Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Great Wall

The “Great Wall” is actually just a series of pretty okay walls that we’ve joined together over time. They were being built as early as the 7th century BC, in order to protect China’s borders from invading nomads. It was built over a period of 1700 years and stretches over 8850km.

The film The Great Wall is not nearly as impressive an accomplishment, even by blockbuster standards. It’s an action-adventure-monster movie that represents one of the several legends told about The Great Wall, and the things from which it was supposedly built to protect.

Somebody obviously has some compromising nude pictures of Matt Damon, so he stars as great-wall-movie-matt-damon.jpegthe ambiguous white guy who’s been roaming around with a group looking for black powder. Lots of his men have been picked off and they should have turned back, but instead the remaining men run into a scary beast that eats all but two. Then William and his pal get picked up by the Chinese army near the wall and are more or less taken prisoner, but it seems only so that the white guys can be really impressed by all the Chinese ingenuity.

They’ve been preparing to face these beasts for 60 years. They have special units with special skills: the armoured bear troop engages in combat, the eagles specialize in archery, the tigers have catapults and burning rocks. The crane troop is an all female group who bungee down a pit with spears, and the unlucky deer are the cavalry.

The white guys decide that while the Chinese army is preoccupied with the beast attack, they should seize the opportunity to rob them and run. I was wholly confused by Matt Damon’s American accent in a time period when Americans did not yet exist. A lot of people balked about Matt Damon being cast in this film, but this is not whitewashing as we know it. His character was always supposed to be non-Chinese. I just don’t understand how he’s a medieval Bostonian.

As you can imagine, the battle sequences are pretty eye-popping with all these fancy fight techniques and inventive weaponry. It feels both ancient and futuristic at the same time. Screen_Shot_2016-07-28_at_2.00.40_PM.0.pngCertainly director Zhang Yimou has a visual flair but this movie overly relies on effects and imagery at the expense of literally everything else. Zhang Yimou’s special spice blend is missing. There’s no subtlety. There’s no sensitivity. And the story is just plain lacking. It starts to feel repetitive even within its 104 minutes. But it’s gloriously explody. It is that. Kaboom.

 

 

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The Girl With All The Gifts

I was really worried that this movie would be too scary for me, but its immediate familiarity reminded me that I’d read the book upon which it is based (by M.R. Carey), and knowing I’d survived the book meant I could surely handle the film as well.

Not for nothing: it’s about a “fungus” that’s extremely zombie-like in its presentation. Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is a teacher at a military-run school at Hotel Echo. Her “hungry students” are all infected with the fungus. Under heavy restraints, they aren’t locarno-festival_the_girl_with_all_the_gifts_publicity_still_h_2016just taught, but tested. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is test subject #1. She’s a very sweet young girl until flesh is nearby, and then her jaws start chomping involuntarily.

When the base is suddenly overrun by hungries, Melanie escapes with the compassionate teacher as well as Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), the woman doing all the experiments, and just a few remaining soldiers. Because they’re low on blocker gel (the lotion that makes them less appetizing to hungries), they’re loathe to keep her so close by, but Dr. Caldwell is unwilling to let her best subject go. Melanie might be the key to an antidote.

Their small party need to make their way to the next safe spot, called Beacon, but getting there isn’t going to be easy. There’s some typical zombie movie gore, but this movie manages to be more by focusing on the relationship between student and teacher. And Melanie manages to be more than just a zombie, with her constant yearning to be fully girl-1474366013901_largehuman. Newcomer Sennia Nanua is very compelling in her role; Melanie is a monster, but Nanua gives her a sense of humanity that transforms this horror film into something more urgent, more terrifyingly relatable.

Director Colm McCarthy gives us some memorably startling images, even going so far as to shoot aerial footage over Chernobyl for an apocalyptic feel. The Girl With All The Gifts is not a traditional zombie movie, nor horror. It has a social conscience and some sound science, refreshing the genre with intelligence and dark humour. It’s not a perfect movie, it’s a little muddled, a little indefinite, but it’s a thought-provoking hybrid much like Melanie herself.

No Small Parts: 20 minutes or less

Fans were shocked when Jared Leto’s Joker had only about 7 minutes of screen time out of Suicide Squad‘s bloated 123, but Hollywood has a long history of assigning big names to small roles – and it’s not always a bad thing.

the-italian-distributor-of-12-years-a-slave-has-pulled-its-posters-highlighting-white-actors-like-brad-pittOkay, sometimes it’s a bad thing. Brad Pitt was in 12 Years a Slave for only a couple of minutes, just long enough to establish himself as the only nice white guy, but some countries (not naming any names, Italy) really ran with the white guy and blew his big white face up on the posters, relegating the star (and the slave), Chiwetel Ejiofor, to a small corner.

Anne Hathaway shaved her head and followed a life-threatening diet in order to play the part of Fantine in Les Miserables. She had only 15 minutes of screen time, but it was enough to win her an Oscar and shape her career.

Know who did more with even less? Darth Vader. He appeared in the original Star Wars for just about 12 minutes, but he was an instant bad guy icon. His presence is so magnetizing he truly doesn’t need much. What’s a little more head-scratching to me is Boba Fett. I still don’t even know who he is, or if that’s the correct pronoun for this person. And yet I hear about him ALL THE TIME. He’s in the top 5 favourite characters despite being a glorified boba-fett_61fdadfdextra; he manages about 18 minutes across the entire trilogy mind you, and only got that much when fans seemed to really respond. Mark Hamill got second billing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens because Hollywood is a sexist machine. He’s in that movie for about 6 seconds – sneeze and you miss him.

Beetlejuice is one of Michael Keaton’s most famous roles, and he plays the title character, but he only gets roughly 17 minutes worth of screen time, all told. How crazy is that? But it’s true: he doesn’t appear til quite late in the movie, but boy does he maximize every crazy moment he’s there.

tumblr_o354mgJCwB1rxmai6o8_400.gifJudi Dench will see your 17 minutes, Michael Keaton, and she’ll raise you: she won a best supporting actress Oscar for only 8 minutes of a role. She played Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love and clearly made quite an impression from her modest 6% of the film. Accepting the award, she joked “I feel for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him.” I’m sure that was some consolation to the likes of Lynn Redgrave and Kathy Bates, who lost to her.

Anthony Hopkins only managed to double that screen time when he took on his (arguably) most famous role: Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. In just 16 minutes he managed to creep out an entire generation, and caused chianti sales to plummet. Sean Connery was originally approached for the role and turned it out down, which means he lost out on an iconic role, an Oscar, a big day, and sequel opportunities.

There was a lot about the movie Doubt that got under my skin, but Viola Davis’s 5-8 tumblr_oh5lwdLYg81qa3emao8_400.gifminutes were consistently under there. She plays the mother of a young boy who may or may not have been molested by a priest. She goes toe to toe with Meryl Streep and doesn’t just hold her own – she steals the scene, earning a supporting actress nomination to boot.

5-8 minutes? Bah! Ned Beatty earned his best supporting actor nomination in under 6. He had one riveting scene in Network, which he shot in a single day, but it sure had us glued to our seats.

Beatrice Straight shaves about 13 seconds off Beatty’s time with her Oscar win for her work in the same movie. As William Holden’s poor, wretched wife in Network, Straight made quite an impact, stealing away the record for least screen time for an Oscar win from Gloria Grahame, who took a leisurely 9 and a half minutes to earn hers for The Band and the Beautiful.

It seems as thought it might be difficult for anyone to earn an Oscar with a sub – 5 minute role, but who knows: has anyone actually racked up Michelle Williams’ screen time in Manchester By the Sea? It’s not a whole lot more, I’m guessing. But the truth is, someone came close: Hermione Baddeley was nominated for best supporting actress for just 2 minutes and 20 seconds worth of screen time in Room at the Top, in 1960. The bar’s been set: who will be the first to duck under it successfully?

 

 

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What’s your favourite tiny role? Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street? Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder? Daniel Craig in The Force Awakens?

Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Cinematography

Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America

13th

Documentary Short

Extremis

4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land

Passengers

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costumes

Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Animated

Kubo And the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Editing

Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

Split

Ironically, I think it’s the film itself that suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder, or “multiple personalities”). M. Night Shyamalan can’t decide if this is a strict horror film or if it’s more thriller, or character-driven. He jumps right into the plot with minimal fuss: three teenaged girls are abducted by a very methodical man who turned out to be only one personality among many. Captive, the girls try to figure out which of the personalities might be induced to help them, and which ones mean them harm.

The film works as well as it does because James McAvoy was the perfect casting choice (although he was 2nd choice, and only took the role when Joaquin Phoenix had some conflicts). In the hands of anyone else, the disorder might have seemed funny or splitshadow.jpgcartoonish, but McAvoy gives each personality a distinctive flavour without ever resorting to stereotypes. And that’s hard work period, never mind the fact that he’s fighting Shyamalan’s confused script, that seems to want to have something meaningful to say about this controversial disorder, but also really just wants to be an exploitative horror film. You can’t have it both ways.

Split is further testament that M. Night Shymalan has lost his way. He doesn’t know who he is as a film maker anymore, and his lack of confidence is evident in the script and on the screen. Having jumped head first into action, he then seems to regret his choice of not split-anya-taylor-joy-betty-buckley-jessica-sula.jpghaving introduced any of his characters. He bestows back stories on two of them through flashbacks, hoping it’s not too late. The rest remain paper thin. The girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are mostly there to scream on cue, and to wear progressively less clothing.

Is it a bad movie? No. No-ish. It’s not without merit. I was drawn in, and stressed out. I had all the right reactions. I just didn’t buy it 100%. You might be tempted, particularly by the film’s end, to say that it’s Shyamalan’s best work since Unbreakable. He’s certainly hoping you’ll say that, banking on it in fact. It’s not the highest compliment, of course, but I’m guessing he’ll take it.

20th Century Women

1979: three women. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is an older single mother of a teenaged son who she fears is missing out on some seminal influences, so she enlists his precocious friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and her free spirit\punk photographer tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to “it takes a village” him.

If 20th Century Women isn’t as concerned with being an accurate reflection of the times, it’s a fucking brilliant portraiture. The characters, expertly drawn by writer-director Mike 20th-century-women-annette-benningMills, feel very much like real people because their problems are so distinct. The women don’t bleed into each other; they are each accorded with specific neuroses, anxieties, passions, and influences. We know a little about how they were born, and how they will die, but mostly we know how they are living. 20th Century Women is not plot-driven; nothing “happens” except truth is revealed through meticulous character study.

It helps, of course, to have Annette Bening on board. She’s the reason we’re watching. Her performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. I have been rooting all awards-season long for Natalie Portman in Jackie but having seen this, it will be difficult to go back. Bening treats this movie like a masterclass in acting. Nothing is showy or extraneous. In fact, some of her most brilliant times on screen are in perfect silence, with just the wrinkle of her brow or the droop of her shoulder or some awkward middle-aged dancing communicating all we need to know. Fanning and Gerwig are really quite good as well, but I only know that from the scenes which Bening sits out. If she’s onscreen, my eyes are glued to her. She’s always been this watchable, it’s just been a while since she’s had a role that was equal to her.

Mills’ affection for his characters is evident in their quirkiness. 20th Century Women is funnier than it has to be. Since I’m a strict non-talker at the movies, I tend to communicate approval through hand squeezes. I felt like I’d done a lot of squeezing by the end of the movie, even a little eye-catching and eyebrow lifting, which is probably moot in a dark theatre, but I was feeling magnanimous!  Sean concurred, which I think is an even thumbnail_25085better endorsement for a film that couldn’t be further from his own experience. And that’s what’s so remarkable. Though its genius is in the details, the specificity of the characters, it’s all somehow very relatable. And any movie that’s also a mirror is definitely worth its salt.

The Founder

the-founder-movie-2016-trailer-michael-keatonI suppose it was to be expected that Ray Kroc, the “founder” of McDonald’s, was an asshole. But, wow, was he ever an asshole. He died well before this movie was made but it seems he would have agreed with that assessment and been fine with it since it got him where he wanted to be – it made him rich, eventually.

But not without some struggles. You see, he didn’t “create” McDonald’s until he was 52 years old, and the reason for the quotation marks is because he didn’t actually create it. But as we know, history is written by the victors, and that’s Ray Kroc.

Michael Keaton is extremely good as Kroc. Good to the point that he makes Kroc seem like almost a decent guy even though he’d take your last McNugget whether or not he was hungry. The great Nick Offerman and the familiar John Carroll Lynch are excellent as well as Kroc’s former partners, the McDonald brothers. Other familiar faces will pop up for a scene or two, but this movie is mainly about Kroc and the McDonalds.

The Founder’s story is an interesting and engaging one from start to finish. It skips around noticably at parts and I felt a bit disconnected from the movie as a result, but the core tale remained crisp, clear, and entertaining throughout, to the point that the lawyer side of me wanted to yell at the screen as one particularly bad decision was made.

So bring your notepad and find out how an empire can be built from practically nothing on someone else’s idea, as long as you don’t mind being an asshole about it. The Founder gets a score of seven “fries with that” out of ten.