Monthly Archives: February 2017

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jackreacher2-tomcruise-carwindow-gunpointMovies like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back make John Wick: Chapter 2 look like John Wick: Chapter 1.  I really enjoyed the first John Wick for its simplicity, tight action scenes, and original feel.  I criticized John Wick: Chapter 2 for its overly repetitive fight scenes but despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable film.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not enjoyable.  It feels old and tired, a cliché of a cliché.  The only fun I had while watching was making fun of all the things that Tom Cruise’s character could never go back to (and there’s a lot because he’s essentially a hobo who seems to piss off everyone he interacts with).

Basically, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the most generic Tom Cruise action film you can imagine.  He runs really fast as always, though here a woman keeps pace with him somehow so she must have had superpowers.  Despite not winning the race, Cruise’s character redeems himself by being smarter than everyone, persisting in the face of slight facial injuries that show us he’s up against impossible odds, and drawing on the legal skills he learned during A reacherFew Good Men to avoid incriminating himself in one particularly Tom-Cruise-y scene (as you may have deduced, while watching this film I decided to treat Tom Cruise’s filmography as if he has literally been playing the same character this whole time, because figuratively he has been doing exactly that for the last 35 years).

I skipped the first Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made me really glad I did.  If only I had been smart enough to skip this one.  If you’re a fan of Mission: Impossible then you may get some minor enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a pale imitation (incidentally, when I saw the trailer I thought it was a new M:I movie so that’s an indication of how generic this movie really is).  Also, if you’ve seen the trailer you have already seen what might be Cruise’s best sequence in the movie.  Basically, there’s no need to buy this cow especially when the free milk being given away isn’t even fresh.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gets a score of 4 unhandleable truths out of ten, because a film this mediocre and generic does not deserve any original wordplay.

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Little Men

Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are two 12 year old boys who form a quick friendship when Jake’s family movies into the apartment above Tony’s Mom’s store. It’s a nice friendship for both as Jake, a budding artist, is a bit of an outsider without many friends, and Tony, an aspiring actor, has plenty of soccer buddies but not a lot of fellow artists to relate to. And it just so happens that Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) is an actor himself.

The friendship weathers bullying and other outside forces but takes a hit when the two families conflict. Jake’s dad  Brian has just inherited this apartment when his own father littlemendied – not just the apartment, in fact, but the building, which includes Leonor’s (Tony’s mom) store. Brian’s sister is demanding her fair share, and that means increasing Leonor’s rent, which has languished very generously far below market price for years. She can’t afford to pay the higher rent and insists that Brian’s father wanted her there. Brian is pulled by his sister, who is rightfully wanting her share of the inheritance, and his wife who supports the family herself (what little acting work he gets doesn’t pay much).

The parents force this tension onto their children, trying to keep them apart, forbidding them to set foot in each other’s homes. It’s an awkward situation and one of the reasons why this film is titled Little Men: these two 12-year-olds are dealing with pretty mature issues, which is why it’s so sad and frustrating when they’re unable to be each other’s support system. It’s further heart breaking because Tony, having an absent father, was rather leaning on Brian for some fatherly advice. Jake will perhaps recover more quickly, having two loving parents, but what of Tony? It’s a question that doesn’t quite get answered but I think is worth asking.

Little Men is an interesting reminder of how economic power can poison relationships. The grown ups each believe themselves to be not just right, but righteous. Their strained politeness turns cold, then hostile. It’s a cloud that casts a dark shadow over the friendship of their sons, and that friendship is willingly sacrificed by the adults. But those adults are kept at a remove; director Ira Sachs doesn’t judge them much, he’s more interested in what the boys are going through. Their experience is somehow discounted because they are young. We, the cynical audience, watch the parents declare that they’d do anything for their kids while in reality, they flush a genuine relationship down the toilet over money and real estate.

Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

My favourite thing about sitting down to watch a short film is having no idea what to expect. I rarely watch a feature film without having seen a trailer or at least having read something about it. When I watch a collection of shorts, I am pretty much ready for anything.

 

mindenki_behindthecurtainMindenki (Sing). Everyone who wants to is welcome to sing in choir, promises the principal at Zsófi’s new school. The truth, she will soon discover, is more complicated. Zsófi is an enthusiastic student until her spirit is crushed when Miss Erika, who thinks they may have a real shot at the championship this year, takes her aside and asks her to stop singing out loud.

Mindenki has a lot going on in just 25 minutes. Watching a 10 or 11 year-old being told by her favourite teacher that she simply isn’t good enough and that she should just “mouth the words” while the others sing is pretty much as heartbreaking as it sounds. It says a lot about the ways some students can get left behind and the ways that a careless teacher can demoralize a child and stifle creativity.

silent-nightsLikeable actors, terrific editing, and a timely story go a long way in elevating the imperfect but nonetheless effective Silent Nights. Mostly a love story set against the backdrop of the immigration and refugee controversy in Western Europe, Silent Nights follows a brief affair between a Danish girl volunteering in a shelter and a homeless man from Ghana.

Silent Nights packs a lot of story into 30 minutes and it features a much clearer beginning, middle, and end than I’m used to seeing in short films. It’s actually structured like a min feature film complete with subplots that lead nowhere. The script is ocassionally a little too sentimental but it earns big points for introducing us to two complex characters that we can care about.

 

With just 15 minutes, Timecode is the shortest of the five nominated shorts. It’s also potentially the most confusing. Luna is a parking lot attendant who discovers that her colleague Diego has left a surpritimecodese for her. He has danced his heart out in front of the security cameras for her amusement. I have to admit though that it took me awhile to recognize it as dancing. I thought at first that he was fighting off an invisible assailant. So begins their unusual shift exchange ritual.

Timecode has already picked up several awards including the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and more importantly Best International Shortfilm at the Whistler Film Festival so its got a serious shot at the Oscar. It’s cute, well-made (even if not always well-danced but hey we forgave La La Land), and is probably the least pretentious of the five nominees. I just simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the others.

 


Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within)
is the more disciplined of the two Europeans Can Be Racist shorts (see Silent Nights above). Enemies Within is mostly just two people in a room talking but holy shit is itennemis-interieurs3 tense. A citizenship interview slowly morphs into a full-on national security interrogation.

Ennemis Interieurs can sort of feel like just a really good scene from the glory days of Homeland but the acting and directing are superb and it says a lot in a short time about institutional racism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

 


La Femme et le TGV
is my favourite of the five. And not just because it has trains. An aging woman discovers that her daily ritual of waving at passing trains hasn’t gotten unnoticed or unappreciated. The train’s conductor decides to write her a thank you note and their pen palling reignites her passion for litgvfe.

I’ve read one reviewer accuse La Femme et le TGV of stealing its tone from Amelie. While I agree that Amelie would give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect, I would argue that my favourite live-action short of 2016 takes some of what worked best from Amelie to deliver something funny, touching, and lovely.

Rules Don’t Apply

I feel like I heard about this movie such a long time ago – Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic. Beatty’s return to acting in, what?, 15 years? His first directorial effort since Bullworth, which was 1998 if my memory of the great soundtrack song serves.

Lily Collins plays Marla, the Apple Blossom Queen, who is under contract with Howard Hughes, an elusive man she has yet to meet despite the fact that she’s been living and rulesdontapply-collins-ehrenreich-car-700x300earning a stipend in Los Angeles for several weeks. Her devout mother (Annette Bening) has already returned home in frustration, so now it’s just Marla and Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), her devoted, reliable driver, who hasn’t met Hughes yet either. His only job, besides driving her around, is not to fall in love with her. That’s kind of tricky even though he’s practically married and she’s a prim virgin. But when a man tells you your beauty and uniqueness means “rules don’t apply to you” – well, crap, it’s the kind of think that dampens the panties.

When Howard Hughes (Beatty) finally does make an appearance in their lives, he’s a larger than life figure of course, and on the bring of insanity (though close enough to the one side that he’s paranoid as heck about seeming crazy). He’s obsessively keeping out of rules_dont_apply_h_2016the public eye while skulking about in the dark. He doesn’t have as much use for these two young protagonists as they have for him, but it makes for an interesting dynamic.

The movie is only funny, or romantic, in fits and starts. Tonally it seems to be a little wayward. I found it interesting nonetheless. Beatty has chosen to show only a small window of Hughes’ life, not his best years by any stretch. He also relegates him to a supporting character in the film, with Frank and Marla providing life and context to Hughes’ sad descent. Perhaps more than a biography of Howard Hughes’ life, this is a tribute to the earliest days of Beatty’s career, when he was a young, ambitious actor just getting his footing in L.A. And with a supporting cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt and Paul Sorvino, there’s just too much talent to ignore. Beatty is good; Collins is even better.

 

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, 2017

Borrowed Time: a sheriff returns to the site of a crash, the source of his guilt, the symbol BORROWED-TIME-2.gifof his grief. The animation is twelve steps above incredible, from the flecks of gray in his beard to his slightly crooked teeth and the just-noticeable ripple of his mustache in a gentle breeze, the animators clearly know what they’re doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj tell the story precisely and economically, every frame adding a tragic detail. Builds to an impressive emotional valve in just under 7 minutes.

Pearl: told from a hatchback car that has traveled the country with a dream and a song, 3060252-inline-1g-dont-be-surprised-if-googles-animated-short-pearl-wins-an-oscar-this-yearPearl is the story of a girl, her father, and their music, clearly a family gift. We got to see this short in the Oscar package at the fabulous Bytowne theatre, which means we saw it on the big screen, which is actually not how it was intended to be shown. Pearl is the first virtual reality movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Director Patrick Osborne chooses a blocky animation style paired with endearing music that makes me wish that I too had enjoyed the VR experience, because it’s a whirlwind of pride, sacrifice, and in virtual reality, you’re the one with camera: every viewing would literally be a slightly different movie.

Piper: this is the one most of you will already be familiar with, having screened in advance of Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory. It’s about a baby sandpiper being taught to forage for her tumblr_og1b37dVCN1qd79gyo5_540.gifown food. The beach is not always as serene as it looks and an unexpected wave leads to some PTSD for one cute little birdie. But she learns confidence and resilience, and the joy of helping others, all in less than 6 minutes. The animation is stunning. The ocean’s foam impressed me, the movement of each individual grain of sand. In great Pixar tradition, writer-director Alan Barillaro offers us something truly beautiful.

Blind Vaysha: pictograph-style animation (Sean called it “deliberately ugly”, I would blind-vayshadescribe it more like wood-cuttings, if I was feeling generous) tells a parable of a little girl born effectively blind – her left eye seeing only the past, her right only the future, which means the present is one big blind spot. And guess what? There isn’t any happiness in the past or in the future, it’s all happening right now and if you can’t see that, you can’t really see anything. Director Theodore Ushev has a great theme and plays on it with swirling visuals, challenging the audience to experimentation.

Pear Cider & Cigarettes: after several warnings to remove children from the audience, this “graphic” offering by writer-director Robert Valley is narrated in the first-person about pearcider_a.gifRob’s charismatic but troubled friend, Techno. Techno’s near god-like status comes crashing down as he slowly poisons himself to death with alcohol. It’s definitely the only animated short with full-frontal nudity. It was originally a graphic novel, or novels, comprising several volumes, which is why this short film clocks in at a hefty 35 minutes, every single frame of which is hand-drawn by Valley himself, over the course of half a decade or so.

The verdict: Piper’s going to win. Borrowed Time is probably its only real competition, and I feel they’re both deserving. I’m not sure how many Academy voters will have seen Pearl in VR but even the theatrical cut is immersive and interesting. Can the animation team from Google really win an Oscar? While Blind Vaysha certainly has an eye-catching style, the story didn’t draw me in, and it ended too abruptly and without much resolution. Pear Cider and Cigarettes down right turned me off. If you’re going to bother animating a 30 minute sequence, you should also go to the trouble of writing, then editing your story- the narrative style just didn’t work for me. I feel unpatriotic down-voting both Canadian efforts, but them’s the breaks; Pixar’s still at the top of the heap. Take aim, animators.

 

Eat Like an Oscar Winner

Sean and I are tragically removed from our friends this Oscar broadcast as we’ll be in Philadelphia for some odd reason, and it’s too darn bad because I would rock the shit out of this year’s Oscar menu.

694999267AP00011_89th_AnnuaThe “official” Oscars after-party happens at the Governors Ball, with a menu created by Wolfgang Puck. His Oscar staples include black truffle chicken pot pie, his famous baked mac and cheese, and smoked salmon served on an Oscar-shaped cracker.

This year he’s also serving new items such as Moroccan-spiced Wagyu short rib topped with a Parmesan funnel cake (yeah, you read that right); taro root tacos with shrimp, mango, avocado and chipotle aioli (I might consider caviar tacos myself); gnochetti with braised mushrooms and cashew cream; and lobster corn dogs (um, excuse me?).

Then there’s gold-dusted truffle popcorn, red velvet waffles, caramel cappuccino Oscar 694999267AP00007_89th_Annualollipops, and chocolate bonbons in classic “movie theatre flavours” such as Sour Patch Kids, Red Hots, and Goobers.

And don’t forget the champagne. Cases and cases of champagne, plus Francis Ford Coppola wine, natch.

Of course there are dozens of competing after-parties, and Oscar winners will likely make appearances at several over the course of the night, with the women likely making pit stops to change gowns (not into something more comfortable, mind you, but into something that hasn’t been photographed obsessively just three hours prior).

The decadence extends to the famed Oscar “swag bags” that the nominees receive (mind you these only go to the celebrity nominees in acting categories. An Editor doesn’t warrant one). What’s in the bag (theme: “Everyone Wins!”) this year?

  • 1487363798668a week’s stay at the Golden Door, a resort spa with an art collection, in-room massages, meditation pathways, citrus trees, and a “pain empowerment” “experience” that makes me want to punch someone in the teeth
  • personalized sommelier service, plus a boutique bottle of champagne hand-selected for each nominee
  • limited edition bling: designed for the nominees by Namira Monaco, they’ll receive a pendant and brooch in the Pole Star Constellation
  • a vaporizer
  • a box of Dandi patches, which you wear in your armpits to prevent sweat stains from getting on your nice clothes – probably comes in handy since most celebs just “borrow” their frocks from designers
  • a 3-night stay in an 18-bedroom California mansion that’s worth $40K
  • sweet cheeks cellulite massage pad – apparently you sit on it for 30 minutes a day and the cellulite just packs a bag and leaves voluntarily
  • a Hawaiian vacation on Kauai’s sunny South Shore
  • personalized crayons including a gold one inscribed with the nominee’s name
  • CPR lessons
  • Canadian maple syrup
  • a 10 month supply of Opal apples, which apparently never go brown

John Wick: Chapter 2

wickbarI lagged way behind and only saw the first John Wick a few weeks ago when it popped up on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, and like action movies, it’s a good one (definitely good enough to warrant a sequel). And that sequel is now upon us.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is faithful to the first chapter’s formula, almost to a fault. That fault is repetitiveness, in a somewhat strange way. You see, one of the things I liked about John Wick (both the first movie and the character) is that he bleeds. He makes mistakes and the bad guys capitalize. He wins in the end through sheer force of will.

The same basic formula plays out in John Wick: Chapter 2 but since it’s a sequel, everything has to be tougher for our protagonist Jonathan (note to Ian McShane: emphasizing that this hit man’s full name is “Jonathan” is weird; please stop).  The problem is the way the difficulty is ratched up. Wick is not given tougher bad guys to face. He’s just given more of them, which makes the extended fight scenes a tedious series of guys running at Wick and Wick then shooting them twice in the body and one in the head.john-wick-chapter-2-keanu-reeves-419484-jpg-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

Or, if two guys (or more) run at him at once (a SERIOUS violation of movie bad guy etiquette) he puts one in an MMA- style hold, shoots the other(s) in the body then head, then gives a head shot to the guy he wrestled down and has probably been using as a human shield while dealing with the other(s). Keanu Reeves obviously practiced this move particularly hard and good on him for still being credible as an action hero, but a little variety would have been nice in order to continue the first movie’s realistic feel.

(Don’t even get me started on the part where Wick is specifically given a gun with limited ammo and then immediately gets a magic movie gun from the first bad guy he kills that shoots about 30 times before he has to cock it again. Or the fact that in this film every second person in Central Park is an assassin.)

There’s more good and bad, and more good than bad in John Wick: Chapter 2. But when this movie’s ending set us up for the third instalment, I immediately thought of Jason Bourne, which I seriously considered turning off on a plane. That is a bad road for John Wick to be headed down.

John Wick: Chapter 2 gets a score of six smashed-up classic Mustangs out of ten. Essentially, the opening car-smashing sequence was a metaphor, in which Wick was this movie and my goodwill toward the first movie was the car. That it was such a nice car to begin with is the most disappointing part.

 

Girlfriend’s Day

Bob Odenkirk is a poet.

Well, poet is the word he uses for the ladies.

By poet he means greeting card writer. And by greeting card writer, I mean ex greeting card writer. He’s just been fired, a dinosaur in a dying industry. Once the “Bill https-%2f%2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com%2fuploads%2fcard%2fimage%2f382405%2fac0a1e1b-8957-4c65-8491-fe26b36c8841Shakespeare” of greeting cards, he lost his mojo when his wife left him. It’s kind of too bad because the mayor has just proposed a new holiday that could revitalize the greeting card industry and and get ole Bob the redemption he’s after.

It’s not going to be easy though. Competition’s going to be tough: there’s a lot of old hacks who’d like another shot at glory. And the greeting card industry’s about to get surprisingly bloody.

This is light fare, but fun. An oddball cast including Amber Tamblyn, Stacy Keach, Alex Karpovsky, Andy Richter, and Natasha Lyonne casts a quirky golden hue over the whole thing, which stitches together the nonsensical in the simplest way. This is by no means a workout for your cerebellum. Odenkirk is the man when it comes to laughs, and there are plenty here. Not a whole lot more, but late at night, surfing Netflix, sometimes that’s enough.

Oscar Spotlight: Editing

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is very closely correlated to Best Picture. For 33 years, 1981-2013, every Best Picture Winner was nominated for Film Editing. Two thirds of Best Picture winners also win for Editing.

[What broke the mould? In 2014, Birdman won Best Picture but was shut out of the Best Editing nominations. Those went to American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash; Whiplash won.]

Editing is the invisible art that even editors struggle to describe.

Nebraska editor Kevin Tent: It’s hard to articulate what editors do, but when it’s bad, you’ll know it. When it’s good, you’ll never know.

Gravity co-editor Mark Sanger: The editor needs to provide a canvas that complements all of the other aspects to tie them together. If an audience has engaged deeply enough with a story to nominate it for best picture, then they understand the pages were bound together in the editing.

Any clearer? Basically, what Oscar voters are thinking is:  Are there special challenges that go into it? Multiple story lines? Non-linear? Does it flow well, is the story clear? Is the film visually exceptional? Is the movie long but doesn’t feel it? Directing a movie is telling (showing) a story; editing a movie is how well you can tell it. Sometimes good editing means you don’t notice it at all, it seamless pulls together all the elements of the movie. Other times, it might purposely draw attention to itself: Wolf of Wall Street’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker says “In ‘Wolf,’ we’re doing shocking cutting deliberately, because their world is out of control, and wild.”

Only the principal editor is named on the award. He or she may sit down and do the first edit of a movie by themselves, but the director is almost always sitting beside them for the polish of the film, and their work becomes blurred with judgments about pacing, film language, and martinscorsesethelmaschoonmakerpowellgadves9f5idlmore. Lots of directors have a go-to editor as this person will be their right-hand in making the film complete. They get to know each other very well, and must share a vision for the film, while pushing each other to make the best film possible. Michael Kahn, the most nominated editor is Oscars history, and tied for most wins (3), is a frequent collaborator of Steven Spielberg – they’ve worked together for nearly 40 years. Schoonmaker and Scorsese are also collaborators over several decades. Some of these editor-director ‘marriages’ last longer than the real ones do in Hollywood.

You probably can’t truly judge an editor unless you’ve seen the raw material they had to work with, but there are some things to look out for: is it focused? graceful? do they keep you on the edge of your seat when there’s action? are you riveted during a great performance? does it keep your interest throughout? are you ever confused, or left wondering what’s happening in a scene? do they stay on a particularly good moment for as long as it holds emotionally, or cut away too soon? What’s left out is just as important as what’s kept. And sometimes staying, rather than cutting, is even more powerful. Yup, it’s a lot to think about and certainly would require more than one viewing to really judge. There are only about 220 members of the Editing branch of the Academy, and they’re the ones who pick the nominees. Then everyone gets to vote for who wins.

This year’s nominees:

John Gilbert, for Hacksaw Ridge: Gilbert was previously nominated for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the Academy likes war movies in terms of editing. The battle scenes have lots of intense editing, and Gilbert agrees that these are what the Academy is responding to: “They’re made up of fragments of images, a lot of it is very short shots and high john-gilbert-1-1000x1482intensity. The idea was to put the audience in amongst it and people really feel it in the battle scenes, a lot of people sort of cover their eyes, there’s a lot of bloodshed and mayhem, and it’s quite sustained.” While the initial work of stringing the film together can be done quickly, perhaps in a week, the real meat comes afterword, when director and editor sit down together to make all the difficult choices. “I worked with Mel Gibson for about 10 weeks on it. I originally thought that 10 weeks was not going to be enough. About half the movie is battle scenes, with a lot of quick-cut action, and a lot of choices due to the amount of footage I had. Mel had been in during the shoot and we went over some sequences in great detail, looking at re-speeding shots, and trimming frames, taking quite a bit of time. There are always key scenes where small changes in performance and timing can be critical and we worked hard on them.” Gilbert is quick to point out that editing is a collaborative process: “The assistants break it down into scenes for me, and I skip through the circled takes to start with, just to have a look at what sort of coverage I’ve got. I like to get an idea in my mind about the shape of the scene, where I’m going to use the wide shots, where I’m going to use the close-ups, and how to best use the coverage I have. I like to find what I think are they key moments in the scene and make a note of any magic I find in the performances. I make a ‘selects’ sequence as I go, which I make in story order, and that becomes the basis for my first edit. It is also useful if the script supervisor has a good relationship with the director and is able to give me insight into what they were thinking, and any moments they loved when shooting.”

Joe Walker, for Arrival: Walker worked with Denis Villeneuve last year on Sicario and again this year on Blade Runner 2049, so they’re forming quite a successful partnership. He was previously nominated for his work on 12 Years A Slave. As Villeneuve and Walker wrapped up Sicario, Villeneuve passed him the script for Arrival, and he was immediately drawn to it for its “strong female lead. It was educated and it was grown-up, and I was fascinated by the joe-walker-800x600application of my craft to it, in so far as it’s right in the middle of what I think is our super power as editors, which is the manipulation of time.” Arrival is told with little glimpses of memory, other times, other places. How do you sew that all together? “Many things were just grabbed moments that were sort of very emotive and beautiful, a hand touching a baby’s hand in a cart, or an out-of-focus shot of a horse in a stable. They could have gone anywhere. Trying to build that into the narrative and marble this narrative through with these little glimpses of a memory, if you like.” Arrival doesn’t have a strictly linear approach, nor is it classically circular or backward or necessarily out of chronological order. It simply does not exist within our perception of time and order. It’s interwoven, with all moments touching each other, if you can think of time reaching around on itself. “To really be moved by the ending, we felt we had to adjust that. We had to make sure that the wall that we built at the beginning wasn’t so solid that we couldn’t kick it down, but also we had to choose a real moment where people will definitely get it. That’s right at the heart of editing and narrative storytelling, working out when you’re just ahead of the audience, or in parallel with the audience, and never behind. We always wanted to compliment the audience’s intelligence so that they could figure it out themselves.”

Jake Roberts, for Hell or High Water: Jake “NOT the Snake” Roberts has worked on some pretty great films, including Starred Up, Brooklyn, and Trespass Against Us, but this is his first Academy Award nomination. He was a film buff grown up and expected to be a “film maker” img_8854but fell into editing rather accidentally, and fell in love with it quite whole heartedly. “The alchemy that occurred when you juxtaposed certain images or performances and added music or sound effects was ‘filmmaking’ to me in the most literal sense. I’ve been editing ever since.” On the particular challenges of making a neo-Western like Hell or High Water: “The challenges were mostly about tone and pace. It’s a serious film but has plenty of laughs in it so we had to be careful not to let it get too heavy or too silly and walk a line between it’s extremes. Likewise we wanted the film to be languid in places and for the audience to be able to hear the space and the silences but equally for it to play plausibly as a mainstream thriller.” How does he evaluate editing? “Never stop asking questions of the material. What do I (as the audience) want to see next? What information, be it visual or expositional, do I need to follow the story? What don’t I need? What is repetitive? Why don’t I like that character as much as I should? Why does it feel slow here?”

Tom Cross, for La La Land: He’s only been the lead editor on films since 2010 but he’s already got one Academy Award under his belt, for – you guessed it – Whiplash. How does Cross describe his collaborator, director Damien Chazelle? “Very, very prepared. In that way, it really helps me as an editor to put the movie into the first cut. The other thing that is so great about Damien, as a director, is that he is a true believer in what film editing can do. He gets very excited about solving problems, whether they be story problems or a character problems. I shouldn’t really say “problems,” but issues. He gets very excited about solving certain issues lr-tomcross_whiplashthrough editing. To his credit, he’s a brilliant writer and a visionary director, but he also is not afraid to change something in his script, whether it be dialogue or action, in order to fit what the film has to be.” How does Whiplash compare to La La Land? “In the case of Whiplash, the directive was to tell a story at a break neck pace, and with a certain amount of precision. As if the character of Fletcher was editing the movie itself. In the case of La La Land, Damien had similar directives for the editing. He had different styles that he wanted to do scenes. He used certain romantic scenes that would play out at a slower pace, and maybe less cuts. He knew that in order for that to really work and have the right emotional impact, he would have to offset that in other scenes. Other scenes have quick cutting, or fast cutting, or are told with dissolve, or other optical techniques. I think that something that excites me about Damien’s work is that he really looks at how editing can help tell the story. He’s a real believer in varying the pace and varying the speed of the cuts in order to accentuate moments when he wants to have something play slower and more romantically.” Lots of the movie relies on old Hollywood techniques to help make the film feel more dream-like, sweeping camera movements and dissolving scenes. In that way, the editing too is a throw-back. Some scenes that are meant to be more ‘modern’ (like the concert footage with John Legend) feature a lot of cutting, but others, such as when Mia and Seb dance in the observatory, are a single, brave take. And for all La La Land’s big, showy, numbers, there are also quiet scenes that convey a lot of emotion. “There were items where the editing would have to take a back seat and be very invisible. That could be seen in the dinner scene where they break up. It was directed to me as an editor to use these four shot units—we had a medium shot of Sebastian, a medium of Mia, a close of Mia, and a close of Sebastian. That’s all you have.”

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon for Moonlight: If Sanders and McMillon win, they’ll make history. moonlight-editorsActually, they already have; McMillon is the first African American woman to be nominated as an editor. She’d obviously also be the first to win! Sanders and McMillon divided the job between the two of them, with Sanders primarily focused on the first two segments and McMillon working on the third. The third, of course, was the toughie, and McMillon had to convince writer-director Barry Jenkins to move substantial pieces around in order to maximize and earn emotional involvement. Once he was on board “we found a place for everything, it became organic.” “Barry’s really focused on what life feels like,” Sanders said, specifying cutaways of a hand sifting through sand, or Naomie Harris moving in slow motion through the yard. Sanders and McMillon tinkered with sound design, and chose abrupt cuts to black, but kept a respect for the elegant camera work. “When you get such beautiful footage, you have to treat it like another performance,” Sanders said. He also explains the particular challenge of working for college pal Jenkins: “maintaining Barry’s filmmaking voice, which was observational and ponderous, and always wanting to preserve that, but still needing to keep things moving.”

 

So does that make things clearer, or muddy the waters? And who’s your pick for Oscar?

 

 

Fist Fight

The first mistake Fist Fight makes, and it makes it before it even starts, is assuming everyone in the audience is high. Not just assuming, but requiring. Requiring it, necessitating it with its very premise, yet rudely NOT passing out joints before the opening credits roll. There is nothing about this movie that will make sense unless you are largely mentally incapacitated. Let me be clear: there is no amount of marijuana that will help this movie to make any sense in the strictest definition of the word. There may, however, be a sweet spot where you just don’t care, and if you find it, let me know.

Charlie Day is a mild-mannered English teacher and Ice Cube is an intimidating history teacher at the same “rough” high school where it’s the last day of school, students are fistfight0003wild, and everyone’s job is on the chopping block. Before first period is even over, Ice Cube takes the chopping a little too literally, taking an actual fire ax to a student’s desk. Mean principal Tyler (Dean Norris) insists on firing one of them on the spot, and since Charlie Day’s got a baby due any minute (and is in fact NOT the one to threaten students with an ax), he lets Tyler know that Ice Cube is perhaps the obvious choice. This enrages Ice Cube, and instead of taking his anger out on the student who pissed him off, or the principal who just fired him, or the superintendent who made him interview for his own job, he for no apparent reason zeroes in on the innocent and oblivious Charlie Day, who we’ve already established as a “coward” for no particular reason, but he’s wearing khakis and a nubby sports coat, so let’s go with it.

Charlie Day spends the rest of his day in a total panic, trying to avoid this #teacherfight. Will he stoop to black mailing students? Planting drugs on fellow teachers? Lying to his pregnant wife and disappointing his young daughter? Of course he will. And most egregiously, he will go to Tracy Morgan for advice. I mean, I can suspend my disbelief enough to allow for a horse amped up on homemade meth. Sure. But someone seeking out Tracy Morgan for advice? Come on.

I have an enormous crush on Ice Cube, and he’s very Ice Cube-y in this. And Charlie Day is fistfightquite Charlie Day. It’s too bad nobody wrote for them. Or really wrote at all, period. The run up to the #teacherfight is so standard you’ll wonder where you’ve seen it before and realize the answer is: everywhere. This movie borrows heavily from all kinds of mediocre movies and doesn’t even bother to steal the best stuff. It’s lazy. And absurd. And when the fight occurs, it’ll require exceptions to the rules of time and space that your brain won’t even be able to handle, nor will it want to because this movie just doesn’t deserve that kind of effort.

Fist Fight has all the makings of a mid-February comedy. It’s like it didn’t even try to be anything more.