Category Archives: Award season

47 of 366: World of Tomorrow

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theatlantic.com

Watching a 16-minute film may be cheating in this challenge, but it just worked after seeing part of The Act of Killing tonightI will finish watching it, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into a documentary about genocide this evening. It was late so I opted for Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, a story about a little girl and a look ahead at times more than 200 years into her future.

Hertzfeldt presents a study of time travel, memories, human emotion (much like in It’s Such a Beautiful Day) through the eyes of someone young enough to not know what it all means.

Hertzfeldt’s animation is also somewhat similar to It’s Such a Beautiful Day, but with more abstract  images and color as the girl,  Emily, experiences a small portion of her future.

It’s no surprise that the film, streaming on Netflix, is getting praise from critics and could take home the Oscar for best animated short film.

I may be one of the last people to learn about Hertzfeldt, but I will say he is a filmmaker to watch and it’s worth taking a look at some of his past work if you have the time. Even his website, without watching any of the videos, is a visual masterpiece.

“I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive. I no longer fall in love with rocks,” Emily in World of Tomorrow.

All for now, I better sign off before I fall asleep at my computer again.

 

 

 

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43 of 366: The Big Short

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vanityfair.com

I’ve seen all of the best picture Oscar nominees now after watching  The Big Short today and my verdict is it’s definitely my least favorite of the bunch. I think the contest is really anybody’s game at this point while there certainly has been some back-and-forth between The Big Short and Spotlight taking the win. For the first time in a while, the big winner announced later this month could actually be a surprise to Academy Award viewers.

The Big Short at first felt like the focus of  writer Charles Randolph and director Adam McKay was to make the viewer feel like they were watching the making of a movie about a movie  depicting the housing and economic crash in 2008 rather than a drama about those events, the people who knew about them and those who were impacted.

The transition for Adam McKay from comedy to drama did not work so well in my opinion, but I did like the script and writing from Randolph based on a book by Michael Lewis.

The story is told by weaving the personal career paths and lives of Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Christian Bale (Michael Burry), Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert), and Ryan Gosling (Jared Vennett) as they work in the banking industry and in their own way discover the housing bubble and economy was set to crash as a result of selling bad mortgages and issuing loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

Michael Burry learns, through crunching numbers and studying mortgage patterns, what is going to happen and his discovery leads to other investors buying insurance on the mortgage bonds for when the market would ultimately crash. (I think.)

As is surely well-known, the film is supposed to explain what happened leading up to and in 2008 in simple terms (with some tongue-in-cheek scenes featuring Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain) while telling the stories of the four main banking characters and some in supporting roles who had a hand in the industry during that time.

The film is also a commentary on what happened by displaying that the general public in the U.S. was too consumed by other news and pop culture trends at the time and and those issuing loans and bad mortgages were covering it up, or lying to themselves.

There were just too many components to The Big Short in that regard and the style, I think, ultimately took away from what a film about that moment in history could be. Perhaps Michael Lewis’ book as the source material is to blame. I can’t say because I haven’t read it, but whatever creative liberties McKay and the rest of the film’s creators used fell flat for me.

 

I did like the performances overall, especially by Gosling and Pitt, but they didn’t redeem the film for me.

17 and 18 of 366: Inside Out and Iris

Well, it’s Monday and it’s already been a long week. That is all, about that.

I am still on track with my movies and watched Inside Out to continue to catch up on the Oscar nominees as well as Iris to start the week.

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imdb.com

Inside Out, nominated for best animated feature film and best original screenplay, is not just a children’s film that adults can tolerate, it’s a film that all ages must see.

Pixar delivers on the visuals, as usual, and Pete Docter of Toy Story, Up, Wall-E and Bloomington, Minn. (I did not know this!) fame draws you in with his story about a young girl whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, sending her emotions into a tailspin.

Docter created the story with Ronnie Del Carmen and co-wrote the screenplay with Megan LaFauve and Josh Cooley. The collaboration that must have occurred between those writers shows through the polished complexity, wit and human emotion in the script.

The girl in the film, Riley, is consumed by her emotions a lot of the time, the lesson being that it is normal for that to happen and that no one emotion is better or worse than the than the other. The actors playing Joy (Amy Poehler), sadness (Phyllis Smith), fear (Bill Hader), anger (Lewis Black) and disgust (Mindy Kaling) all embodied those emotions well and it seemed like they must have immersed themselves in the idea of what 11-year-old Riley was going through or easily had similar experiences in real life.

While the focus is on Riley, I enjoyed how the film also interjected the emotions of her parents as they tried to help their daughter feel at home in a new city as well as those of some of the supporting characters.

Of course the movie has a rosy conclusion, but its ups and downs provide a healthy balance to that and overall Inside Out is a story for adults and children alike to relate to.

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nytimes.com

We showed Iris at the Edina Cinema last year and I remember some of our clientele coming in wearing baubles and other gaudy accessories as an homage to the subject of the documentary, fashion icon Iris Apfel.

Such baubles and couture costume jewelry, along with Iris’ collection of round-framed glasses, artwork and vintage clothes are her signature and even inspiration for a museum exhibit in her honor.

The late documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (I have to see more of his films now) focused on Iris’ love of fashion finds growing up and trips to Europe and other countries with her husband Carl to uncover new trends and pieces for their personal collections.

Iris is in her 90s in the film, but is really young-at-heart and an inspiration to models, designers, artists and the like.

One minute she is providing tips to dress-for-success and the next she is runway-side at fashion shows in New York City.

It’s a fascinating story that draws you in visually and emotionally (seems to be a theme tonight) and shows there is more than meets the eye about Iris Apfel.

“I learned a long time ago you can’t have everything.”

– Iris

 

 

 

 

Truth, Brooklyn, Room, Spotlight, Concussion, The Martian

I have a new blog/life project in the works but I did want to recap some of the movies I saw last year before moving on to my new venture. These movies are among my favorites of 2015 and are making the rounds on critics’ top 10 and award contender lists.

The performances in each of these films stood out for me and I think the way actors took on the characters in the films based on true stories should be the source of recognition as awards season continues.

In no particular order …

Truth

tru2Movies about journalism and the news business make me happy. They make for good drama and a peek into a world that informs us of what’s going on. Journalism has changed a lot, so films about “old school” reporting on true events to build a story and the following success or fallout are especially interesting to me. In Truth, Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford star as producer Mary Mapes and CBS News Anchor Dan Rather in the time leading up to his resignation. That time includes their investigative report and broadcast about George W. Bush’s military service as well as the career-changing aftermath it caused for Rather and Mapes and their reporting team. In addition to learning more about the facts of the story in the early to mid-2000s as it played out on screen, I found myself enamored with Blanchett and Redford’s performances and I think they really made this movie. The supporting cast has its highs (Elisabeth Moss) and lows (Topher Grace and sometimes Dennis Quaid) but I think this film is overall underrated. Some scenes were a bit over-the-top but Blanchett and Redford always brought it back and their moments alone together really honing in on what they were trying to accomplish and why, away from all the drama, put the story into perspective. Truth doesn’t have a strong presence on the awards circuit (at least Blanchett’s hairstyle should be nominated) but I think it’s worth watching for newsies and film buffs alike. It will be out on DVD Feb. 2.

Room

room_stillIf I ever write a movie, Brie Larson will need to be in it. She’s having a moment right now, which I expect will continue for some time, so I am sure she will be game to star in my rom-com that has a plot no one has ever used before. Brie, call me.

Larson has range from working in dramas and comedies and in Room takes on a role where I imagine she needed to combine those skills to play her character, Ma. Room tells the story of a mom and her son, Jack, locked in a garden shed for several years after Ma was kidnapped as a teenager.

A good part of the film is Ma and Jack together trying to maintain a normal life in one room with, seemingly, no way out. If you see Room only once it is a drama and suspense, if you see it twice — which I did — it turns into more of a character-driven story about a family trying to rebuild their life and relationships. Ma’s parents come into the picture in the film as well and what happens to her is an avenue for them to focus on and rebuild their relationships with Jack at the center of it all.

I didn’t read the book the film is based on, which I think is a good way to go into this particular film, but if you did I still think watching it on screen will present a dynamic and unexpected telling of the written story.

Room is probably one of the strongest award contenders on this list, in addition to Spotlight, and I just hope Larson will still star in my movie after she wins. Seriously, call me.

Brooklyn

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Brooklyn is a perfect movie. It ends the way you want it to end, Saoirse Ronan is just compelling to watch and it presents a complete picture of her character’s dilemma to build a new life in Brooklyn or stay in her hometown in Ireland.

In some ways I felt myself wanting more conflict in the end and to be left with a dissenting opinion about Eilis’ (played by Ronan) life decisions – but then Brooklyn wouldn’t be a perfect movie.

It is not often I find myself with little to write about a film — and this does not mean I didn’t like Brooklyn — it’s just that good and I think it’s probably a story all audiences will like.

I will say Ronan’s performance stands out in this film and I would like her to be in my movie with Larson. Saoirse, call me. If you want to hear more of her lovely voice (and life story) I recommend listening to her 2013 interview with Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist.

Spotlight

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Spotlight is another movie about the news business – this time about print journalism and The Boston Globe’s coverage of abuse in the Catholic church. It is directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy and includes top character performances by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo (who could also join my movie if they would like) as well as Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber.

This NPR story focuses on how the cast, mainly Keaton as Walter Robinson, took on who their characters are as much as depicting how the Spotlight team uncovered and reported on the story of the Catholic church scandal in Boston.

I actually want to see Spotlight again but as it stands now I think the acting carried the film as much as — if not more than — the telling of the story it is based on.

Concussion

concussionTell the truth! Doug Loves Movies fans out there will know that Doug Benson has been working on his Will Smith character impersonation for the past few weeks when he asks his guests about their favorite movie that the actor stars in.

What’s interesting about Concussion is you will lose sight of the fact that it’s Will Smith playing Dr. Bennet Omalu not long into the film. Omalu, a pathologist performing autopsies, very thoroughly, comes across a disease affecting football players that can really only be detected after they die. Concussion is another true story and character-focused plot and Smith excels at playing a man fighting keeping his reputation and career as a doctor intact while trying to bring the truth out and ultimately help people while the NFL tries to silence him. It presents a well-rounded telling of the story but one that could be pretty forgettable without Smith’s performance.

The Martian

The-MartianI know I raved a lot about The Martian from the moment I heard about it and I am finally getting to writing about it now, months after I saw the film. It is nominated for Golden Globes in the best picture, directing (Ridley Scott) and acting (Matt Damon) categories. I think it has some strong competition as far as awards go and I’ve heard some critics pan it because they are sick of space movies and found The Martian didn’t live up to the hype. I, overall, liked the film and felt (despite all my bias about Damon) he did well acting alone for much of the film. While Damon (as Mark Watney) is stuck on Mars trying to survive, Scott and the film’s writers (including novelist Andy Weir) did well mixing in the story of people on Earth trying to save him or “Bring Him Home.”

You may or may not know what happens, but I like how understated the very end of the film was and overall how the narration by Damon as Watney (which I didn’t like very much in the book) played out on screen.

There are a lot of movies to see this year, but I wouldn’t mind revisiting The Martian. It is out on DVD Jan. 12.

In the meantime, I am starting out my year in movies by seeing Mustang today and I’m pretty excited for what’s to come.

Also Matt Damon, call me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like Steve Jobs and Surprises

 

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I listened to Marc Maron interview Danny Boyle (director of Steve Jobs) on WTF this week and their conversation made me think more about some of my favorite aspects of the film.

It is becoming more of a front runner for me as far as one of my favorite films of the year and it’s largely due to the acting by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet.

In my last, short, commentary on Steve Jobs I did not focus on Jobs’ relationship with his daughter portrayed in the film. Boyle and Maron talk some about the relationship and how its one of the key components in the story that bring what flaws and weaknesses Jobs has to the surface.

They also talk a lot about Aaron Sorkin’s work on the script and the process to hone it to balance Jobs’ professional and personal life without actually going overboard with the dialogue.

I remember very heated, sometimes lengthy, conversations between Jobs (Fassbender) and Joanna Hoffman (Winslet) as Jobs prepared to launch various Apple product throughout the film but Boyle and Sorkin built in effective pauses to let the moments sink in and show the impact of what can be said without words.

It’s an interesting reflection to have on a Sorkin script (I am still scarred by the verbose Social Network – or maybe just Jesse Eisenberg) but he and Boyle achieved a healthy balance in Steve Jobs.

The film, while still not getting the attention it deserves, has acting nominations for Fassbender and Winslet between the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes lists released in the last week.

Strong acting seems to be a common thread among many of the top films whose studios are pushing for a spot on the Academy Awards nomination list.

For example, Johnny Depp made the SAG cut for his performance as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. I didn’t like the film as much as I thought I would and, despite the incredibly distracting and unnecessary makeup, Depp did shine through.

I’ll leave it to Eric Kohn from Indiewire and Anne Thompson from Thompson on Hollywood  on Screen Talk to better explain the unpredictability of which films will make the Academy’s final cut.

The Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes lists  have some consistency – but more surprises – which makes me think (or at least hope) that could influence the final word from the Academy. The Academy Award nominees are usually easy to predict by the end of the year, but I’m happy with the unknown for now and how many great films  are on the way to theaters before the home stretch of award season.

In other news, for the first time in a many years I am going to see a movie on Christmas Day. Our selection depends on what is showing at the theater in up nort’ Wisconsin, but I am pretty, pretty excited about it and getting out of town to spend a week with my family.

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The title is the hardest part …

steve jobsIt’s hard to pick 10 top movies from one year.  I even have my movie stubs from 2015 on a bulletin board connected with red yarn and thumbtacks to identify the culprits — but we all know that strategy never works.

If I am going to complete this list today, much less by the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, I better just start writing. (Luckily I have excerpts from my previous posts to work from.)

10. What We Do in the Shadows

One of my favorite parts of the film is knowing going into it (after hearing interviews with Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi on the Nerdist podcast as well as an episode of Sklarbro Country) how passionate they were about their idea and getting the film made.

Clement and Waititi effectively weave in lore about vampires (such as that they can’t see themselves in mirrors and sleep during the day) with allowing characters to discover modern things like the Internet and digital cameras. The visual and verbal humor is consistent throughout the film and it’s one that’s fun to watch in a crowded theater (update- or on Netflix in a crowded living room with your peeps.)

Fans of Clement and Waititi will definitely like this film and I hope they develop a whole new audience and continue to work on more projects together.

9. A Most Violent Year

Well If there is one thing I learned from watching A Most Violent Year, Jessica Chastain certainly knows how to put a district attorney who interrupts her daughter’s birthday party with a search warrant in his place.

I believe “This was very disrespectful,” was the line from Chastain’s character, Anna Morales, as she leaves the attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) in the driveway with a piece of birthday cake while she politely ushers her guests out the door with party favors.

Chastain’s role is the wife of Abel Moreles (Oscar Isaac) who is trying to keep his business running and protect his family as violence in New York City runs rampant.

In the end it’s really a story of who you can trust and what people will do to get what they want. Even Lawrence, seemingly trying to save the city, might not be entirely innocent, even if he hasn’t broken the law.

I think A Most Violent Year is underrated or at the least got lost in the shuffle of other films in early 2015. The slow burn of the story that reveals the characters’ inner struggles was an unexpected strength of the film.

8. Spring

Spring is definitely my favorite love story/monster movie of the year and one of the most visually appealing on this list.

There is nothing like a good love story. There is also nothing like a good monster love story.

Evan is one of the main characters in Spring and the story focuses on his decision to travel to Italy as a way to escape his past and struggles in life. Evan quickly finds friends to backpack with and meets a local student, Louise, during their travels.

Evan is instantly smitten with Louise and drawn to her, but she is hesitant to go out with him. As fate would have it, they keep running into each other after Evan stays in the city where she lives and finds a job on a local farm.

The backdrop of a foreign country really works for the film, not only because of the scenery Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson were able to capture, but also because it adds to the feeling that Evan doesn’t really know what he is getting himself into by living in a new place and pursuing Louise.

Sometimes a good love story will just get to you, even when it is mixed with a bit of fright and blood and gore. Moorhead and Benson’s talent for character development while building suspense and fear in their audience shows in Spring, especially through the visual effects and soundtrack.

If there is an underlying theme of the film, perhaps it is people aren’t always who they appear to be and you need to take some chances in life.

Spring has been popular on the film festival circuit and had a short run in Minneapolis. More details on where to see or buy the film are on the Drafthouse Films website.

7. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

I’m obsessed with the show Fargo lately. I’m only in season one, but each episode is almost like a movie in itself and so intense I can only watch one before I have to take a break for a while. Plus I can prolong seeing anything bad happen to Colin Hanks’ character. I can’t take it.

Related to Fargo (more the movie than the show) Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter explores more of the true story that inspired the Coen brothers years ago.

If there is one thing I would recommend before seeing Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, it’s actually best to know as little as possible about the true story that it’s based on.

I saw the trailer for the film in February and was fascinated by the premise and portrayal of the quest of a Japanese woman, Takako Konishi (Rinko Kikuchi), to find the money buried in the movie Fargo, which she believed was real.

Watching the film with only that little bit of information in the back of my mind added to the mystery of it and Kumiko’s character as she is seen working in an office in Tokyo while plotting how she will travel to the U.S. to find her treasure.

Interestingly the filmmakers, David and Nathan Zellner, were able to keep away from media coverage of the story they were telling so it wouldn’t influence their creativity while they completed the project, according to an article from Indiewire.

Once the film was over, my mentality (temporarily) switched from not wanting to know anything to wanting to know everything about the story. I wanted to know more about Kumiko’s character and why she thought what she saw in the movie Fargo was real and that it was her destiny to find it. Now, having thought about it for a day, I am satisfied with the mystery and unknowns the Zellners presented in the film while appreciating their technique in cinematography, writing and storytelling.

The film was made both in Japan and Minnesota and the transition from one location to the next and the differences between the cultures exemplified Kumiko’s struggle as she tries to find her treasure and — ultimately — happiness.

Visually, the composition of scenes with Kumiko in Tokyo compared to the sudden stark winter landscape she faced, seemingly without fear, was stunning to watch.

Music, by The Octopus Project, added to the haunting components of the film and overall the instrumental soundtrack was fitting to accompany Kumiko on her journey.

There was a small amount of humor in the film, but for the most part I found it to be sad and dark and hard to watch at times, even with the way the Zellners chose to portray the end to the story.

I know I’ve said it before, but movies can be a escape, especially for me. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is easy to get lost in and think about what the journey was like for her and the people she did meet along the way.

6. Ex Machina 

Oscar Isaac is back on the list.

I wrote about this film briefly over the summer and it is one I really want to revisit again soon. Science fiction isn’t really my thing, and this film technically fits in that genre, but it’s subtle enough and presents underlying themes about human nature to keep you thinking for a while.

Ex Machina delves into artificial intelligence and testing the ability of one, Ava, to display human emotions. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected by Nathan (a Oscar Isaac) to spend time with Ava over one week at his remote house. What could go wrong? The film has its share of twists and turns to keep the viewer in suspense about Ava and Caleb and how much power Nathan, as the inventor, really has. There are certainly scenes where I wanted to close my eyes, but trust me, don’t do it. Oscar Isaac dances, and you don’t want to miss that.

5. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

I really wish I wrote about this film when it was fresh in my mind. That said, the visual style of the film is one of its many strengths that I keep going back to and that makes it one of my favorites from this year. The coming-of-age film stars Bel Powley as a teen who is trying to grow up too fast and decides to pursue an older man during the rebellious phase of her life.

To complicate things, the man (Alexander Skarsgard) is also her mom’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend.

The story (based on a novel) is told against the backdrop of 1970s San Francisco and with graphical depictions of what is going on in Minnie’s mind as she navigates her teenage years and ultimately learns about her true self.

In some ways the story is a bit dark, especially when the relationship between Minnie and Monroe (Skarsgard) ultimately comes back to show the strain between her and her mom. However, in its own way, the film also has everything work out in the end and presents closure to all of the characters’ struggles.

It also shows the dramatic range Kristen Wiig has and I hope she has more roles like this in the future (also see The Skeleton Twins.) The Diary of a Teenage Girl will be out on DVD in January. I haven’t seen it yet but Wiig’s film Welcome to Me is on Netflix and getting some critical praise.

4. People Places Things

This is where Jemaine Clement comes back into the picture. Last week, (in August) I saw Clement in one of my favorite movies of this year People Places Things.

Clement’s character in the film Will Henry, a newly-single father of two, finds himself trying to navigate work, taking care of his daughters and eventually breaking out into the world of dating again.

Henry is a graphic novelist and college professor. His drawings play their own role in the film as scenes the characters are experiencing are modified in Henry’s imagination and shown to the viewer as he draws them out on paper.

Not too far into the film, as one of Henry’s students sets him up on a date with her mother Diane (Regina Hall), Henry presents the question: Is happiness in life is really a sustainable concept?

There is a connection between Diane and Will based on this concept and the idea they are both on board for a “no bullshit” courtship.

It’s all easier said than done and of course things do get complicated as a result of Will and Diane’s past relationships, and their kids.

Overall it’s a simple premise for a film — in some ways one that’s been done before — but writer and director James C. Strouse effectively takes the “romantic comedy” to a new place and completes the story with its share of unpredictable plot points.

In the end you may not be surprised by what happens to Will and the decisions he makes, but you will be happy.

The film has a subtle humor, a lot of heart and continues Clement on the path to my kind of leading man following his role in What We Do in the Shadows and what I am sure will be a delight if the big-screen version of Flight of the Conchords is made (there is a movie in the works.)

People, Places, Things is streaming on Netflix now.

3 and 2. Amy and Tig

I have a lot of documentaries on my favorites list this year … but I want to at least highlight Amy and Tig for now.

Amy is an in-depth and unique story about Amy Winehouse’s life, and sadly, her death. The film, which interestingly uses mostly audio interviews with Winehouse and her friends and family, starts in her childhood and continues to tell the story of her rise as a musician in London and the U.S.

The film presents a disturbing glimpse into how Winehouse lived in the media spotlight while dealing with her personal struggles with addiction and bulimia and trying to continue to make music. it also shows the influence she had on other artists, like Mos Def and Tony Bennett, and their admiration for her through it all.

It’s a sad story but I feel the film strongly presented both the ups and downs of Winehouse’s life and the legacy of her music.

As for Tig … Tig Notaro is one of my favorite comedians and I am still recovering from the news that her podcast with David Huntsberger and Kyle Dunnigan, “Professor Blastoff,” is now over. But if it makes room for more projects from each of the comedians like Notaro’s documentary, “Tig,” then I guess I can live with it. (Plus I still have most of the four years of archives to listen to.)

Tig, which is available on Netflix, focuses on the year since Notaro became sick, her mother died and her cancer diagnosis. Notaro talked about her diagnosis, one day after finding out, during a famous show at Largo in Los Angeles and the documentary also focuses on her work leading up to the anniversary of that show. Fans of Notaro will know some of her story but the documentary provides more of a look into her life and at her as a person than what I’ve seen and heard before. I also recommend “Knock Knock, it’s Tig Notaro,” about her comedy road trip to fans’ hometowns with Jon Dore.

I wrote the original post about Amy and Tig as I was preparing to move and said,  “I didn’t even get through all of what I’ve seen lately. I’ll have to continue with that project after I set up a writing perch at my new place.”

That’s where I am now and I am going to close out this list with a film that I did see recently … Steve Jobs.

1.  Steve Jobs

Is Michael Fassbender becoming my new Oscar Isaac? I have not seen as many of Fassbender’s movies, but his performance as Steve Jobs definitely moved him up on my list (and I can’t wait to see Macbeth.)

Steve Jobs focuses mostly on the title character’s launch of the iMac in the late 1990s and his professional and personal life leading up to that moment.

I honestly don’t know enough about Steve Jobs to reflect on whether Fassbender captured who he was during that time of his life, but it is one of those performances where you lose sight of the fact that someone is acting as a real person. (Much like in Spotlight.)

That’s really what sold me on this film. It equally balances the history of Macintosh technology and the people surrounding Steve Jobs in his life and their struggles with him.

Unfortunately the film did not get that much attention to keep it in theaters very long, but Steve Jobs has critical merit and buzz on the awards circuit.

Until Steve Jobs is on DVD or streaming, check out Michael Fassbender in Frank

Here is an excerpt from my post about the film:

I was hooked on what I thought was a completely fictional movie just from the trailer, only to find out at the end that it’s based on a true story documented in a newspaper article by Jon Ronson.

Ronson is the inspiration for one of the main characters, Jon Burroughs, an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an opportunity to play a gig with a mysterious band, the Soronprfbs.

The band leader is Frank Sidebottom, who always wears a paper mache head with a face painted on it.

The role of Frank Sidebottom is a departure for Fassbender, I think, but he masters the performance and the musical talent of the main character. Fassbender’s voice is key in the film as he performed many of the songs by the Soronprfbs and had to act, for the most part, without using any facial expressions.

One of the many films that didn’t make it on this list is TangerineIt is also one of my favorite films from this year, but I think I am going to revisit it before sharing my thoughts. (It’s also streaming on Netflix.)

“That is All.”

P.S. If you want to know more about Steve Jobs, I recommend this interview with John Hodgman on The Nerdist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Mass

Hey hey!

It’s here. Fall movie season is here.

Dramas. Mystery. Matt Damon. Horror. Biopics. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

I started things off with my first Benedict Cumberbatch movie ever, “Black Mass.”

While Cumberbatch does pull off a Boston accent in the film, I know it’s really all about Johnny Depp and his portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger.

black massThe role is being labeled as a comeback for Depp and of course there is some buzz about an Oscar nomination, but his physical transformation into Bulger was a distraction from his overall portrayal of the Boston crime boss/FBI informant. In fact, the makeup, dyed hair, discolored teeth and definitely the icy blue contact lenses were probably unnecessary for moviegoers to understand the true Bulger through Depp’s performance.

That’s especially the case because this rendition of his story, based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neiil, focuses as much on aspects of Bulger’s personal life as it does on his criminal activity on the streets of South Boston and secret business with the FBI.

That aspect of the story is introduced not long into the film when Bulger’s childhood “friend” John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) approaches him to be an informant about another mafia family in Boston in exchange for some immunity – of course as long as he doesn’t kill anybody.

It starts in 1975 and spans all the way until 2011 when Bulger was ultimately arrested after a long long time in hiding.

There are flash forwards of police interviews with members of the Winter Hill Gang who were arrested before Bulger and dished about his crimes and control over them in exchange for possible lesser prison sentences.

You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in the gang – like Jesse Plemons (also with a physical transformation for the role) and Rory Cochrane as Bulger’s right-hand man Steve Flemmi.

Lucaslucas2I kept thinking about other films I’ve seen Cochrane in while watching “Black Mass” and realized by the time I got home he was my favorite character Lucas in “Empire Records.” I also remember now thinking the same thing when I watched “Argo” and “Public Enemies,” also starring Johnny Depp.

Back to “Black Mass,” the dynamic between Flemmi and Bulger was perhaps the most interesting — and hard to watch — during the film.

There was a sense of trust and loyalty between Bulger and Flemmi, but not enough to would prevent Bulger from betraying his friend and confidant.

As Flemmi said in one of his later FBI interviews, Bulger is truly criminal.

The film also explores the dynamic between Connolly and Bulger and delves somewhat into the relationship between James and his brother Billy, a prominent state senator.

That story alone could be the focus of a movie, which leads me to the real flaw of “Black Mass.”

Bulger’s life and crime career are so complex and span so much time, it’s too much to fit into one movie. The film has a strong cast, for the most part, writing and acting, but the choice to try to fit the bulk of Bulger’s story into two hours was just too much.

Focusing on 35 years of Bulger’s story, ending with his arrest, actually left me wanting to know more about all aspects of what I saw on screen. It just wasn’t possible for director Scott Cooper and the film’s writers to show enough about who Bulger is when they chose to cover that much of his life.

Luckily, as is the case with a lot of movies out this time of year, there is the book to fill in the blanks.

“Black Mass” certainly wasn’t a bad way to start fall movie season and, as I probably say about too many movies, it’s worth seeing. My personal expectations for the film were probably just a little too high.

In other news, “The Martian” starts on Thursday! No complaints, but I thought it was coming out on Nov. 25.
I guess I better start reading that book.

Bye!

It’s Far From The Madding Crowd, people

maddingI worked last night at our premiere of “Far From The Madding Crowd” and easily nine out of 10 customers kept calling the film “Maddening Crowd.” They wouldn’t even say the full title or the right word! Show some respect to Carey Mulligan and one of the most epic romantic stories to ever hit the big screen! Don’t you know that Mulligan is likely to be nominated for an Oscar for her role as Bathsheba Everdene???

Okay, I feel better now. I needed to get that out before I work another eight hours today and have to listen to people say that all over again. I am a big fan of Carey Mulligan and saw the movie Thursday pretty much because she is in it. I knew the plot focused on Everdene’s dilemma to pick from three suitors, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride the story would present.

I also worked during a free screening of the film a few weeks ago and now I know why one woman was in line three hours before it started. Two words: Matthias Schoenaerts, otherwise known as Everdene’s most loyal suitor of the three, Gabriel Oak.

As Everdene navigates her way through operating a farm her uncle left to her and going back and forth between the two other men interested in her, Sgt. Francis Troy (the deceptive soldier) and William Boldwood (the eccentric millionaire) Farmer Oak patiently waits for her to make the right decision.

All I will say is I was Team Oak from the beginning. The power surged during the screening we had a few weeks ago and caused the sound to be out for probably the last two minutes of the film. People were pretty upset and now I know why. I was sure that the woman who waited three hours to see the film would complain, but she probably spontaneously com busted in her seat when the sound went out.

Maybe I should be more serious in my comments about this film, but I feel the screen adaptation is a bit more light-hearted than the literary classic by Thomas Hardy it is based on.

That said, I haven’t read the book and the film version certainly does tackle the issues of infidelity, deception and some gender and class struggles. But in the end it’s just all about love with a beautiful French landscape, costumes (I want all of the dresses Mulligan wore) and solid acting performances by her, Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen as Boldwood at the backdrop.

It’s surprising there is any mention of the Oscar race at this point in the year, but Mulligan is certainly deserving to be in the running for her performance.

It’s nice to be back on my blog. I have some catching up to do with my thoughts on “While We’re Young” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and tomorrow I’m seeing “Ex Machina” starring my guy Oscar Isaac.

But for now I have to go sell tickets and popcorn to the masses. It’s pretty maddening.

That is all.

I didn’t watch The Oscars …

Heyyyyyyyyyy berriesI I need a new word to call my buddies and I like fruit, so let’s make this catch on.

That is if you’ll still talk to me after I reveal I didn’t watch the Oscars last night.

Believe it or not, I enjoy a good deep dive on Twitter and coverage from The New York Times and Grantland more than the show itself.

birdmanI was actually surprised Birdman won over Boyhood in the best picture category, even though there was solid buzz about Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film. Iñárritu also won for best director and original screenplay and the film was recognized for its cinematography. Micheal Keaton should have walked away with recognition for his performance too, but he lost to Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. I still haven’t seen that film, but Keaton’s performance was one of the positives of Birdman for me and he deserves payback from when he wasn’t nominated for Mr. Mom years ago.

There wasn’t a huge sweep by one of the winners this year, which is rare. Whiplash did prevail in the sound editing and supporting actor categories so I am happy about that and hope that even more people see the film now. i think comedian wonder Daniel Van Kirk said it best on Twitter last night, “J.K. Simmons is my tempo.”

Now that the Oscars are over, I still do want to take some time to catch up on seeing the animated films and documentaries that were nominated.

I have to be in a certain mood to watch documentaries and really take in the subject at hand. I never would have expected it, but yesterday my mood was one where I felt I could make it through Blackfish and not have a total breakdown.

blackfishThe documentary (released in 2013) was showing at the movie theater I work at, but I just couldn’t bring myself to see it. I saw parts here and there while I was working, but I just knew it was going to be a sad and a frustrating story without a positive outcome.

At just under an hour-and-a-half, the film effectively covers details about the Killer Whale species, their captivity and treatment at theme parks like Sea World as well as what it’s like to be a trainer there.

It also focuses on one whale, Tilikum, who was treated maybe the worst of all the whales at Sea World and some trainers lost their lives or were injured as a result. I am appreciative the film shed light on a story a lot of people may not know about, but I am also frustrated it is a story that even needed to be told.

I do recommend the film if you can somehow prepare yourself for that feeling and being reminded about all the bad things that are going on in this world every day.

I wish I had something positive to turn to now, but last week I heard one of my favorite comedians, Harris Wittels, died. He was a writer and producer for Parks and Recreation (which just ended as a series) and a regular guest on many podcasts I listen to.

wittelsI never got to see Wittels perform as a stand-up comedian but, as I’ve heard many people say, I feel like I did know him from listening to his improv bits and interviews. Most of my exposure to Wittels’ work was through Comedy Bang! Bang! Scott Aukerman just released the latest episode, which happened to be recorded with Wittels, Adam Scott and Chelsea Peretti about a week before Wittels passed away. I definitely recommend visiting the Earwolf site for more archives of Wittels’ podcast appearances.

Marc Maron and Alison Rosen posted their most recent interviews with Wittels for listeners to hear again or for the first time. Even though Wittels died too young, at age 30, and clearly had a wonderful career ahead of him, listening to these interviews did make me laugh. It’s very bittersweet.

Well, this is just getting more and more somber. How can I pick things up?

I know, here’s a funny cat video on Funny or Die.

Bye berries! (Has this caught on yet?)

Whiplash and Selma

Get some popcorn and Raisinets and a drum kit if you have one, because I saw Whiplash for a second time and need to rave about it just a little.

whiplashIt’s a very intense film, centered on the relationship between music teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons – nominated for best supporting actor) and Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) and what Fletcher will do to push an aspiring musician to realize what he’s really capable of. Neyman is a first-year student at Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York, where Fletcher takes notice of him and invites him to practice with his jazz band.

Practice as in he can turn pages, be ridiculed and abused to tears at the hands of Fletcher and have musical opportunities given and taken away in a second.

It was hard to watch during my first viewing and I think the level of intensity and violence took away from being able to really focus on the dynamics of the two main characters. (Only because I’m a bit squeamish about violence, it’s not a flaw of the film by any means.)

Whether you can handle the violence or not, my advice would be to watch this film twice (I’m almost ready to go a third time.) Fletcher and Neyman are complex characters and the film presents the opportunity to really think about why they act the way they do in their own lives and in contrast to each other with really good jazz music in the background.

Just wait until the final scene, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

As far as the Oscars, I honestly don’t know how much of a contender Whiplash is for best picture but Simmons could get the statue following his win at the Golden Globes.

Teller isn’t nominated, but I hope the role leads him to more of the same and subtle, solid performances like he made in The Spectacular Now. He’s actually got a couple of Fantastic Four movies coming out and others that appear to be more action than drama, so it will be interesting to see that play out on screen after his role as Neyman.

selmaI also saw an equally intense-but for different reasons-  film this week, Selma, starring David Oyelowo as  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he led a movement for voting rights through a peaceful campaign and marches in Alabama in 1965.

The true story told by Ava DuVernay showcases King as a person through his public mission and private life one in the same. It is a film and story that wouldn’t need artistic technique through cinematography to showcase that but the chosen visuals focusing on Oyelowo as King were one of my favorite aspects of it, second to his performance and again the story overall.

It too is unclear if Selma will be a surprise winner or close second or third for best picture on Sunday, but at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. It’s a film everyone should see to know more of who Martin Luther King Jr. was and is as an influence in history.

I don’t have the best transition here, so I’ll just move on to a couple of comedies I can’t wait to see as Oscar season winds down and as a break from all the dramas (as amazing as they are.)

The trailers before Whiplash this time around included What We Do In The Shadows from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi about a group of vampires in modern times. It. Looks. Hilarious. I’ve heard several interviews with Clement and Waititi and cannot wait to see it after hearing about their vision for the project and time they spent perfecting their work.

Last but not least, Amy Schumer, one of my comedy heroes has her film Trainwreck, which she wrote, coming out this summer.

I hope the film is not, well, a trainwreck, but with Judd Apatow at the helm and Schumer as the sole writing credit, I think it has promise to be a comedy to relate to while showing Schumer’s skills in stand-up comedy played out on screen.

Next time I write, most likely, the Oscars will be over and it will be time to start following potential nominees for next year. It’s also my goal to see, and document, more of the movies that should be nominated and win but never will.

Over and out.