There was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony this year: I wasn’t invited! The organizers obviously read my blog and know I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.
I’m not going to hold it against them. Instead, I’m going to mini review some of the movies nominated in various categories. Starting with the biggies, like Best Actor and Picture..
Manchester by the Sea
Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) has his guilt-ridden existence ruined by the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for teen nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams. The couple have a shared tragedy – the reason for Lee’s misery and why he can’t stay.
I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this Hedges kid, but he’s fine (cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy life uprooted, or to be stuck with a violent, inarticulate time bomb – Affleck has a terrifying authenticity that the likes of Gosling couldn’t match.
I didn’t find it too harrowing thanks to the well-observed humour, but it’s very long – whether it’s a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.
La La Land
“I hate jazz,” says Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia to jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) at the start of their relationship. Ugh, me too. And I know little about the Hollywood Golden-Age movie musicals that La La is a ‘tribute’ to.
My ignorance granted, there seemed to be a lack of memorable knockout numbers. I thought the waltz and tap were nice and the music and voices thin – are we going to be singing tunes from this five decades from now? City of Stars? What a dirge.
I’ve seen it described as big and bombastic, but I found it a slightly melancholy, albeit visually lovely treat about two selfish creatives in a dull relationship.
Hyped as a movie for the ages, perhaps that’s because of a lack of competition in the genre.
Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids in the Pacific Northwest forest, home schooling them and teaching them survival and endurance training.
Eldest son Bo has secretly got into every Ivy. There’s two redheaded interchangeable sisters and a pair of blond moppets, but the only other sprog to emerge from the picture is angry preteen River Phoenix/Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton).
Mom is in a psychiatric facility, when news filters through to the wilderness of her death. The family take their bus to her funeral, and Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.
I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy, then an agonising teen drama about an overbearing, misguided parent, but it’s a neat little drama that holds back from portraying Ben as either a megalomaniac cult figure or as a saintly man with all the answers.
Kubo and the Two Strings
A stop-motion set in ancient Japan, young Kubo lives in a cave with his ill mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring origami figures to life.
His magical gifts entertain local villagers, but he must be home before dark because his grandfather (Ralph Fiennes) and fluttering Dementor-like aunts want to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night his mother has to use the last of her magic to spirit him away.
Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s monkey-guardian in the kind of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews.
Kubo got a thumbs up everywhere, and I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but.. animation leaves me cold.
Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them.
Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon, has a car crash and damages his hands, so he comes to Smug and her sorcerers – including Mordo (Chewitel) – for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities.
Smug won’t train Strange in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books, but Mordo vouches for him and they have actorly shouting matches, while Mads and Rachel McAdams have settled for more thankless Marvel roles.
At least there’s no metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition – instead, there’s Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift, like Hogwarts on acid.
To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills. I got vertigo instead. Thanks doc!
Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man (Kate Hudson will be worried-wife-on-the-phone) with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling.
Soon, we’re off to the rig! Once the one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich gives Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.
Things go wrong, and the action doesn’t let up. But I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. The reality was probably more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to the bravery of survivors and those that lost their lives.