Tag Archives: Oscars

New to streaming & DVD: Wind River lingers like a chill…

windy

I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors and hopefully not have nightmares.

That’s the unsettling effect Taylor Sheridan’s latest had on me. I’m currently working through some of the most buzzed-about movies of 2017, and of course this was something I wanted to see.

Sheridan’s screenwriting career so far has given us the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River – Sheridan’s first time as writer-director – Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, this time not in Sheridan’s native Texas but in the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have dragged Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, who was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert, for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Technically Olsen is in charge of the investigation, but with his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community, the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy as he supports the outsider FBI and the tribal police.

Olsen is not completely robbed of agency like Sicario’s Kate Macer, yet she has no backstory, and we never learn what makes her so driven.

She looks like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere, as she is comically underprepared for the conditions and isolation (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if she was merely incompetent and inexperienced, or if she was truly meant as a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

The violence, when it comes, is more personal and depressingly universal, but no less brutal and shocking.

Verdict? Despite the shaky camera triggering my vertigo, I thought Wind River was another well-made action thriller. Renner and Olsen are great, but I don’t feel that the movie is as ambitious or exciting as Sicario, perhaps because it lacks the tension and moral conflict between the leads.

Sheridan really stands out for his dialogue, and as auteur he delivers on a similar level to previous directors of his scripts, especially in the realistic-yet-stylish bursts of violence, and that creepy sense of dread that outlasts the film.

REVIEW: Manchester by the Sea

Faced with the prospect of going to see Manchester by the Sea, I wondered if I’m a serious movie fan at all. When it’s freezing out, wouldn’t I just be happier staying in and watching Bridget Jones’s Baby?

Well, at least the cold weather helped make Kenneth Lonergan’s Oscar buzzy movie about bereavement immersive.

In a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee Chandler has his guilt-ridden life existence interrupted by the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to look after his teenage nephew Patrick.

Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s a movie all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show old Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams (another tear-jerking performance as a working-class mother for the actress!)

We learn that the couple have a shared tragedy – a tragedy that means Lee can’t remain in Manchester. This causes tension with the nephew, played by Lucas Hedges. I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this kid, or how the little charmer gets all the adoring girls.

Hedges is otherwise fine (one cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy-looking life uprooted, and who happens to be bound to an emotionally closed-off, inarticulate time bomb.

Lee is aggressive, tightly wound, numb. I didn’t go into Manchester rooting for Affleck, but the performance had an authenticity that the likes of Gosling wouldn’t have had. I don’t know if it’s the kind of indelible, undeniable performance that justifies the awards sweep (before Denzel’s SAG triumph turned the Best Actor competition into a two-horse race).

It’s not overwhelmingly bleak thanks to its well-observed humour, but it’s far too long – whether it’s a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.

Jackie Portman

Jackie: Natalie Portman lines up another Oscar?

I thought, after Black Swan, that now Natalie Portman had her Academy Award, she’d switch to the business side of movies. Maybe she’d semi-retire and concentrate on her family.

In the six years since her Oscar triumph, Portman became a mother to a baby son; gave a lacklustre turn as Thor‘s love interest; moved to Paris with her French husband; had a go at producing, writing and directing.

When photos of her as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy were released, I rolled my eyes, expecting her only to live down to Katie Holmes’ panned portrayal in the eight-part miniseries The Kennedys.

However, at its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Jackie really got the critics buzzing. Chilean director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim are being praised for their bold approach, but it is Portman who really wowed the festival crowds.

So how come a clip on Youtube has got some people puzzled…This performance?

This is the performance that The Hollywood Reporter called a “tour-de-force”? That led Variety to proclaim “you can’t take your eyes off of her”?

It’s not fair to judge on one short scene, but this sounds like a painful turn from Portman, like she is working so hard to imitate Kennedy’s docile speaking voice it dominates her performance.

Critics (who have seen the whole thing) are enamoured with the movie and with Portman, but they also seem desperate to defend her mannered performance style.

“When Portman speaks in that demure New England dialect, she tends to come off too mannered. With every dropped “R,” it becomes obvious Portman is trying very, very hard to be someone she’s not,” said US Weekly, while praising her screen presence and ability to carry the movie.

“At first, Portman seems distracting in the role, the accent catching in her throat, her every line and mannerism coming across as studied. But that affected quality is all part of the strategy of Jackie,” wrote A.A Down at The AV Club.

“Portman’s highly affected performance is deliberately off-putting at first…Portman’s never been one to disappear into her roles, but here that’s a strength. The fact that she always feels like she’s acting lends the character a tragic dimension,” said a BBC Culture review out of TIFF.

Which reads as: “So although she is mannered and it’s obvious this is Portman ACTING, it works in the context of the film because….because we’re all so in love with her OK?…..My lord THAT FACE!”

Portman is probably tied at the moment with La La Land‘s Emma Stone as early front-runner for Best Actress, in what is shaping up to be a really competitive year.

I don’t have a particular dislike for Portman, but while the public worship her as a Harvard-educated Serious Actress, she has a career strewn with dodgy accents and critical ambivalence. It’s Leon – Closer – Black Swan – basically the only times she’s ever been good, and that’s to the credit of her directors.

This is the woman Time magazine said can “look utterly stranded on screen — bereft of an actor’s most rudimentary tools…”

Jackie has a December release lined up in the USA. No word on a UK release yet, but I’ll be sure to give the movie a fair go.

Come on Academy, time to change? Thoughts about this year’s awards

I watched the Oscars feeling very ill. I didn’t really watch through choice, but thanks to a miserable cold, I couldn’t sleep!

The ceremony was a bit of an ordeal, and I think I might have hallucinated that there was a bear in the audience?

DiCaprio winning because it was his turn.

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Leo finally won an Oscar! He deserved it for transforming himself and shivering a lot. (I’m shivering right now! Gimme an award!!) And even more importantly, it was his turn!

People were really rooting for Leo. Maybe in three years (around the time Leo’s yacht party finally ends) his triumph could be viewed as less convincing – a “career Oscar”.

There are a lot of people adamant that he should have really won for Gilbert Grape back in ’93 over veteran character actor Tommy Lee Jones (it was his turn) for The Fugitive. They’re forgetting that people at the time felt it should have gone to Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List.

Now 2015 was a weak year for the Best Actor race. Michael Fassbender was an early front runner, but Jobs flopped financially. And Leo’s campaign just gained momentum – he really did the PR and worked the events.

However, don’t forget Creed’s Michael B. Jordan and Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah both being passed over – in the year when anger over all-white slates of nominees came to a head:

The so-called category fraud

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Category fraud is an established campaign tactic.  Alicia Vikander’s leading role got lumped in the supporting category because she didn’t stand a chance in the stacked Best Actress race.

The Academy loves its starring performances big and bold, meaning understated portrayals can be overlooked.

And Vikander’s win wasn’t really just for The Danish Girl. A lot of critics/awards bodies preferred her in Ex Machina and even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Vikander’s become a critical darling over the last year, and the industry wanted to hand her recognition for her successful breakthrough.

The Oscars have always skewed towards younger actresses and older actors. Maybe they should have age categories, or an Oscar for best breakthrough, or rising star, like the BAFTAs.

The Oscars didn’t get Carol.

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Each year, The Hollywood Reporter speaks to different members from some of the Academy’s disciplines. On the condition of anonymity, they reveal their brutally honest take on the year’s nominees.

This year, one of the acting branch members had something to say about Mara’s role in Carol: “That part needed an Audrey Hepburn, an enchanting, alive, beautiful young woman, instead of this depressed person whom I never believed Cate Blanchett would have fallen in love with.”

It’s not about a couple of hotties getting it on! Therese is meant to be withdrawn and numb, before growing into a poised woman like Carol. Mara nailed it, and she was won best actress at Cannes. (She was in the supporting category at the Oscars.)

Vanity Fair did a great piece on why Carol is not the Academy’s type of film.

The public thinks awards voters are omnipotent

“Well, that actress has been nominated for two Oscars,” they’ll harrumph. “I think the Academy knows more about acting than you!”

Ah yes – the mysterious, all-knowing and infallible Academy. One copy of Oscar Machinations for Dummies coming up. Alternatively, this is a pretty good article about membership in the Academy.

Change has been promised, although how it will play out is uncertain. At the moment, white, male (76 per cent), and old (the average age is 63) seems to be the order of the day. I mean, you’d never have guessed by their voting choices right?

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There were a few best actor/actress picks this year (like most years) that likely only got in because those actors’ names (or their directors) easily become part of the awards conversation.

Matt Damon was merely amicable in The Martian, while The Danish Girl was not Eddie Redmayne’s best work. On this entire planet, with all its great storytellers, the voters couldn’t find some fresh faces to honour? I follow bloggers that have more imagination and passion when it comes to film.

Mini reviews: Sicario, The Martian, Crimson Peak

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather.

It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – The Oscars.

Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold. It is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actor for Matt Damon, and Best Picture.

In a tale of human strength and the will to survive, NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is abandoned on Mars after being struck by debris. Believed dead by the rest of his team, they blast off and leave him behind ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney has to patch himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus (also directed by Ridley). It’s clear that Ridley and Watney are going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, it contains laughs – more than in some so-called comedies – even if the Earth scenes get as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit boring or lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney and the film becomes engrossing again. (Not that I actively wanted him to suffer or anything.)

The red planet looks like a beautiful destination and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. Eventually, the lonely Watney almost looks like part of the rocky landscape.

It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity. There’s no doubt Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

CRIMSON PEAK

Before I watch Crimson Peak I have it pegged as a not-very-good Victorian horror.  I know it has a pedigree, with stars like Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and cult director Guillermo del Toro. Yet Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Wasikowska is aspiring writer Edith Cushing, whose genuine sweetness is never overshadowed by the movie’s darkening atmosphere. Edith’s dad is a decent, bearded fellow; her mother is a creepy, inky ghost. Edith also has a suitor in the shape of Charlie Hunnam’s mild-mannered physician Dr Alan McMichael.

Enter Tom Hiddleston as Sir Thomas Sharpe. Sharpe is a British aristocratic with a crumbling estate back home, and he’s seeking investors for his mining inventions. Pa instantly dislikes him – he certainly seems a bit ineffectual, especially next to his Bronte mean girl sister Lucille (Chastain).

Edith marries the brooding Hiddles and returns to England with him to live at said crumbling estate. There’s a gaping hole in the roof and gross red clay oozing through the walls and the floors. The cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe and sigh as one soggy, yet determined and talented mess.

Although it is sinister, it doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black. This is probably because it isn’t intended as a horror/ghost story. It’s a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to a great cast and costumes.

SICARIO

There’s horror in Sicario, a fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller. From the start, it is so brutal I actually had to wonder what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a particularly gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD advisor/CIA- somebody-or-other, and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. If she were named Jennifer Lawrence, she’d have another Oscar nomination in the bag.

There probably isn’t enough there though, for Blunt to have garnered awards consideration. She’s the audience’s proxy, and she doesn’t have many lines or really drive the story forward. She’s along for the ride, just staring in horror at the violence depicted on both sides; in this movie, the good guys have decided to fight very dirty.

Del Toro gives a most enigmatic performance. He actually turns waking up from a nap into compelling onscreen action. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience.

The two characters have a murky relationship. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

Sicario is nominated for cinematography, original score and sound editing at the Oscars.

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