cool by him because when I interviewed him (link below) he asked me whether I had a favorite film of his, when I told him I had a list he asked to hear it, and when I read it out he proclaimed it a pretty good list. Considering the interview was to promote The Hateful Eight, and considering he stated in the interview that he thinks it’s, at least, his best script, there was no inherent disagreement.

Tarantino is my favorite living filmmaker and those films I consider seven and eight on his list of eight – Jackie Brown and Deathproof – are still very much four-star films. He has yet to make a bad film and I’m not sure he could, unless he drunk some sort of Kool Aid involving both his own publicity and a serious addiction to a seriously damaging chemical. I think he’s aware enough of his own place in cinema history, and in love enough with his art, for neither to be serious risks. He knows he’s bloody good, and he’s determined to continue being nothing other than bloody good.

The Hateful Eight, then, is an excellent film, but it’s down the list due to its lack of rigor compared to those five films that sit atop it. Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill are all tight as drums, even as some of them have pretty long running times. The Hateful Eight is a little loose. It is even, I hate to say, a little “self-indulgent”. It’s clear that Tarantino is having an enormous amount of fun working on his favorite of his own scripts with a clearly beloved ensemble, most of whom have worked with him before (being Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern and James Parks) and the rest of whom – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, and a few others whom I won’t name in order not to spoil the fun – clearly and excitedly get the scene and chew right into it.

Leaving Cool Hit Men well behind, Tarantino has moved into a more serious phase, in which he’s tackling big questions about how race and, to a lesser degree, gender has shaped the history of the USA. Following directly on from Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight tackles America’s past (and, by implication, present) bigotry head-on. Set a few years after the end of the American Civil War, Tarantino’s characters here are on either side of that conflict, winners and losers, trapped together in a blizzard-bound wooden cabin in the Colorado woods… and one of them is black. And some of the war’s losers don’t like black people at all.

Samuel L. Jackson, of course, plays that black man, and his performance here is towering and insane, perverse and menacing, a monumental portrait of all that is contradictory in the Tarantino-verse. Jackson has always been brilliant – and brilliantly funny – in his films with Tarantino, and when his obituary is written that will be the collaboration of note. Jackson is Klaus Kinski to Tarantino’s Herzog. He does Tarantino better than anyone and Tarantino writes his best material for him. They are more than the sum of their parts; when working together they are one of the great cinematic director / actor collaborations of history.

Like many (but not all) a Tarantino film, though, there is no definite protagonist here, and while Jackson’s role is the best (and the biggest), the others each shine in specific ways. Madsen, who may not be a fully functioning adult in the real world, doesn’t so much act as lumberingly embody his shifty memoir-writing cowboy; it’s one of the smallest parts in terms of lines but Madsen takes up a lot of space in all the right ways. Kurt Russell goes to town as a bounty hunter whose latest catch initiates the plot’s shenanigans; the clever trick of the writing for him, and his portrayal, is that he seems very charming and fun while actually being disgusting and vile. Leigh is quite brilliant as Russell’s catch; she’s nominated for an Oscar and I have a feeling she’s going to win. And Goggins – well, Walton Goggins basically seems to have been put on this earth to be in this film. He may not be the technically brilliant actor that Jackson and Russell are, but boy, he belongs in the room.

Dern and Roth are less confident, but certainly effective enough. Bichir – not known for comedy as far as I know – is funny as hell, and Parks, often hidden under mountains of clothing (as they all are) is just right, as he always is. It’s all a bit Reservoir Dogs meets Agatha Christie (I doubt I’m the first to write that) and also has echoes of the farmhouse scene and the cellar scene from Inglorious Basterds. But, as usual for Tarantino, it’s its own thing: a highly original piece of work. This time, if he’s aping anyone, it’s himself.

I saw the “Roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight, which is actually screened on actual 70mm film. It includes an orchestral overture and an intermission, which comes in handy since the film is a touch over three hours long; there is also about five or so minutes of (non-essential) additional footage. I have to say that I had reservations about the Roadshow release – it felt like true self-indulgence to me – but I was completely won over: it had charm. There was a souvenir program which I have perused way more than I thought I would; the intermission featured dialogue and music that I’d already heard and was pleased to hear again (as I perused that classy program); the timing of the intermission had its own punctuational effect on the story; and, there is no doubt, the look and feel of the 70mm was something special. If you can catch the Roadshow release, do. Regardless, see the film. It’s quite bonkers, it’s funny, it’s violent, it tackles race and America and race in America, it’s long and spectacularly acted and unique. It’s Tarantino. There’s no doubt, for one second, it’s Tarantino. With a score by Ennio Morricone – the first score he’s done for a Western in forty years. How can you say no to that?

You can listen to my interview with Mr. Tarantino from the 19th of January by looking for my show Movieland on iTunes: Quentin on Movieland

An Instant Response to the Oscar Nominations: (NB not having yet seen THE REVENANT)

BEST PICTURE:

All good nominees. FURY ROAD should win. ROOM and BROOKLYN are the great surprises. I would easily give the award to ROOM in a year FURY ROAD didn’t exist. But these are all very, very good films. Will win? FURY ROAD or THE REVENANT. Weird omission: CAROL.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Should win and will win: George Miller. Come on.

ACTOR LEAD:

It’s shocking Paul Dano isn’t here for LOVE AND MERCY. It feels like it’s gonna go to Leo.

ACTRESS LEAD:

I’d now say it’s definitely Brie Larson for ROOM – should and will.

ACTOR SUPPORT:

Again, this should be Paul Dano. I guess it will go to Mark Ruffalo. Maybe Sylvester Stallone.

ACTRESS SUPPORT:

Jennifer Jason Leigh. Done.

ANIMATED FEATURE:

INSIDE OUT or ANOMALISA? I wouldn’t lay a dollar here.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

C’mon. CAROL.

COSTUME DESIGN:

C’mon. Jenny Beavan, FURY ROAD.

DOC FEATURE:

Not everyone loves AMY. How about THE LOOK OF SILENCE?

EDITING:

C’mon: Margaret Sixel, FURY ROAD.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE:

SON OF SAUL, natch.

HAIR AND MAKE UP:

C’mon, Lesley Vanderwalt, FURY ROAD. But possibly THE REVENANT.

PRODUCTION DESIGN:

Obviously Colin Gibson, FURY ROAD

SOUND MIXING, VFX, SOUND FXL:

FURY ROAD

WRITING (ADAPTED):

The hardest of all – is it CAROL or THE BIG SHORT? I think it will be CAROL.

WRITING (ORIGINAL):

It’ll be SPOTLIGHT or INSIDE OUT.

 

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

Assured, brash, loud and very, very funny, The Big Short makes thrilling entertainment out of indescribably complicated financial shenanigans using any means necessary – such as offering up Margot Robbie in a bubble-bath, by having a voice-over announce chirpily, “To explain it to you, here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.”

It’s that kind of irreverence that keeps this story of louts in suits powering ahead. Despite being loaded with lingo, drenched in jargon, it’s the most energetic movie outside of Fury Road this year. The cast, of course, help: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater and particularly theatre luminary Jeremy Strong all know how to serve dialogue straight and hard towards the base line. The voice-over comes from Jared Vennett, played by Ryan Gosling, himself no slouch in the machine-gun delivery department, and Brad Pitt takes a small but luxuriant role as a billionaire with a green streak. They’re all excellent.

Most impressively, director Adam McKay juggles our sympathies as well as he does the machinations of the convoluted (true) story. These guys are all essentially jerks but they’re juxtaposed against (mainly unseen) much bigger jerks, emerging as (dubiously) loveable underdogs. Michael Lewis wrote the book on which McKay and Charles Randolph’s zippy screenplay is based; he was the guy who wrote Moneyball, which was turned into a film that tonally echoes this one. Just like you didn’t need to know your fastball from your highball to enjoy that terrific film, so too The Big Short lets you in even if you can’t tell your Collateralised Debt Obligations from your Credit Default Swaps. Don’t miss it.

imageOpens in Australia on Jan 28 2016

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

Brie Larson has just won the Golden Globe for her lead performance in Room, an audacious and inspiring film, a coherent, complex and confident blend of arthouse experimentalism, mainstream thriller and serious drama. It’s one of the best films, easily, of this “Awards Season”.

Larson and Jacob Tremblay play a mother and her son living in extreme circumstances – they are confined to a small area (their “room”) in which they are obviously imprisoned. Occasionally, “Ma” is visited by a man they call “Old Nick.” When Jack, the son, turns five, Ma figures it’s time he found out the truth about the nature of “room”.

By turns arthouse experiment, tense thriller and family drama, and enormously moving, Room has a cumulative power. Inspired by a rash of lurid and horrendous crimes in the US and Europe (particularly a famous case in Austria), Room avoids tabloid sensationalism completely and seeks to explore its tremendously challenging subject with honesty. Although author Emma Donoghue, working off her own novel, has never spoken to any of the women who inspired Larson’s character, she has done her research, and is obviously committed to serious contemplation of trauma and its effect. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (the film is an Irish / Canadian co-production, and Donoghue is an Irish woman living in Canada) shoots the script with reverence and invention. The first half is haunting, the thrilling bits are tense as hell, and the drama reaches sensitively into difficult spaces. An excellent, excellent film. Be advised: it may be too much for some sensitive viewers or survivors of trauma.