Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nov. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Noisy Techs

     This time, in what should be a rather brief article, we are going to cover the Sound Editors (who create sound effects), and the Sound Mixers who are the editors of the audio track, although mixing is a more fluid craft than cutting.  Buzz rankings come first, with previous rankings in parenthesis, then I stroke my little cinematic ego and give you my take.  It's about to get loud...

Sound Editing
  1.(1) Avengers
  2.(2) The Dark Knight Rises
  3.(3) Zero Dark Thirty
  4.(6) Life of Pi
  5.(9) Django Unchained

  6.(8) Lincoln
  7. Skyfall
  8.(5) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  9.(4) Prometheus
  10.(10) Les Miserables
  Leaving the Rankings:  Brave
     I can't argue too much with what the buzz is proposing, but see if you hear what I hear...
  1. The Avengers...Hard to argue that with an inter...dimensional(?) invasion and a half dozen different super heroes involved the film should definitely be cited for creation of the MOST sound effects.  Sometimes less is more, but sometimes MOST is pretty freakin' impressive.
  2. Life of Pi...Every year there is a Best Picture contender that seems to just blanket the technical categories and Pi seems to be that film this year.
  3. The Dark Knight Rises...Prison riots, vertical take off bat jets, crumbling astro turf, the final film in the Nolan Bat-trilogy had some unique and diverse aural elements.  Surrounded by it in the theater, I felt just like I was there.
  4. Zero Dark Thirty...No, no one has seen it yet, but I'm expecting some of the best battle scenes of the season coupled with passages of stealthy tension brought to you by most of the same team that earned a victory in this category three years ago for The Hurt Locker.
  5. Cloud Atlas...There is such a myriad of everything in Cloud Atlas, and that includes sound.  I don't care if box office has been a bit weak and the critics are split, this film deserves to sweep the techs at least for nominations.   I'm sure I am not alone in this sentiment.

  6. Django Unchained...I'm sure Tarantino has thrown some sorts of wackiness into this to make it a little more challenging than the average western.
  7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey...Fantasies often play very well in this category and to discount one of this scope just because people think that splitting the source novel into a trilogy is tacky, would be...well...tacky.
  8. Flight...I haven't seen it yet, but the brief clip of the plane scene I have seen sounds both tricky and brilliant.
  9. Prometheus...Alien landscapes always give sound editors room to play and be creative and the crew on this picture did not waste the opportunity.
  10. Skyfall...I have seen this, and it didn't seem to have THAT high a level of innovation or difficulty in its sound design, but everyone seems to be buzzing about the film's chances here.  As popular as it is, I'd be a fool to ignore a film with so much support.

Sound Mixing
  1.(2) Les Miserables
  2.(1) The Dark Knight Rises
  3.(4) The Avengers
  4.(3) Zero Dark Thirty
  5.(7) Life of Pi

  6.(10) Django Unchained
  7. Skyfall
  8.(9) Lincoln
  9.(6) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  10.(5) Prometheus
  Leaving the Rankings:  Brave
      Again, my differences will be slight.  I fade in with...
  1. Les Miserables...No one has ever really attempted to record a musical's vocal tracks live as the scenes are being filmed.  This audio team will actually be charting new territory.  If it works, I think its their category to lose.
  2. Life of Pi...Word is, this film is a technical masterwork across the board.  Hopefully, I'll be seeing for myself VERY soon.
  3. The Dark Knight Rises...I know for a fact that this one IS a technical masterwork across the board.
  4. Zero Dark Thirty...Does anybody else remember the way that silence almost became a character in The Hurt Locker, a sentient, ominous force.  If sneaking up on the bunker doesn't inspire them to take that approach to the next level, I don't know what will.
  5. Cloud Atlas...I don't how they managed to string either the images or the sounds in this movie into a cohesive whole, but it sounded as stunningly magnificent as it looked.

  6. Django Unchained...Westerns always do well in the sound categories, and with Tarantino at the wheel, it'll be one of the most unusual westerns around with plenty of challenges to overcome in crafting the soundscape.
  7. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey...Another film that should have plenty of auditory furniture to chew, but it is just one of many this year.
  8. The Avengers...I think this one's chances will be far weaker here than in Editing.  Just a hunch.  Sort of the Anti-Mis.
  9. Prometheus...This film could easily miss the big show altogether, but it does still have some chance of recognition here.
  10. Skyfall...Everyone seems to think that this is where Skyfall belongs....Is anyone in here missing a Skyfall?

     I'll be back soon with Make-Up and Costume...Froggy

Related Posts: It's The Most Wonderful Time of the YearNov. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Musical TechsThe Dark Knight TranscendsPromarlius Kingdom (Prometheus), Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review), September Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs P:1Merchandisers Assemble (Avengers review)

Nov Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Musical Techs

    Today we will be diving into a world of haunting tunes and symphonic enhancement.  As always, I'll tell you what the buzz is saying first, with the previous update's rankings appearing next to the current one in parenthesis.  This will be followed by my predictions and (I swear I'm gonna try) brief commentary. So prepare yourselves for the gentle rhythm of buzz....

Original Song
  1.(1) Les Miserables - "Suddenly"
  2.(7) Skyfall - "Let the Sky Fall"
  3.(2) Brave - "Learn Me Right"
  4.(8) Lawless - "Midnight Run"
  5.(9) Paul Williams Is Still Alive - "Still Alive"

  6.(5) Brave - "Touch the Sky"
  7.(3) Sparkle - "Celebrate"
  8. Joyful Noise - "From Here To The Moon and Back"
  9. Ted - "Everybody Needs a Best Friend"
  10. Frankenweenie - "Strange Love"
Leaving the Rankings:  The Hunger Games - "Abraham's Daughter", The Hobbit - "Song of the Lonely
     The nomination process in this category is so odd and convoluted that often buzz and acclaim count for absolutely nothing.  Two years ago, the song "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" was the clear front runner to win, sweeping the critics awards.  To everybody's amazement we HAD seen the last of it, right after it WON at the Globes.  The AMPAS failed to even nominate it.  This year, they have changed the selection process once again, so maybe now there's actually a point in making educated guesses on the matter.  In the spirit of optimism, I'll predict to the tune of...
   1. Les Miserables - "Suddenly"...Not only does it have the buzz but it has the musical's original composer and lyricist.  If you've never seen the show, trust me, some of the throw away reprises are more memorable compositions than half of Oscar's previous Best Song winners.
  2. Lawless - "Midnight Run"...In addition to Willy Nelson's aging/immortal icon status, the song has been gaining awards momentum ever since its existence was announced for Harvey Weinstein: producer and Oscar ninja!
  3. Brave - "Learn Me Right"...At least one song from an animated film makes it in every year and this is the high profile possibility at the moment. However, "Strange Love" is gaining buzz as well, and there is still time for the tunes from Wreck-It Ralph or Rise of the Guardians to catch on, so who knows?
  4. Skyfall - "Let the Sky Fall"...I know, last time the buzz ranked this one seventh and I ranked it second.  This time the buzz ranks it second and I drop it to fourth.  The song is great, and who doesn't want Adele singing at the Oscars?  Or anywhere?  But....always a but...there are snippets (or samplings, if you must) of music from a previous Bond theme in the tune.  Technically a foul.  Will AMPAS let it slide?  I hope so, but the jury is still out.
  5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - "Song of the Lonely Mountain"...I really didn't know what to choose here, but this one's been getting a lot of positive, solid buzz, centered largely around writer Neil Finn (former Crowded House front man).  Also, it seems unwisely dismissive to count the Hobbit franchise out before we've seen any of it.

  6. Frankenweenie - "Strange Love"...Bound to be more fun in live performance than some...braver...animated representatives I could think of.
  7. West of Memphis - "Anything Made of Paper"...I just think that this documentary is going to be more noticeable to Academy members than Paul Williams is Still Alive.  Unless this turns out to be the year that Paul Williams actually finds the rainbow connection, I'm going with Memphis for my "obligatory song pick from a documentary feature" that is required of all prognosticators since An Inconvenient Truth won.
  8.  Holy Motors - "Who We Were"...While not the most original of tunes, Kylie Minogue's entry is quite lovely, and the Academy may be looking for an excuse to throw this film a bone.  Holy Motors is wildly loved and respected by the few Americans who have seen or know about it, but it's a little too obscure for the big categories.  No movie is too obscure for a song nomination though, right Paris 36?
  9. Joyful Noise - "From Here To The Moon and Back"...Everybody loves Dolly Parton even if they didn't care for the movie and it has buzz momentum right now.  I'm not expecting it, but I can't ignore it either.
  10. Ted - "Everybody Needs a Best Friend"...Wouldn't it be fun for Seth McFarlane to win for this song on the night he hosts the Oscars?

Original Score
1.(1) Lincoln
2.(3) Life of Pi
3.(5) The Master
4.(2) Argo
5.(9) Anna Karenina

6.(4) Beasts of the Southern Wild
7.(6) Moonrise Kingdom
8.(8) The Dark Knight Rises
9. Cloud Atlas
10. Zero Dark Thirty
     It's been so much fun the last couple of years, scouring IMDB for films that AREN'T scored by Alexandre Desplat so that I don't have to predict five of his.  I have thus composed this list...
  1. Life of Pi...Composer Mychael Danna has written the scores of a dozen or so really high profile films over the years and never received a nomination from the Academy.  He is arguably well over due and his work here is frequently named one of the film's strongest elements.  Besides, I don't want John Williams to have to buy ANOTHER trophy case.
  2. Lincoln...Okay, so six trillion time (approximate) nominee and multiple winner John Williams wrote the themes to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T., Superman (yeah, the one you can hum in your head without thinking about it), Jaws, and probably the Happy Birthday song.  The only criticism his work ever gets is that it can be a bit overbearing and obvious and Lincoln's music is being praised for...its subtlety.  The nomination, at the least, is a wrap.
  3. Zero Dark Thirty...The audaciously prolific Mr. Desplat currently has greatest buzz for his work on Argo, but I saw Argo and don't remember the music, so I'm thinking that he can easily outshine himself with this one.  Should be some great opportunity for dramatic tension.
  4. Cloud Atlas...The music is just such an essential, majestic part of this film.  The Cloud Atlas sextet is almost a member of the ensemble.  Reaction to this film has been mixed, but it deserves to slip in somewhere besides Make-Up and Visual Effects.
  5. Moonrise Kingdom...It is kind of fun when they make composers compete against themselves and the music here is such a delightful little romp compared to Zero Dark Thirty.  A dual nomination for Desplat handled this way would demonstrate and reward the sheer range of the man's work.

  6. Silver Linings Playbook...Danny Elfman has three high profile films in the race this year and this one seems more likely to break in than either Hitchcock or Promised Land.  The AMPAS does love them some Elfman.
  7. The Master...Johnny Greenwood's jangly, disjointed composition is perfect for this film, some really brilliant work, but...might it seem a little lacking in melodic quality to the ears of the more conservative members of the Oscar voting pool?
  8. Argo...Of course, one cannot completely discount the gravitational force of a Best Picture front runner, even when they can't remember the background music.
  9. Anna Karenina...I can see why so many pundits want to jump on the Dario Mariane bandwagon.  He has one win and an additional nomination for previous collaborations with director Joe Wright.  However, I am not yet convinced that this movie is going to go beyond Costume and Production Design.
  10. Beasts of the Southern Wild...I DO believe that this film will be getting a buzz rebound shortly, but this (like Best Director) may be one category that it has lost its footing in.  Great freshman effort though, from Dan Romer and director Behn Zeitlen (donning yet ANOTHER hat in the production).

     As the music fades out, be on the look out for my next installment of predictions:  Noisy Techs!  You'll hear us coming!

Related posts:  It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (preview to the November Oscar Updates), Can You "Master" Your Nature?Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review), Promarlius Kingdom (Moonrise Kingdom review), I Think You "Argo"ing to Love ItBeasts of the Southern WildSept Oscar Buzz & Predictions - The Techs P:1The Dark Knight Transcends

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

     No, silly, I don't mean the Holidays, I mean Oscar Season, that wonderful time when the vast majority of movies are released that might appeal to adults who want to see art that might actually cause them to think or feel something.  They all get piled in together in the hopes that critics' and Academy members' eyes will be caught just in time to fall in love right before they cast their ballots for year end awards.  So, what has changed since my last Changing of the Seasons post?
     Well, first off, I've seen a LOT more of the films that factor in, and so has the general public.  When I last updated buzz and predictions, the only films that I had seen that were likely to factor into this year's awards race were:  Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, and Mirror Mirror.  Now I feel a little more informed, having seen several other films that factor into this round of predictions, including:  Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Master, Argo, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom, Prometheus, Cloud Atlas, The Sessions, The Amazing Spider-Man, Magic Mike, and Skyfall.  I'm a long way from having a personal opinion on all the year's top contenders, but I'm getting there.
     Outside of my own personal education, the season and its buzz have been rolling on:  It now appears that hardly any early year releases have much of a chance to make a real splash with the Academy this year.  Matthew McConnaughey is still a dark horse for Supporting Actor via Magic Mike, and Maggie Smith has a stronger shot at scoring a Supporting Actress nod for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, although the latter film's Best Picture buzz has pretty much faded entirely.  The Dark Knight Rises continues to become a less serious contender even in the technical categories, although it should still land a nod or two, as should The Avengers.
Brave holds onto front runner status in Best Animated Feature by a (thin) thread.   Only Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild remain possible contenders for the top prizes.  The former has held steady near the bottom of the top ten Best Picture contenders but seems HIGHLY likely to at least land a Best Original Screenplay nod.  "Beasts", meanwhile, has been losing ground steadily amid the onslaught of high profile projects that have either roundly met or far exceeded expectations.  Still, it seems guaranteed a Best Actress nomination, while Picture and Adapted Screenplay seem more likely than not.  I still think that support for the film may rally before year's end, so don't count it out completely in Supporting Actor, Score, and Cinematography either.  Oh, and let's not forget the Intouchables.
      Several big league competitors have been released theatrically, and had their campaigns boosted or stifled accordingly.  Lincoln has been a huge hit with both critics and audiences revealing that my previous reservations were rather misguided.  I can't always be right, I'd be too smug to survive.  Argo's box office has lived up to its reviews, leaving these two films fighting it out for front runner status at the moment.  The Master, unfortunately, did pretty poorly in theatrical release, although it remains a critics darling, so its future seems a lot less certain than it did back in August.  Flight debuted to positive notices at the New York Film Festival and has been something of a hit in theatrical release as well, and Skyfall is being hailed as the best Bond ever.  Washington is probably in for Actor, but both films' Best Picture prospects seem less likely.  The Sessions is floundering in limited release which probably won't prevent a couple of acting nods and maybe Screenplay, although Picture is becoming less feasible.  The public also failed to embrace Cloud Atlas (or darker horse Looper) in the way that they really needed to if it had much hope of breaking out of the technical categories.
      In the genres, some shuffling has occurred.  Strong fall film festival finds in the Documentary field such as West of Memphis and the Central Park Five have taken most of the wind out of the sails of popular early year favorites such as Bully, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and The Queen of Versailles.  Meanwhile, the success that Searching For Sugar Man has met in theatrical release has returned it to the forefront of the conversation.  The Foreign Film landscape is in limbo to an extent as we await the Academy's shortlist, the expansion of A Royal Affair, and the release of Amour.  Animated Feature looks to be a fight this time out as both Frankenweenie and Rise of the Guardians have met with critical approval that at least rivals Brave, while Wreck It Ralph may beat them all at the box office.
      Meanwhile, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi have just opened. Pi flagged a little opening weekend but it is still too early to count out the possibility of a rebound or to guess how much effect this might have on its standings in the awards race.  Hitchcock has been screened and praised modestly, with a little more enthusiasm being heaped on its two leads (especially Mirren) than on the movie as a whole.  Buzz has waned a bit for The Impossible since its well received debut, but that could easily change once it hits theaters.  Anna Karenina is just beginning to expand across the country, but whether it will get AMPAS love beyond the costume drama gimme nods for Costume and Production Design is still a big question mark.
     Most amazingly, it is almost the end of November and there are still five films that virtually no one has seen.  Les Miserables will either be a top tier contender or the biggest disappointment of the year.  The level of buzz and anticipation has left it no middle ground.  Zero Dark Thirty stayed under everyone's radar until it was right on top of them.  Even the film's marketing seems to be a covert ops exercise, but its sudden surge in buzz over the last month indicates that they know exactly what they are doing.  Django is the great question mark of the season.  Tarantino is always creative and interesting, but sometimes a little "out there" for the Academy's tastes, so...?  Promised Land and Hobbit seem likely to get lost in the shuffle in this tough year, but neither has released or previewed extensively, so they still have the chance to knock expectations out of the park.
     I'm going to try to limit my commentary in the predictions articles to new developments and things that I didn't say in the August or June editions, so don't be surprised if this set of articles seems a little more compact.  You also shouldn't be surprised if I unexpectedly take a big old froggy leap to the top of a soap box once or twice either, because that would be very like me as well.

Related articles:  Awards Season Hits Next LegThe Dark Knight TranscendsBest That the Summer Wields? (Beasts of the Summer Wild review), Being Margaret's Mirror (Mirror Mirror review), Can You "Master" Your Nature?I Think You "Argo"ing to Love ItThe Best Huntsman's Shadow (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Snow White and the Huntsman reviews), Promarlius Kingdom (Prometheus and Moonrise Kingdom reviews), Twist Until You Are Loopey (Looper review), Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review), Acting Master Classes in Private "Sessions"Bernie! On a Ledge of Misfits (Pirates! Band of Misfits review)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Acting Master Classes in Private "Sessions"

     This film marks something of a comeback or breakthrough for writer/director Ben Lewin, his first feature in almost twenty years, although he's been steadily working in television during that time.  In The Sessions, he doesn't really set out to make us marvel at the wit of his script or the boldness of his directorial flourishes.  He merely sets up an interesting narrative, provides the actors with enough meat to chew on, and then gets out of the way and lets them gnaw for all they are worth.  As I said of Tate Taylor when I reviewed The Help last year, when the cast is this good, that's often the best choice to make.  It certainly was in this case.
     In many ways, we've seen this movie before.  It starts with a disabled protaganist who must overcome his challenges (practically useless musculature and dependance upon an iron lung) to have some experience that those of us without disabilities take for granted (losing your virginity).  Many film geeks probably take that experience less for granted than less SOCIALLY disabled members of society, but I digress.  The picture hits all the expected buttons that such a picture should hit, and could have become a pat experience in the hands of lesser actors, but such was not the case.
     Said cast is led by the incomparable John Hawkes, who for three years running has proven himself one of the best character actors working.  This may not be as edgy as his recent work in films like Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, but it may have been even more challenging.  One of this formidable performer's greatest strengths has always been his ability to convey a presence that is so much larger than his slight stature.  Here he is forced to funnel that ability through a very limited set of tools.  He is unable to use movement, posture, or any sort of physicality beyond his mouth, neck, and face as Mark.  Somehow he seems every bit as powerful.  He is forced to develop odd skills such as typing with a pencil and maintaining his mostly naked body in strange motionless contorted positions.  He is able to overcome all of these physical challenges and still shine through with a character built of wit and an oddly seductive charisma.
     Helen Hunt is also quite flawless as Cheryl, the sexual surrogate hired to help Mark achieve his goals.  She plays the professional side of Cheryl marvelously, as she subjugates her frustrations over this unusually challenging client in order to help build his confidence and comfort.  We also see a very different woman in brief glimpses of her rather mundane home life as a wife and mother.  Finally we see the two aspects of the whole begin to converge as Mark inevitably touches her heart in ways that she was not prepared for.  I would also like to commend the bravery of woman nearing fifty who can go full frontal with so little apparent insecurity in her body.  She is in FANTASTIC shape by the way, not my thing, but still quite beautiful.
     William H Macy as Mark's bemusedly tolerant priest Father Brendan and Moon Bloodgood as his supportive caregiver Vera, also impress.  Macy gives his best film work in some time, full of both wry comic timing and touching sympathy.  Bloodgood is one of those actresses who is often far better than the material she is given to work with (Terminator: Salvation) and it is nice to see her in a higher quality of film.  She was given far less to do than the other three principle characters but maybe just showing she can hold her own in a scene with these masters will open doors to meatier roles of quality.  I hope so, she's grossly under rated.
     This one stands an outside shot at a Best Picture nod, but will probably have to settle for Best Actor (Hawkes), Best Supporting Actress (Hunt) and maybe Best Adapted Screenplay.  Best Supporting Actor is a possibility for Macy.  Best Comedy at the Globes seems quite likely.  Not a bad haul for a tiny little inspirational film about a disabled guy.
     But the Sessions is a bit more than that, and not just because of the acting.  It also touches lightly (and the whole piece has a fairly light touch) on the media's love/hate relationship with sexuality.  By both putting it front and center and refusing to sensationalize or glamorize it, Lewin shows human sexual nature the respect it deserves but so rarely receives in American films today.  This was a risky project, one that could easily have been schmaltzy or forgettable.  I am glad to say it was neither.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Related Articles:  The Help Review, Sept. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - ScreenplaysSupporting PerformersBest Actor and Actress, and PictureMartha's Certified Method (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene review)

Orange Rock Diaries

     In this edition of DVD reviews we will cover a quasi-Zombie flick, two British films, one full of heart and one heartless.  Not my strongest batch of reviews ever, but we might as well get started...

  Oranges and Sunshine - This is the true story of a social worker in 1980's England who discovered a plot by which large numbers of English orphans were deported to Australia, never to discover the fates, or in many cases identities, of the families they had been born to.  It is the first feature film by director Jim Loach and it is something of a mixed bag.  Nothing stands out as bad about the film, and it is touchingly rendered in places.  However it lacks a narrative twist or punch sufficient to help the film transcend the status of acting showcase for its star, Emily Watson.
     That's EMILY Watson from Hilary and Jackie, Breaking the Waves, and Angela's Ashes (we'll forget about War Horse), not EMMA Watson from the Harry Potter franchise.  Miss Emily is always reliably great, and she fails to disappoint in this role.  She plays a woman pushed to the brink by both the horror of these children's experiences and the strain that she experiences from a secretive government pushing back.  Her struggle to be stronger than her trials becomes the central narrative and dramatic force of the movie.
     I applaud director Loach's decision to give an actress mostly sidelined into supporting roles in recent years a much deserved moment in the sun(shine).  However, while competently rendered, the other elements of his picture suffered a bit by comparison to the central performance.  3 1/2 of 5*

  Brighton Rock - I have this tendency, with stars who just improve with age, to want to see all of their work as they get older.  So we're going to blame Helen Mirren, and my undying devotion to her talent, on the fact that I watched Brighton rock.  She was good as always, but ultimately not enough to save the picture.  What was so wrong, you ask?  Well, three things primarily...
     I hate to pick on specific actors, especially when they are young and learning their craft, but Sam Riley is not having a good year with me.  He starred in two of my least favorite 2011 releases: this film and 13.  13 was not so much his fault, although I did keep wanting him to get shot in every repetitive round of Russian Roulette so that the film would just end.  There is just no way to not hang a good deal of the blame for why this movie failed on the constantly hunched shoulders of this muggy, campy performance.  Many great movie gangsters have personas that ooze tension.  As Pinky, this young man gushes it like a geyser.  He's like the hyperactive love child of Brando's Corleone and McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange.  Hopefully, Mr. Riley will show me something subtler in On the Road.
     Which leads directly into my second gripe:  When Pinky is played as such an obvious, Grade A sociopath, how can we see Andrea Riseborough's character Rose as anything other than a self destructive moron for getting involved with him.  There was room for Ms. Riseborough to play Rose as feeling more coerced than she appears to in all this, but she plays for out and out obsession right to the end.  You almost want her to meet a dark fate for the sake of the gene pool.  Coupled with W./E., this was not this talented actress's best year either.
     Both of these stars may have been saddled by poor directing choices, however, as the ending is completely botched in how it was handled.  I don't like to use spoilers, so I won't go into detail any greater than to say that it devolved into camp that evoked unintended laughter where the film most needed pathos to succeed.  With no other films on his directing resume, first timer Rowan Joffe may go back to screen writing for a bit, where he has met with much greater success (The American).
     John Hurt and Andy Serkis turn in fine supporting work, but are unable to elevate the film any more than Mirren is.  If I had seen this film earlier it would have definitely been on my Tin Toadstool list for worst film of the year in 2011.  I hoped I would disagree with the consensus on this one, but...1 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Chernobyl Diaries - I've never written a DVD review post in which I've had to unload on two films in a row like this, and I'm not sure I've got enough venom left to do it properly, but here goes...This is rapidly turning into an article about first time directors who appeared to be better at their original roles in the film world.  First time director Bradley Cooper was best known as a visual effects artist on films like Fight Club and Let Me In before bringing us the Chernobyl Diaries and out of charity I'm going to always try to remember him that way.
     It's the sort of film where you are glad that they used a mostly unseasoned cast of younger actors because any feature film will look good on their resume right now and they can look back on making this film as a good choice and and positive experience.  I'm going to leave them alone now, they weren't experienced enough to direct themselves.
     The premise of the movie is that this group of young American tourists visit one of the towns just outside of Chernobyl and get trapped there overnight.  It quickly becomes apparent that the town is populated by nocturnal zombie like mutants.  There, I've ruined the whole thing.  That's all the story they bothered to come up with:  screaming teens running from shuffling, slow moving, unintelligent predators, who still somehow seem to have the upper hand.  The biggest surprise of the script is the appearance of a mutant bear on the tenth floor of a building (maybe a symbol that even post-Glasnost, Mother Russia will eat these American brats up, hey I'm trying for some subtext).
     There, I have ruined the picture enough that you won't waste time watching it.  My bit of public service for the day is done.  1 of 5 stars.

     I don't know about you, but I feel better.

Related articles:  Best of 2011 - Best (and Worst) Picture

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cloudy Connections

     Cloud Atlas, like the forthcoming Life of Pi, was supposed to be one of those novels it is impossible to adapt for the screen.  The scope of the story was too large and intricate to translate.  There is a good argument to be made for this.  The tale is actually six different narratives, set in six different time periods.  Two are in our future, one in the present, and three in our past.  The stories are connected not only by physically shared elements (a journal, a musical composition, even one character) that survive from one era to the next, but by the idea that the same souls are featured in each, just in different reincarnations.  Not just an intricate plot, but one that is bizarre and spiritual.
     Fortunately, the film had no less than three highly creative minds guiding both the script and direction:  the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix Trilogy) and German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, 3).  I'm sure most of you are familiar with the "sibs" previous efforts, and the inherent pedigree they carry for dealing with futuristic worlds not that different from our own.  If you are unfamiliar with Tykwer's work, Run Lola Run delves into slight fantasy (and is must viewing, a really excellent film) and 3 investigates the twists and turns of complicated relationships (you can click the link in Related Articles for my review).
     However well their backgrounds may have suited them to the project, our directors had some tough choices to make and they didn't go for the easiest options.  They chose to present the stories in a constantly interweaving manner.  The audience never knows from cut to cut where or when the next scene will take them.  It DOES make the plot a little harder to follow, but it thematically underlines the ideas of connectivity and continuity.  These themes are further stressed through the choice of having the same small group of actors playing roles in each (or most) of the vignettes, each player apparently representing the same soul throughout different incarnations.  Like I said, there were no easy ways out chosen in this movie's production.
     The actors rose admirably to their difficult tasks, keeping the flavor of each soul the same, yet each lifetime having its own distinct character as well.  Tom Hanks is the best he's been in years.  Halle Berry shows previously untapped range.  Jim Broadbent is comically charming.  I am unfamiliar with actress Doona Bae, but she is absolutely captivating as Sonmi-451.  Hugo Weaving is delightfully wicked, playing the darkest soul in the bunch.  Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandan, and Hugh Grant are all also tremendously impressive.  This film probably won't get a SAG ensemble nod, but it is hard to imagine they won't make my top five of the year.
     The production values are absolutely first rate.  The visual effects are seamless, the production design and camera work both breathtakingly gorgeous.  Music is incorporated brilliantly throughout.  The editing on this piece had to have been a nightmare, but it creates a rhythm utterly unique to the picture.  Best in show (craft wise) has to go to the make-up department who had to transform actors to different ages, ethnicities, and even genders.
     The central theme of Cloud Atlas is the interconnected nature of all life and existence (oh, just that...), but it touches on so many universal themes.  One is the idea that a person is really who they are on the inside, as we see the same souls change drastically in superficial, visible means over the course of different incarnations.   Hanks' character(s?) demonstrate a strong thread of growth and redemption.  Liberty, individuality, freedom, and basic human rights tie the earliest and furthest flung plot lines together.  I could go on, and I'm sure that there were more ideas woven into this tapestry than I was able to glean in a single viewing.
     Which is my one (reserved) complaint about the film.  In an age when so many novels are split into two (or even three) parts when brought to the screen, why not use that treatment here?  It WAS a little too much story for one film, even at two hours and forty five minutes.  I was on sensory overload and still felt like there was so much MORE beyond what I caught.  Maybe repeat viewings will make it more clear.  Maybe that yearning for the more I can't know is part of how its supposed to make me feel.  This film has been very divisive with critics, but I found it really amazing.  That being said, I still feel like I need to see it again, maybe twice to gauge it in a completely accurate manner.
     At present, I'm going to say:  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

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Promarlius Kingdom

     These DVD reviews include a modern day fable of the innocence of youth, a cynical science fiction take on the meaning of life, and a powerful documentary about a musical innovator who became the international voice of a nation.  That voice was...

  Marley - I have never been a huge fan of reggae music.  I definitely had an appreciation for Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the basic knowledge of ten or fifteen of their best known songs.  A few of them I have always considered pretty great songs.  So my level of interest going into this nearly two and a half hour biodoc was questionable and I feel I was prepared to judge the movie on its own merits since I wasn't really rooting for or against it.
     Director Kevin MacDonald was a successful documentarian (Touching the Void, 2003), who made a promising foray into narrative cinema (The Last King of Scotland, 2006) that might have lasted a little too long (The Eagle, 2011).  I am happy to report that Marley is a triumphant return to documentary film making, a real pleasure to watch.
     Admittedly, the first hour does seem to ramble a little, and did not captivate me nearly as much as the latter half of the film did.  However, I'm not sure that the end of the film would have packed as much punch with less set up.  If you did not see HOW humble Mr. Marley's beginnings were you wouldn't appreciate how much he overcame to become the man he did.
     Marley is an entrancing picture by the end, one that clearly indicates what was important about this man.  He did not become just the most eminent representative of his genre of music, but of a religion, and a nation.  I never really appreciated how much of an effect he had on the world.  If you are a fan, chances are it is already on your must see list.  If it's not, unless you just DETEST reggae, I would unreservedly recommend checking it out.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

    Moonrise Kingdom - The works of Wes Anderson run a little hot and cold with me, but I think this may be his best feature (well, certainly, LIVE action feature) since The Royal Tennenbaums.  I'm not sure exactly what it was that made this one click for me.  It did have the perfect ensemble supporting cast of adults, who were all pretty equally excellent.  If I did have to pick one stand out it would probably be Bill Murray, but he does have a couple of unfair advantages.  "Moonrise" being his fifth collaboration with director Anderson, Murray has had a lot of practice with the conventions of the film maker's private universe.  Moreover, it almost seems that the world inside Anderson's head is one in which everyone speaks and behaves in a way very similar to Murray's signature persona:  dry humor and intense dispassion.
     Most of Anderson's pictures tend to be star-studded affairs, and it was sort of refreshing to see two relative unknowns (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) lead this film's cast.  They could easily have been true creatures of the film's world, newly hatched and quirky by nature.
     The look of this film is very unique, with a sepia tone to all the visual elements.  Robert D. Yeoman's cinematography work is really excellent here.  He and Anderson work together to create numerous little tableau's in the film, moments that call to mind sources as divergent as The Last Supper and The Shawshank Redemption.  Alexandre Desplat's scoring is brilliant as usual, enhancing the mood of each scene without overpowering the story.
     My only complaint with the film is that, for some reason, it started to drag for me in the last half hour or so.  Maybe the novelty of this little world and its inhabitants began to wear off a little, maybe the film's thematic development never quite came together for me.  I'm not sure.
     Moonrise Kingdom is a serious contender in several awards races this year, Original Screenplay probably being its strongest category.  It could crack Best Picture, Score, or Cinematography as well.  It may well be deserving of a nod in Production Design, but actually getting one seems a bit far fetched at present.  Though this film did not quite reach the heights of Royal Tennenbaums or Rushmore, it came very close, a sort of light to "Royal"'s relative darkness.  4 1/2 of 5*

  Prometheus - Maybe I  went into this one with greater expectations than was fair, but you have too forgive me on that point.  A prequel to Alien?  By an Oscar winning director (Ridley Scott), who had already made the first (and only the first) film in the franchise over forty years ago?  Throw in three powerful lead performers, and a story centered around the origins of mankind and what's not to like?  Well, "like" is pretty much all I could muster in the way of enthusiasm.
    Of aforementioned three leads, only Fassbender really impresses, as the politely sinister android David.  This is Noomi Rapace's first English language feature, so perhaps we must be a little lenient on her faltering accent, Theron suffers from comparison to her performance in Snow White and the Huntsman.  Again, expectations.
     Basically, Prometheus has this great concept and set-up, but completely fails to utilize these in a sustainable way.  It boasts some impressive visual effects, and all of the craft elements are commendable, but the script fails to deliver on its initial promise.  3 of 5*

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