Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Oscar Commentary

With one exception, there were no real surprises at the Oscars this past Sunday evening.  The exception was awarding the Oscar for editing to Whiplash.  Personally, I wouldn’t have given Whiplash even third place for editing.  J. K. Simmons deserved his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Whiplash as the music teacher, a truly dislikeable human being.  Moore, as noted above, was deservedly an overwhelming favorite to win the Best Actress award.  For Best Actor, I was fine with any of the nominated actors winning.  If you have been reading these reviews, you know I was also fine with the awards given to Birdman as well as the four Oscars to The Grand Budapest Hotel.  As for Best Foreign Film, I only note that the winner, Ida, was shown briefly in Hawaii at the Kahala Theatres, which is also showing a preview for one of the other nominated foreign films.  I enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris.  I truly enjoyed the presentation of the song Glory.  But what’s up with John Travolta?   Lady Gaga singing the Julie Andrews songs worked for me.  I even enjoyed the Cadillac commercials.  The ceremony could have been shorter, for example, the opening Harris number could have been omitted.  But, overall, I enjoyed my Sunday night. 

Movie: Still Alice

Still Alice:  based upon the Lisa Genova novel, this drama tells the story of a highly intelligent, very competent and popular Columbia University linguistics professor who, at age 50, realizes her ability to remember is slipping away due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Julianne Moore deserves the Oscar she received for her role as Alice Howland.   Alice is married (Alex Baldwin as the husband) with three grown children.  The movie provides a realistic portrayal of how a family, and particularly the two daughters (Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart), react.  While the film’s focus is on Moore, Stewart gives an excellent performance as the younger daughter who is trying to fashion a career as an actress without losing track of her obligations as a daughter.  Baldwin is presented as a career driven research physician who is also trying to be a good husband.  His performance can only be described as adequate.  The son and older daughter are not fully presented as individuals.  The 99 minute film is written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.  Glatzer has ALS, which I reference only because it may explain the sensitivity to illness shown throughout the film.  The disease overcomes Alice in a relatively short time which is, apparently, the reality of early-onset Alzheimer’s.  As the disease progresses, Moore’s appearance changes, her eyes become duller and her jaw slackens.  The reason to see this film is Moore’s performance.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Movie: Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner:  a film about the last quarter century of British painter J. M. W. Turner’s life.  Timothy Spall won the London Film Critics Circle award for Best British Actor of the Year for his marvelous performance as Mr. Turner.  Marion Bailey, who played Sophia Booth, the person with whom Turner was living when he died in Chelsea in 1851, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  An equally superb performance was given by Dorothy Atkinson as Hannah Danby, Turner’s loving but long suffering housekeeper.  The quality of the film’s cast is outstanding and their performances animate and propel a subdued storyline.  Both Turner and his paintings were well known in British society.  During this 149 minute film, Turner’s brutishness as an individual is emphasized.  Based upon the complexity of Turner’s life and the methods he utilized to create his great paintings, I think the film could have incorporated much more than it did.  My recommendation for this film  is based on the high quality of acting and the excellent cinematography.  Mike Leigh, the writer and director of the film, is certainly versed in the particular time period, however, for those of us whose knowledge of Turner is limited to his paintings, trying to figure out who are the actual people depicted is a distraction.  Dick Pope is deservedly nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar; some scenes are breathtakingly beautiful.  In a scene with Booth, Leigh had the perfect ending.  He chose, however, to include an additional scene, which seemed an odd way to conclude the film.  For those of you who enjoy traditional British drama, you will enjoy this movie which at times is filmed like a stage play.  Personally, the acting and cinematography were so superb that I’m pleased to have seen this film.  But if your thing is action, go see a different movie.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Movie: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year: a riveting drama.  The film takes place in NYC in 1981.  The title does not derive from an abundance of violent scenes; a summary of the storyline would not focus on violence but on the tale of an immigrant trying to do right by his family and working to succeed in his business.  The films’ title refers to an ambience that is present throughout the film; radio broadcasts of numerous, violent NYC incidents unrelated to the underlying story and the extreme graffiti that embellished certain sections of NYC’s subways are given prominence.  This undercurrent of violence creates the mood and tone against which this story is told.  Oscar Issac plays the lead character, Abel Morales, and Jessica Chastain plays his wife, Anna.  At the opening, Abel is paying a non-refundable deposit to purchase certain waterfront commercial property from an Hassidic owner.  Abel has 30 days to close the transaction or he forfeits his money; the clock is ticking.  We learn that Abel and Anna have 3 daughters and that Anna’s father has a criminal history.  We also learn that Abel has grown his business by doing things “the right way”.  Still, Abel and his competitors are the target of a government investigation into the home oil heating business.  David Oyelowo, in another excellent performance, plays the Assistant District Attorney in charge of the investigation.  The final ingredient in the plotline is that someone is hijacking Abel’s trucks causing him to lose significant revenue.  The 125 minute film is written and directed by J. C. Chandler, whose last picture, the Robert Redford film All is Lost, was one of my favorites from 2013.  Chandler skillfully presents what turns out to be a complex story.  Some of the credit goes to the director of photography, Bradford Young.  The actors also deserve high praise, including Albert Brooks as Abel’s lawyer.  Prior to this film, I had not been particularly impressed with Oscar Isaac, however, in this film, playing a Robert De Niro/Al Pacino type of character, he delivers.  Oyelowo’s time on screen is limited but he has your attention every time he appears.  Also, in this film, the musical score complements the mood Chandler creates and the actors deliver.  Every year there is one film that fails to receive any Oscar nominations but is better than many which do.  For 2014, that film is A Most Violent Year.  Do not let the title stand in your way of seeing this remarkable movie.   

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Movie: Black or White

Black or White:  grandparents feuding over custody of their granddaughter.  Kevin Costner is the grandfather, Elliot Anderson; Octavia Spencer is the grandmother, Rowena Jeffers.  The opening sequence has Costner learning that his wife, Carol, has died from injuries suffered in an off-camera automobile accident.  We then learn that Elliot and Carol have been raising their granddaughter since birth because the child’s mother, their daughter, died in childbirth.  The granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell), is now 7 years old and goes to a private school.  Elliot is a lawyer; Rowena’s brother is a lawyer.  Their respective law firms represent the grandparents in the custody dispute that is at the heart of this film.  We are told through a few brief flashbacks that Rowena and Carol had worked out an arrangement, which is why Eloise’s custody has never been an issue.  However, concurrent with Carol’s death, Eloise’s father, Reggie (Andre Holland), a man with a criminal record and a history with drugs, returns to Compton from Seattle claiming to be clean.  We learn the backstory of Reggie and Elliot’s daughter as the film unfolds.  The acting is uniformly good, and Eloise has a wondrous smile that lights up the screen.  The movie is written and directed by Mike Binder.  While the script sidesteps easy racial stereotyping, unfortunately this 121 minute film suffers a detachment from reality that muddles the story.  For example:  there is way too much happening in the courtroom; custody hearings are not held in open court among a bevy of active spectators; Elliot’s courtroom behavior belies his alleged success as a lawyer; and there is the unbelievable character Duvan (Mpho Koaho), who is initially hired as Eloise’s math tutor.  Duvan is West African, speaks 7 or 9 languages (I heard both numbers mentioned), plays piano, has written scholarly articles with very technical titles, is far too polite and, due to Elliot’s drinking problem, has also become Elliot’s chauffer.  This film has a “Hallmark Presents” quality and, while I basically enjoyed it, I recommend that you save your money and wait until this film airs on TV.  Notwithstanding the script, Costner and Spencer show what fine actors they are by maintaining the viewer’s interest in a film which could have offered a far more interesting and invigorating story.