Monthly Archives: January 2018

Roman J Israel, Esq

Roman Israel is part of a two-man law firm: he does the research and the writing, while his partner makes the court appearances. But when his partner is suddenly taken out by a heart attack, it becomes clear that the firm isn’t financially solvent, and that Roman (Denzel Washington) is ill-suited to work both sides of his cases. When a large firm comes to swallow him up, headed by George (Colin Farrell), it looks bleak for Roman’s future.

But the interesting thing about Roman is that he uses the law for social justice. He’s been working on a case for years, maybe decades, that he believes could reform the system. topelementHe is well-respected by activists and has collected clients simply by treating people like human beings. George decides to keep him around, thinking it might be good for his firm to do a little pro-bono for once. This is weird timing for Roman, who has just decided that he’s tired of working for ingrates and wouldn’t mind making a little money for once. And that’s the frame of mind he’s in when he makes a terrible, unethical, life-changing decision that could ruin or cost him his life.

There is no doubt that Denzel Washington turns in a stirring performance. Roman Israel is conflicted but he asks a lot of interesting philosophical questions. However, the performance does not make the movie. Everything else is a mess. I never fully understood what the movie was telling us: is Roman autistic? Why is he so bad with people, so out of touch, so obsessive? And it turns out that this was the least confusing part of the movie, because once it branches out from character study to mild intrigue it really spirals out of control. There’s no focus. For a film that seems poised to preach about morality, my biggest concern was whether I could write a review for a movie I walked out on.

Roman is a little too quirky and the script is a lot too unbelievable. Nothing came together for me and I was not entertained or even interested. Pass.

Advertisements

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a Netflix original film that takes some chances. Netflix knows it has some leeway for experimenting in film, and this one was a particularly obvious choice for a little outside-the-boxing. It’s a biopic of sorts for Doug Kenney, the founder of National Lampoon. He was a funny guy who coloured outside the lines and this movie is a fitting tribute to him; it keeps you guessing.

Told in retrospect and narrated by an older, wiser, omniscient Doug Kenney (played by Martin Mull) who watches the events of his life unfold with a little disdain and a huge grain of salt. This device allows for a fair amount of editorializing and joke making at his own expense.

Will Forte plays Kenney, ages 18-33, and despite the fact that he’s 46 in real life, he’s a A-Futile-and-Stupid-Gesture-trailer-700x300great choice. He can pull off the sadness and the savage humour, playing it straight, breaking the fourth wall, talking directly to us, talking to himself. Doug Kenney was the Harvard editor of the Lampoon, and he had such an epically good time just fucking around with his good buddy Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) he decided to just keep it going and took their little humour magazine national. And as if the phenomenal success of the National Lampoon wasn’t enough, they expanded into radio shows, during which they enlisted the talents of Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner. And then they started writing movies like Animal House and Caddyshack.  And while some might feel content with having their dreams come true and writing the most successful comedy movie EVER, Kenney never can be. He tries to fill the hole in his heart by shooting stuff up his nose. It’s a circuitous route that doesn’t work very well, but not for lack of trying.

Director David Wain assembles an incredible ensemble to help him out, and by incredible I mean, lots of recognizable faces, but not necessarily well-suited for the parts. Joel McHale gets to play Chevy Chase, and even though the two were on a TV show together for many years, it’s like McHale doesn’t realize he’s a real person with tonnes of footage on which he could base his performance. Instead he does Joel McHale in a bad wig and unless someone is loudly calling him Chevy, I forget which one he’s supposed to be.

I admire this movie more than I like it. I think it’s okay, and at times quite funny, and probably worth a watch if you don’t mind weird stuff. But the thing is, the writers and director are a complete mismatch. The writing is unconventional and wacky and striving for something extra but the director is a little more conservative and a little less inspired so the whole thing just sort of clashes awkwardly. Forte and Gleeson are kind of wonderful though – maybe a little futile, but definitely not stupid.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand is a big, beefy bull who accidentally destroys a village and gets branded a beast. The biggest, most monstrous bulls get chosen by the matador for bullfights, MV5BZWQ5ODZiMWMtYjM1Yy00ZDlhLTkwYzctNTQxNzE5MDRhNmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0MTc4OQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,738_AL_but Ferdinand has never aspired to such fame. He’s a gentle soul, really, a pacifist. The other bulls are quite judgmental about his lack of fight but Ferdinand stays true to himself.

And that’s all I really have to say about it. This is not Pixar; it’s not intended for adults, or particularly bright children. Ferdinand is forgettable. It doesn’t even try to surprise you. But John Cena as Ferdinand is pretty okay and Kate McKinnon as a “calming goat” is sometimes nearly funny, so I guess there’s that. It just feels lackluster, and lazy.

Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

Lady Macbeth

Katherine is a young bride, sold into marriage by her father and sent to live with her new husband and father-in-law in 19th century rural England (I mean, she doesn’t time travel there, it’s a period film).

It’s hard to say who is more cruel, the husband who “cannot” sleep with her but likes to masturbate to the sight of her behind, or the father-in-law who continually admonishes her for failing in her wifely duties. Both men are cold and heartless so let’s just say Katherine isn’t exactly heartbroken when they both leave her “alone” at home. “Alone” in the 19th century of course means there are still dozens of servants 06-lady-mackbeth.w710.h473(slaves? I think maybe yes – employees are much less likely to put up with the flogging and being locked in cellars and such) about, and eyes are everywhere. Sebastian, a new groom, catches Katherine’s attention, and as they ignite a passionate affair, she actually seems to come alive for the first time. But then her father in law returns and everything goes to hell. You might guess the nature of this hell by the name the film (and the novel on which it is based) is given. Lady Macbeth will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

I’ve heard the film described as a character study and I’m not sure I agree – for much of the film, Katherine’s emotions are impenetrable, to us and possibly even to her. She seems almost to have gone numb to the degrading circumstances of her life. Florence Pugh gives an absolutely riveting performance but I’m not sure we ever come to know Katherine’s inner workings or her motivations. What we do get is a taste of the subordination of women of the time. The oppression is as weighty as Katherine’s voluminous skirts, and it weighs everyone down. As she escapes from under the thumb of her horrid life, Katherine then becomes horrid herself. The movie burns with sex and murder but is icy in its remove.

Lady Macbeth is measured and quiet. It’s an unusual film and it’s not going to be for everyone. What I enjoyed most is that it dismantles the romanticism of other period films – “corset films” as Keira Knightly, who has built her career on them, calls them. The horse-drawn carriage rides through fields untouched by time look awfully nice, but the truth is these times were still savage for anyone not a wealthy white man. Lady Macbeth may be a “lady” in name, but Katherine is a sociopath by circumstance. It doesn’t excuse what she does, but it does make you wonder whether you mightn’t have done it yourself.

Oscar Nominations 2018

Since we got 18 hours’ worth of snow and freezing rain between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Jay and I both got to stay home and watch Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish announce the 2018 Oscar Nominees.

Our instant reaction after the presentation finished?  Quite positive, I’d say.  The Academy seems to have included everyone who ought to be a contender for these awards, save for James Franco but there’s an understandable reason for that (#metoo).  The only real disappointment was that Wonder Woman didn’t get any nominations at all, which seems like a significant omission for a movie that is fifth on Rotten Tomatoes’ best of 2017 list, particularly when the terrible Suicide Squad got nominated for (and won!) an Oscar in 2017.

Even though Wonder Woman didn’t get any nominations, it was both satisfying and encouraging to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird get the recognition they both deserve.  Hopefully, their success will lead to other quality passion projects like those getting a green light and finding their audiences too.

Here’s the full list of nominations along with links to the ones we’ve reviewed (we got most of them and will be working on the rest between now and March 4th).

Did you spot any glaring omissions by the Academy?  If so, let us know in the comments!

BEST PICTURE:

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

DIRECTING:

Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Jordan Peele — Get Out

Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

The Big Sick — Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out — Jordan Peele

Lady Bird — Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water — Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Martin McDonagh

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Call Me By Your Name — James Ivory

The Disaster Artist — Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Logan — Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green

Molly’s Game — Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound — Virgil Williams, Dee Rees

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Timothée Chalamet — Call Me By Your Name

Daniel Day Lewis — Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington — Roman J. Israel, Esq.

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

Meryl Streep — The Post

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

Allison Janney — I, Tonya

Lesley Manville — Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail — Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman

Faces Places — Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda

Icarus — Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan

Last Men in Aleppo — Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Søren Steen Jespersen

Strong Island — Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT):

Edith + Eddie — Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 — Frank Stiefel

Heroin(e) — Elaine McMilion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon

Knife Skills — Thomas Lennon

Traffic Stop — Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:

DeKalb Elementary — Reed Van Dyk

The Eleven O’Clock — Derin Seale, Josh Lawson

My Nephew Emmett — Kevin Wilson Jr.

The Silent Child — Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton

Watu Wote / All of Us — Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

The Boss Baby — Tom McGrath, Ramsey Naito

The Breadwinner — Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo

Coco — Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

Ferdinand — Carlos Saldanha

Loving Vincent — Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Ivan Mactaggart

 

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Dear Basketball — Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant

Garden Party — Victor Claire, Gabriel Grapperon

Lou — Dave Mullins, Dana Murray

Negative Space — Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata

Revolting Rhymes — Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

A Fantastic Woman — Sebastián Lelio, Chile

The Insult — Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon

Loveless — Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia

On Body and Soul — Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary

The Square — Ruben Östlund, Sweden

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Blade Runner 2049 — Roger A. Deakins

Darkest Hour — Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk — Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound — Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water — Dan Laustsen

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN:

Beauty and the Beast — Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

Blade Runner 2049 — Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

Darkest Hour – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

Dunkirk — Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis

The Shape of Water — Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin

 

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

 

FILM EDITING:

Baby Driver — Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos

Dunkirk — Lee Smith

I, Tonya — Tatiana S. Riegel

The Shape of Water — Sidney Wolinsky

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Jon Gregory

 

COSTUME DESIGN:

Beauty and the Beast — Jacqueline Durran

Darkest Hour — Jacqueline Durran

Phantom Thread — Mark Bridges

The Shape of Water — Luis Sequeira

Victoria & Abdul — Consolata Boyle

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:

Darkest Hour — Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

Victoria & Abdul — Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard

Wonder — Arden Tuiten

 

ORIGINAL SCORE:

Dunkirk — Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread — Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water — Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — John Williams

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Carter Burwell

 

ORIGINAL SONG:

“Mighty River” — Mudbound, Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson

“Mystery of Love” — Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” — Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” — Marshall, Diane Warren, Lonnie R. Lynn

“This is Me” — The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

 

SOUND EDITING:

Baby Driver — Julian Slater

Blade Runner 2049 — Mark Mangini, Theo Green

Dunkirk — Richard King, Alex Gibson

The Shape of Water — Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce

 

SOUND MIXING:

Baby Driver — Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis

Blade Runner 2049— Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth

Dunkirk — Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo

The Shape of Water — Christian Cooke, Bran Zoern, Glen Gauthier

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Stuart Wilson

Unleashed

Did you ever feel so lonely you wished you could legally date your dog?

Did you ever watch an American episode of Shameless and wish there was worse writing, and no pants?

Sean can’t hardly believe that I actually watched this one, but I did. Nor can he believe that I’m about to tell you there’s a worse movie than November Criminals on Netflix right now, yet here I am. Yesterday I skewered a movie based on a book I sort of remember reading. I can’t lawfully, for reasons of libel, tell you the director of November Criminals is illiterate. But what I can suppose is that he’s not much of a reader, so he got an unpaid intern to give him the Coles notes version over avocado toast, and he made a movie based on the parts that he could remember without having taken any notes.

Unleashed, on the other hand, feels like it was pitched by my adorable, precocious 3 year old nephew Jack, who proposed something like “I dunno, maybe it could be about a dog and the dog gets to turn into a human, and then there’s a lady and they kiss and get married and stuff (to which my 4 year old nephew Ben would undoubtedly shout “too many ladies!” – that was his legit criticism of the Smurfs movie). Unleashed in fact has a woman, Emma (Kate Micucci, of that terrible nun movie I complained about a few days ago), who is such a dating disaster she “wishes” her cat and dog to life, and they turn into two “hot” guys. I put “hot” into quotations because they’re played by Justin Chatwin and Steve Howey, a couple of chuckleheads from Shameless, which means they’re the kind of “hot” that you can buy quite cheaply. Chatwin, being “pretty,” is the cat of course, so naturally he takes up modelling and being a bitch. Howie gets to be the big dumb dog. I have absolutely no respect for either of these actors and I still think this stuff is beneath them; their “performances” better suited to kindergarten ice breakers. And while it might be adorable for 3 year old Jack to just magically transform a dog into an eligible bachelor, it doesn’t play as well on screen, where mysterious astrological reasons are alluded to but certainly never addressed, because there’s no Coles notes on the sciences behind that.

A major plot point of Unleashed is how much they miss licking themselves AND YET NEITHER REFRAINS FROM LICKING HIMSELF.

I refuse to dignify this movie with any further discussion. Instead, let’s check out pictures of my real-life dogs and talk about who would play them if they were mysteriously brought to life.

IMG_2042.JPG

This is Herbie. He’s the effortless alpha of his crew, reigning with a gruff nonchalance. He’s cool and aloof and everyone’s crazy about him. Of course, he plays hard to get. Hard to impress. But fiercely loyal to his Jay and a secret softie.

 

IMG_2011

Gertie is a cutie. She has a big heart and she’s always taking care of others. She’s nurturing and maternal but can be a fierce disciplinarian when needed. She’s very curious and VERY smart. She can do anything she puts her mind to but her greatest trick of all is manipulating you into doing things for her. She loves attention and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants.

IMG_9347

This is Fudgie. He may be small but he’s quick and he’s agile and he has an insatiable appetite for catch. He’s 100% lovable and 102% neurotic. His biggest anxiety is that you don’t love him enough, so he’ll lure you in with a cute as heck pose and then steal your heart forever by exposing his belly for you to rub or kissing you up the nose, if you’re lucky!

DSC_0007 (3).JPG

Here’s Bronx. Born a runt, he’s visually impaired but that doesn’t stop him from running around like he’s bonkers-bananas. He has sad and soulful eyes but his heart has truly never known a single moment of sadness. He’s pure gladness and love and he’s not afraid to express his feelings with constant displays of affection.

 

Which actors would play these dogs?