Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Review (In Theatres)

                                                                                                                                   4 1/2 stars

     Let me start by saying that I have never been a big fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise.  When I first heard about this film's impending release, my initial reaction was "Another one?".  My second reaction was to yawn.  I truly had no intention to see it.
     Then I saw the first trailer.  It looked far more interesting than I had expected.  Hell, it looked good.  The critical response followed suit, as did the box office.  Next thing you know, I found myself on the way to the theater to see it.  I am so, SO glad that I did.
     So much great science fiction centers around humanity's quest to improve their lives through technology, consequently causing their own downfall.  This movie flips that template on end.  Mankind's destruction at its own hands serves as a backdrop to this story, but this tale is not really ABOUT mankind.  It is about the apes, and it is especially about Caesar.
     Much has been said in the media about Andy Serkis's performance.  Be prepared... I'm about to say more.  We all know how well Serkis does this kind of work (motion capture) from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  His work as Gollum was outstanding, but nothing compared to his performance here.  When  Caesar is a child, his reactions are simplistic, almost like a normal chimpanzee.  Awe, wonder, terror, all those overblown childhood expressions that never look as comfortable on the faces of adults, are captured brilliantly.  The real challenge, though, comes as Caesar ages.  Serkis is given the daunting task of conveying all the complex inner workings of a well developed leading role through facial expression alone and does it so well that the audience never thinks of him as an animal, or monster.  In this award worthy turn, Serkis makes Caesar more human than the humans.
     Which bothered me, if I'm being honest, as I watched the film.  Most of the human cast is fairly two-dimensional by comparison to their simian counterparts.  Of course, this is totally by design, and becomes essential to the film's thematic development, as we'll discuss later.  Still, the limited demands of playing Will Redman seemed to be a waste of James Franco's considerable talents.  Only John Lithgowe, as Will's dementia ridden father Charles, is given any sort of emotional range to work in.
     Writers Jaffa and Silver do an excellent job of crafting a very creative prequel to a well known series.  One can easily see how the events in this film could unfold over centuries to create the world of The Planet of the Apes.Yet, this is still a perfect insertion point for new fans, whole in and of itself, with a needfully modernized tone and pacing.  For returning fans, there are a few subtle tips of the hat to the original.  Caesar's  mother is named "Bright Eyes" just as Charlton Heston's character was dubbed by his ape captors.  There is another moment that repeats a line from the first film in a similarly flipped allusion.  I would say more, but it would be far too much of a spoiler.
     The special effects work here is tremendous.  Much of the film, including some complex action sequences near the end, is completely reliant upon a perfect marriage of motion capture, original CGI, and live action footage.  I've never seen these elements integrated more intricately or seamlessly.  This film should be a formidable competitor in this year's Visual Effects race, as well as in one or both of the sound categories.
     Ultimately, this film is a commentary on the dehumanizing effects of living in modern society.  Will's boss Steven Jacobs (as played by David Oyelowo) is a monstrous soldier of capitalism.  Will and his love interest Caroline (Frieda Pinto) are more sympathetic in their intentions, but are still so emotionally flat that I can only believe that actors of this caliber and emotional range made a conscious choice to portray them that way.
     Tyler Labine evinces a little more depth as animal psychology expert Robert Franklin, but this could easily be due to his immersion in the psyches of more natural, primal beings.  His limited immunity to the heart deadening conventions of civilization does not ultimately protect him, however, as he becomes the first victim when humanity's self destruction kicks into high gear.
     As I said before, Will's father Charles is easily the most fully realized human character in the movie.  His Alzheimer's is the inspiration for his son's research and therefore the source of Caesar's evolution.  It also removes him from caring for, or understanding of, modern society's conventions.  This returns him to a more human (albeit confused) way of viewing and relating to the world around him.
     It is in Caesar, however, that we see the spark of true humanity.  Jacobs goes in guns blazing to defend his profits.  Caesar shows compassion to his enemies, time and again.  He compels his "people" to behave in the same manner, even when faced with aggression and brute violence.  Civilization is shown to be the "new barbarism".
     On the surface, Rise of the Planet of the Apes appears to be a pointless relaunch of a tired franchise.  On the contrary, it quickly reveals itself to be a full re-imagination of a classic concept, an allegory for a new age. It certainly pays homage to, and builds off of what has come before, but it emerges fully realized as a relevant, poignant portrait of today's modern world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Best Screenplay Nominations - Aug...oh hell, September

     Ok, so I have been REALLY slack the last few days about finishing out my first round predictions in the top eight categories.  These totals are a little behind, and do not reflect the reviews coming out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals.  Let's say that The Descendants and The Artist should probably be considered to have received a surge of buzz since I drafted these charts and leave it at that.  Oh, and Shame.  We'll get to all of that, though, in October.
     The screenplay nominations in both categories are usually filled by Best Picture nominees and near miss Best Picture nominees.  In a field with ten slots for Best Picture, eight or nine of them would have corresponding screenplay nods.  Last year, Black Swan was the surprise omission.  The year before, it was far less surprising to see both Avatar and The Blind Side left out.  "Unobtanium" indeed, Cameron should have just called it "Fossilfuelitate" and been done with it.
     The writer's branch occasionally throws a curve ball nomination to a film kept out of Best Picture's nearer orbits by its genre.  Highly acclaimed comedies (Bridesmaids?), horror films, sci-fi flicks, and animated features all have a better shot at screenplay than they do at best picture.  The most recent surprise of this sort was dark comedy In The Loop at the 82nd Oscars.
     On a final note, no matter how original of a story it tells, any film that utilizes characters already established in a previous film or other media (i.e. sequels), is automatically considered an Adapted Screenplay candidate.
     Anyway, let's start with the Originals:

  1.  Midnight In Paris - Woody Allen (59)     (2 wins out of 14 nominations in writing categories)
Best Picture prospects look better all the time and this would be this year's most likely spoiler in any event.  Then again...I don't have a then again, it might not WIN, but...
  2. J. Edgar - Dustin Lance Black (57)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
True life story of a controversial figure that seems right in Black's wheelhouse.  Then again...might the generation gap between he and Eastwood make for an incongruous pairing?
  3.  The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick (42)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination in writing categories)
Aging, iconic writer/director.  Then again...allegations have been made that the film doesn't utilize the script well.
  4.  Young Adult - Diablo Cody (40)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
First project to reunite Cody with Juno collaborator Reitman.  Then again...high expectations are easy to fall short of.
  5.  Like Crazy - Drake Doremus & Ben York Jones (31)  (both never nominated)
Highly acclaimed on the festival circuit, this film could easily slip in here even if nowhere else.  Then again...relatively unknown writing/directing team may hurt its chances.

  6.  The Artist - Michael Hazanavicius (30)     (never nominated)
If this film performs as well in the Best Picture race as many are expecting, look for it here as well.  Then again...will the lack of dialogue hurt its chances with a branch so reliant on spoken words?
  7.  Contagion - Scott Z. Burns (26)     (never nominated)
If this film really transcends mere disaster flick status, it MUST start with the script.  Then again...that's a big if.
  8.  The Iron Lady - Abi Morgan (21)     (never nominated)
Abi Morgan does have two horses in the race this year.  Fans of Shame who think it is too dark to stand a chance could easily throw her support here. could split the vote among her supporters.
  9. Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - Sean Durkin (19)    (never nominated)
The film (including the storyline) earned high praise at Sundance.  Then could be a little edgy for the more conservative members of AMPAS.
  10.  Super 8 - J.J. Abrams (15)
The film was an early year favorite for wide recognition.  Then has faded considerably due to lackluster critical response.
  Also with ten or more points:  Beginners - Mike Mills, Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo, Rampart - James Elroy & Oren Moverman, Shame - Abi Morgen & Steve McQueen, Take Shelter - Jeff Nichols, Take This Waltz - Sarah Polley

     Midnight in Paris is a lock.  J. Edgar will be as well if it doesn't flop.  The rest of the top five seem iffier at this point.  Expect The Artist to uproot something shortly.  If Martha, etc. or Take Shelter end up garnering serious attention in other races, nominations here seem like serious possibilities.
     And now...the adaptations:

  1.  The Ides of March - George Clooney & Grant Heslov (50)     (0 for 1 and 0 for 2)
Has two big pluses:  Buzz and Clooney.  Then again...of all Clooney's hats, this one is the least celebrated.
  2..War Horse - Lee Hall & Richard Curtis (46)     (both with 0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Perhaps the baitiest film of the season.  Then again...will the script stand up to the film's visual majesty?
  3.  The Descendants - Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash (44)     (1 for 2, never, and never)
Payne is at least as respected for writing as he is for directing.  Then again...even here the film competes with that other Clooney picture.
  4.  A Dangerous Method - Christopher Hampton (36)     (1 win out of 2 nominations)
The two time nominee for Dangerous Liasons and Atonement is certainly no stranger to either the Kodak or the Academy.  Then again...has he already had his due?
  5.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Eric Roth (31)     (1 win out of 4 nominations)
Oscar certainly likes to keep inviting him back.  Then again...Can he capture the essence of the twenty-first century as effectively as he did the twentieth?

  6.  Moneyball - Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian (29)     (1 for 1 and 1 for 3 respectively)
Has not one, but two former winners collaborating.  Then again...Sorkin JUST won and Zaillian is competing against his own work in Dragon Tattoo.
  7. We Bought a Zoo - Aline Brosh McKenna & Cameron Crowe (25)      (never & 1 for 2)
The Academy loves a comeback, this could be Crowe's. could be Elizabethtown.
  8.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Steve Zaillian (24)     (1 win out of 3 nominations)
Strong source material and direction coupled with an accomplished writer.  Then again...has to stand up to both the source material and the original film adaptation.
  9.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Peter Straughan & Bridget O'Conner (19)     (both never nominated)
Early promotionals look great and buzz is slowly building.  Then again...will the film be more flash than substance?
  10.  The Help - Tate Taylor (18)     (never nominated)
Hugely popular film both with critics and the public.  Then again...its popularity is not due primarily to the script.
  Also with ten or more points:  Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close & John Bannville), Carnage (Roman Polanski), Hugo (John Logan), My Week With Marilyn, We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey & Rory Kinnear)

     I don't know what to predict here.  Largely sight unseen, this list looks pretty good.  I do think Tinker is just waiting for something else to fall off, though.  Albert and Kevin seem like potential spoilers.

                          Watching hungrily for flies in the ointment,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Best Supporting Actress Predictions - August(like)

     This category is even more difficult to nail down than Best Supporting Actor.  The reason for this is that so many of the largest female roles in movies are still limited enough in screen time that they often land here rather than in Lead.  Category confusion confounds all the acting categories, but nowhere more so than here.
     That said, as of today (okay, two days ago) the buzz looks(ed) like this:

  1. The Help - Viola Davis (61)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
The Academy caught flack for last year's lack of minority nominees, they already respect Davis, and her reviews are great.  It would be in the bag.  Except...she will probably campaign as lead.
  2. Corialanus - Vanessa Redgrave (57)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
74-year-old legend getting rave reviews...oh...and the Weinstiein Co.'s most buzzed about horse in this race.  Then again...The Weinsteins COULD back Riseborough in W.E. instead.
  3. The Help - Octavia Spencer (50)     (never nominated)
Other than the previous nomination she has everything going for her that co-star Davis does.  When Viola goes lead, this becomes a lock.  Then again...there's a VERY small chance that allegations of stereotyping might hurt her campaign.
  4. A Dangerous Method - Keira Knightley (43)     (0 win out of 1 nomination)
Should have a lot of meat to chew for a supporting turn, and Knightley can chew.  Then again...Might she suffer from category confusion?
  5. J. Edgar - Naomi Watts (30)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Many feel she was treated un-Fair-ly last year.  Could this be her consolation?  Then again...if the overall film falls flat, she will be far less likely than Leo to land a nod anyway.

  6. The Tree of Life - Jessica Chastain (29)     (never nominated)
She is easily the most celebrated new actress of 2011 and if she makes wise choices she will be around for a long, long time.  Then again...NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR ACTING IN A TERRENCE MALICK FILM.
  7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Sandra Bullock (25)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
Everybody loves Sandy and if she's great in this it would prove that her serious acting aspirations extend beyond The Blind Side.  Then I the only one who thinks that Bullock and Hanks make an undeniably talented, but potentially cheesy combo?
  8.  The Ides of March - Marissa Tomei (21)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
Oscar loves her, and she rarely disappoints with quality material.  Then again...Will co-star Wood steal her thunder?
  9.  J. Edgar - Judi Dench (21)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
It's Judy Dench.  She can win this award with 90% of a movie's screen time tied behind her back (and has).  Then again...Her co-star Watts seems to have stronger buzz.
  10. War Horse - Emily Watson (17)     (0 out of  2 nominations)
She's been out of the awards game for awhile.  This could be her comeback.  Then know what they say about working with children and/or animals.
  Also, with ten or more points:  Albert Nobbs (Mia Wasikowska), Carnage (Kate Winslet), Drive (Carey Mulligan), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Viola Davis), Hugo (Chloe Moretz), Midnight In Paris (Marion Cotillard), My Week With Marilyn (Judy Dench), Take Shelter (Jessica Chastain), The Descendants (Shailene Woodley), The Help (Jessica Chastain), The Ides of March (Evan Rachel Wood), W.E. (Andrea Riseborough), and...whew...We Bought a Zoo (Scarlet Johanssen)

     Do you see how many possibilities we still have to consider?  All right, pure hunches at this point...I can easily see it coming down to Redgrave and Spencer.  That is making the big assumption that Davis goes lead.  Of course, if Take Shelter gains awards traction, make that Spencer/Redgrave/Chastain.  Knightley also seems like a formidable candidate  Wasikowska, Moretz, Wood, or Mulligan could easily swoop in.  Anything can happen in Supporting Actress.  This time last year, three of the eventual nominees weren't even in my top ten yet.
                                   Hoppin to it,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Best Supporting Actor Predictions - Augustesque

    I am going to try like crazy to get the remaining four categories in the top eight posted in the next day or two as their tallies reflect how things were at the end of August, before The Ides of March screened in Venice, so I won't be mentioning the recent spike in George Clooney's Best Supporting Actor buzz in this article.  Oh, dammit, I just did.
     The supporting categories are much more difficult to narrow down than their leading counterparts because the fields are so much wider.  While a film typically only has one, maybe two leading roles, it can have almost any number of possible nominees in the supporting categories.  Of course, generally speaking, once the pictures are seen, it becomes obvious who the one or two (or three, look at The Fighter last year) standouts are in any given cast. At this stage, it's mostly guesswork.

With that in mind:

  1.  Beginners - Christopher Plummer (73)     0 wins out of 1 nomination
Highly praised work from an Oscar-less veteran who's done highly praised work for decades.  Then again...Could his work in Tattoo split his votes?
  2.  A Dangerous Method - Viggo Mortensen (53)     0 wins out of 1 nomination
Many feel that he is overdue and was snubbed two years ago for The Road.  Then again...Will he stand out enough in a cast full of potential standouts?
  3.  The Ides of March - Phillip Seymour Hoffman (50)     1 win out of 3 nominations
Arguably the king of modern character actors in a big baity film.  Then again...with Giamatti and Clooney also supporting in Ides will the Academy be able to choose?
  4. J. Edgar - Armee Hammer (47)     (never nominated)
Oscar loves when straight men play gay and he has a lot of leftover Social Network love.  Then again...Is he still too new to catch Oscar's eye?
  5. The Iron Lady - Jim Broadbent (40)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
Consistently great actor who's still waiting for that second nod.  Then again...Could his performance fade into the background next to Streep?

  6. My Week With Marilyn - Kenneth Branagh (36)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination in this category)
Early reviews have focused most of their praise of him,  exceeding expectations with Thor didn't hurt, Weinstein is backing his film, and he has no Oscars after four nominations in four different categories.  Then's not currently in the top five?
  7. The Tree of Life - Brad Pitt (26)     (0 wins out of 2 nominations)
Praised by many as his best work to date.  Then actor in a Malick film has EVER been nominated.
  8.  Drive - Albert Brooks (22)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Highly praised work by a veteran actor in a critically acclaimed but rather un-Oscar-y film that the Academy is likely to want to reward with a nomination SOMEWHERE.  Best Supporting Actor could be that category.  Then again... so could Editing.
  9. Moneyball - Phillip Seymour Hoffman (19)     (1 win out of 3 nominations)
If the film gains overall traction, expect Hoffman to follow suit.  Then again... he's competing against his own performance in Ides.
  10. Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - John Hawkes (18)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
He's already made a splash on the festival circuit, and caught Oscar's attention in Winter's Bone.  Then again...the field this year looks both wide and deep, and he JUST got his first nomination last year.
  Also, with ten or more buzz points:  Carnage (Christoph Waltz), Extremely Loud and Incredible Close (Thomas Horn), Hugo (Ben Kingsley), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Christopher Plummer), The Ides of March (George Clooney), The Ides of March (Paul Giamatti), The Tree of Life (Sean Penn), We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ezra Miller)

How accurate was the buzz this time last year?
  1. The Fighter (Christian Bale)
  2. The Way Back (Ed Harris)
' 3. The Kids Are All Right (Mark Ruffalo)
  4. The King's Speech (Geoffrey Rush)
  5. Get Low (Bill Murray)

     Three out of five is pretty good, especially with the eventual winner in the top slot.  Renner and Hawkes were both eleventh hour contenders.  The Town far exceeded expectations and Winter's Bone grew in stature after the Gotham and Inderpendant Spirit Awards.  Murray peaked too early and The Way Back just sort of fizzled.
     Any of this year's unseen films could disappoint or pleasantly surprise, but I doubt Broadbent's chances. I fear that the Iron Lady will just be the Streep show.  The Weinsteins are likely to throw supporting support to Branagh instead.  Brooks and Hawkes are dangerous wild cards.  And just lately, everyone is muttering about Nick Nolte's work in Warrior.  Look for him on the next update.
                  Swamped for time,

Best Actress Predictions - Augustish

     In many ways, it is still a man's world.  It's unfortunate, but not nearly as many movies feature strong leading roles for women as for men.  Consequently, the Best Actress race rarely mirrors the Best Picture race as closely as does the Best Actor race.  You would think that this would make the field less predictable.  This would be true, except that there are so few "awards bait" films led by women that the initial field is much narrower.  There have been noticeably MORE valid best actress contenders in the last couple of years.  Last year the field was wide enough to snub Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton, Leslie Manville, and Noomi Rapace who could all have been shoo-ins in weaker years.  Maybe the gender divide is closing.  There are certainly no shortage of great, underutilized actresses to fill it.
     On the cusp of the fall festivals (Venice started yesterday!!!), the 84th Best Actress race looks like this:

  1.  The Iron Lady - Meryl Streep (100)    (2 wins out of 16 nominations)
It's Meryl...with Harvey.  Then Academy could be tired of teasing her?...?
  2.  Albert Nobbs - Glenn Close (70)     (0 wins out of 5 nominations)
Brilliant overdue actress in a cross dressing role that she already won an Obie for.  Then again...Might Streep take this year's only veteran slot?
  3.  My Week With Marilyn - Michelle Williams (64)     (0 wins out of 2 nominations)
Highly respected actress playing iconic Hollywood figure.  Then again...Early reviews have favored Branagh's performance more prominently.  The Weinstein Co. already has one horse in this race.
  4.  Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - Elizabeth Olsen (52)     (never nominated)
Rave reviews on the festival circuit and I'm sure many in Hollywood would love to show her older siblings how readily they embrace a performance of quality.  Then again...the film is small and she is a relative unknown.
  5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Rooney Mara (51)     (never nominated)
She showed real promise under Fincher's guidance in The Social Network and we certainly know how much potential the role carries.  Then again...that's the problem.  She has to out-Salander Noomi Rapace.

  6.  We Need To Talk About Kevin - Tilda Swinton (49)     (1 win out of 1 nomintion)
Outstanding reviews for a great actress in a role that carries her film.  Then again...might the subject matter be too dark for many Oscar voters to sit through?
  7.  Young Adult - Charlize Theron (43)     (1 win out of 2 nominations)
AMPAS approved actress leads movie by AMPAS approved writer/director team.  Then again...will it be too light?
  8.  Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst (38)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Won Best Actress at Cannes, and stellar critical response.  Then again...Von Trier is PR poison and the movie is reportedly quite bizarre.
  9.  Like Crazy - Felicity Jones (33)     (never nominated)
Already won a Special Jury Prize at Sundace.  Then again...she is much better known as a television actress.
  10.  The Help - Emma Stone (22)     (never nominated)
Current Hollywood It Girl gives great performance in surprise hit Best Picture contender.  Then Davis may also campaign in lead.
   Also with ten or more points:  A Dangerous Method (Keira Knightley), Carnage (Jodie Foster), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Sandra Bullock), Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska), The Help (Viola Davis), and The Lady (Michelle Yeoh).

A year ago, I was working from this list:
  1. The Kids Are All Right (Annette Benning)
  2. Winter's Bone (Jennifer Lawrence)
  3. Blue Valentine (Michelle Williams)
  4. Another Year (Leslie Mannville)
  5. Love and Other Drugs (Anne Hathaway)
     So, I had three out of five correct already, with the other two circling in close:  Natalie Portman was in sixth for Black Swan and Nicole Kidman was in eighth for Rabbit Hole.  Generally, this category is made up of one or two vets (Benning, Kidman), one or two established younger actresses (Portman, Williams), and one or two fresh faces (Lawrence).  Those who are somewhere between the first two categories (Kidman last year, Bullock the year before) can serve in either capacity.
     Unless The Iron Lady or Albert Nobbs really bomb critically, the veterans seem pretty established already.  Sorry, Ms. Foster, but your cinematic year was bookended by a directee's antisemitism and director's statutory rape.  Not a good position for the Academy PR wise.  Olsen and/or Mara seem well positioned to represent the newbies.
     The middle ground, however, seems much more questionable.  Williams seems likely to slide down this list as her distributor pushes for Streep.  Who is likely to take her place?  If Viola Davis runs as a lead, she seems  QUITE likely at this point, as does Tilda Swinton.  Outside of them, Theron seems the most likely spoiler.  Also, don't count out dark horse Michelle Yeoh.
                             Time flies when you're watching movies...or flies,