Jim Flanagan and I dissect the crazy 2017 Oscars here on WATCH THIS:

http://players.brightcove.net/4907834187001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5342650882001

Comments welcome! As of this writing, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz have been taken off the Oscars account and will not be present next year (duh!) Neither seem likely to be fired and the Academy seems unlikely to cut ties with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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***1/2 (out of five)

Jasper Jones – coadapted for the screen by Craig Silvey from his own bestselling 2010 novel, and directed by Rachel Perkins – combines many familiar elements of Australian cinema in a fresh and thrilling way. It’s completely engrossing, surprising and moving, and obviously made with great care and love.

Charlie – played by Levi Miller, who’s already played Peter Pan in 2014’s Pan – is a bookish, erudite young teenager living in a small town in Western Australia in 1969. One night, another young fellow, the mysterious Indigenous Jasper Jones, knocks on his window and beckons him to follow him into the woods, where he shows him – and us – something startling. From this truly gripping opening, the story expands and deepens, becoming a coming-of-age tale, a mystery, a period drama of small-town Australian life, a romance, and an examination of race. It’s got a truly dark edge, but is also laced with truthful humour.

9781741757743Miller is astonishing. What an actor, and all of fourteen years old! He seems perfect for Charlie, and can convey, in a silent reaction shot, a roiling emotional depth. I was quite floored by his performance. As the girl he (sort of) has his sights on, Eliza, Angourie Rice is also excellent. She was the daughter in last year’s The Good Guys, so she and Miller both already have big-studio on-set experience. This is not the case at all for Kevin Long – playing Charlie’s best friend – who was discovered by the casting director at his martial arts school and has never acted before. His amateurism is, unfortunately, quite apparent next to these two young professionals, but it oddly works for his character, a quirky, optimistic, enthusiastic oddball. Aaron McGrath plays Jasper with both gravitas and mystery. It’s a tough role because Jasper is metaphorically laden down – he’s the title character, for example, despite not being the protagonist – but McGrath keeps it simple and lets what other characters say about him deal with the film’s heaviest thematic lifting.

Toni Collette really stands out among the adults as Charlie’s mum Ruth. Collette is a smart actor and can identify roles with hidden depths, and Ruth is a cracker – complicated, sexual, combustible, compassionate, fierce and funny. Collette brings out her every dimension, nailing every moment, every line, every look. I imagine her copy of the novel, sitting on her chair on set, dog-eared, cracked at the bind, and covered on every page with scrawled, handwritten notes. In a small but vital role, Hugo Weaving is also compelling.

The immense popularity of the novel will definitely help sell this excellent film – it’s also on most Australian school syllabi – but the marketing will otherwise be tricky. On its surface, the film appears to be a straight-forward coming-of-age period piece. It’s so much more than that, but to reveal anything else immediately begins to undermine the movie’s secrets. Go discover them for yourself – they’re worth it.

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****1/2

Talk about getting the band back together! T2 Trainspotting (the title, according to director Danny Boyle, evolved out of speculation about what the characters themselves would want the film to be called) is a thoroughly justifiable “late” sequel that honours the original impeccably. I got way more than I was expecting; indeed, half a day later, I’m still floored.

It’s as though Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle have been getting together, in character, in Edinburgh, once a month since the original, ground-breaking Trainspotting, or that their characters Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie have simply been alive since then, so true, consistent, authentic and well-conceived are these twenty-year later performances. Like in real life, these people have changed, but they’ve also stayed the same.

The plot isn’t particularly important, but involves the four re-convening in Edinburgh around Sick Boy’s lonely and unprofitable pub which he inherited from an auntie. None of them are happy with what Renton (McGregor) did two decades ago, but Begbie (Carlyle) is particularly pissed off.

The film is hysterically funny. A set-piece about halfway through, involving a bit of robbery, is a masterpiece of building, rolling, cascading comic storytelling, combining visual, aural, narrative, meta, scenic, verbal, physical and intellectual gags told with absolute precision. Doyle has lost none – not a single jot – of his wild stylistic imagination, deploying dreamscapes, visual metaphors, unbelievably perfect snatches of song, different stocks and grains, miniature cameras, human-scale VFX and plenty of footage from the original film to tie them together perfectly, in tone, structure, style and feel. Trainspotting inspired a million imitators, but there has never been a film that captured its unique energy… until this one.

It feels wrong – cheap – to call T2 a sequel. It is a fully realised, artfully motivated catch-up with beloved characters from one of the undeniable classics of cinema. You’ll need to have seen the original to make sense of this one, and to love it immediately, as I did. It may sound grandiloquent, but it is Doyle, McGregor, Bremner and Carlyle’s best work for… twenty years.

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With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our skipi.tv reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:

TONI ERDMANN:

http://www.skipi.tv/toni/

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:

http://www.skipi.tv/mbts/

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:

http://www.skipi.tv/cptftstc/

JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/jackie/

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/hohwr17/

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/lllr/

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

http://www.skipi.tv/wtep10/

Oscar Preview 2017

Posted: February 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Instead of a written assessment of this year’s nominations, check out my Oscar Preview and Predictions on SKIPI TV!

Your comments always welcome.

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**** (out of five)

You’d need to have a cold stone heart – or, I suppose, prejudicially racialist views – to dislike Hidden Figures, the true story of black women working as “computers” at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful, rather incredible story, full of triumphant moments and performed by a perfect cast.

Yes, these highly talented mathematicians were called “computers” – before we called machines computers – because they made computations, in the same way accountants account and actors act. Not all of the details of the story are this revealingly accurate – the white characters, for example, are all composites of real people – but the astounding and goosebump-inducing achievements made by the three central characters are all historically cOrr ect and profoundly inspiring.

Empire’s Taraji P. Henson plays the central character, Katherine G. Johnson, a bona-fide math prodigy-genius who rose to essential prominence during the “space race” and beyond. She’s terrific, and more than ably supported by Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, both of whom also delivered major damage to ceilings for black people and women within this bastion of astronomical ambition.

Theodore Melfi directs unobtrusively, letting the story and performers shine, but admirably restrains from underlining, and thus undermining, the story’s Big Moments. Like its fellow nominee for Best Picture at the Oscars, Lion, this is the tasteful version of a story that could have been ruined by a heavy hand, a bombastic score or too many studio notes. The true story is monumental enough.

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Luke Treadaway as James Bowen, with Bob as Bob.

***1/2 (out of five)

Okay, this is what happened: James Bowen, a young Englishman from a broken home who had spent part of his youth in Australia, found himself in the serious predicament of living on the streets of London with only a guitar and a heroin habit. He busked for chump change and half-eaten Pret A Manger sandwiches and searched for dry ground at night. He tried multiple times to kick the habit by enrolling in a state-sponsored methadone program, each time relapsing.

During his last chance with the program, when he was showing more determination, staying off the gear and sticking with the methadone, his case-worker took a little pity on him and arranged for him to occupy an unused council flat. While there, he met a beautiful, free-spirited girl and a stray ginger cat. The girl, based purely on a vibe, named the cat Bob.

Caring for Bob gave James a purpose, and in order to fulfil it, he learned to care for himself – a little. He hung on tight to getting clean, but was still shambolic in life, ruining small opportunities. But Bob the Street Cat was the endless purveyor of luck – spoiler alert – and, through the simple act of looking cute on James’ shoulders as he busked or sold copies of The Big Issue, attracted cash, a newspaper story, a book deal, and now this rather excellent movie. Needless to say, James is no longer living on the streets.

But if that’s not enough, here’s the kicker: Bob plays himself in the movie (and extremely well).

Luke Treadaway is very good too, as are Ruta Gedmintas (who starred opposite Treadaway in You Instead (2011)) and Joanne Froggatt as his sympathetic case-worker. Indeed, all the supporting actors are strong, although much of the screen time is simply Treadaway and Bob. Prolific journeyman director Roger Spottiswoode seems to have found new spark in his seventies, keeping the vibe gritty and authentic, which is in itself remarkable for a film about a young man and a cat. He doesn’t shy away from needles, dealers, and the effects of addiction, and Treadaway – reflecting what I understand of the real Bowen – never looks quite clean, even when he’s clean. The film also offers what feels like an authentic glimpse into the lives of the “aspirational homeless”, including fascinating scenes inside the London Big Issue office that gave me massive respect for that magazine and all who work for it. Obviously not a movie for young kids, A Street Cat Named Bob is tough and tender, and a massive, welcome February surprise. I loved it.

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James Bowen with Bob.