Week Three and Liam is back with his particular set of skills, my thoughts on the Oscar nominations, a Jack O’Connell double-bill, Oscar Isaac does his best not to channel Al Pacino, Bruce Willis back doing saucy robots and government sponsored possession. All part of my normal week, really…
A Most Violent Year (Dir, J C Chandor, 2014) 3/5*
If you’ve seen Margin Call and All Is Lost, you will already know as much as there is to know about J C Chandor, a subtle and considered (I might have called him ‘pedestrian’ in the past) director and writer, who is responsible for both of those duties here, directing Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in early-eighties New York City crime drama, A Most Violent Year. And without knowing what you’re watching, if you’re not put in mind of Rocky within the first couple of minutes, you’re not really paying attention. There is the same feel, the bitter cold, the tone of fighting against society, the gruff nature of humanity and the worn, disheveled and crumbling urban architecture that just reeks of real men and women in hardship. We already know that New York has a character all of its own, but let’s not stop Chandor from reminding us of it anyway. This project is just as slow-burn, just as engaging and probably the most mis-titled movie of the year. Maybe 1981 was a violent year for New York, I don’t know, but if you believe what you see here, then it can’t have been that violent, featuring little violence of note. The story of a man’s rise to prominence in the delivery and distribution of fuel doesn’t, on reflection, sound like the Godfather, and nor is it even if it sometimes really wants to be, as this is as far removed gangster shenanigans as it seems possible to be. Nice characterization, even if the arcs are not so evident. Getting just the one nod at the Globes (For Chastain’s supporting role), and none of note at the Oscars, this says alot more about the general feel of audiences everywhere. Accomplished and eye-catching, sure, but this lacks soul and real passion, which may be the reason for the lacklustre awards season response.
The Oscar nominations came out today, so like the BAFTA’s here’s a quick rundown of them and my thoughts;
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything
Thoughts? – Absolutely delighted to see Whiplash get nominated and I really hope it wins, but the realist in me is guessing that it’s not likely, particularly with Chazelle not nominated as Best Director.
My head tells me Boyhood is going to steal this one. Only eight films nominated this year?
Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
Thoughts? – I think Steve Carell is nailed on for this one, despite the fact that it’s not my own personal favourite. Of those nominated, I’ll be rooting for Eddie Redmayne, or failing that, Michael Keaton (just how cool would that be?) Also, where is Jake Gyllenhaal?
Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night
Thoughts? – This is Julianne Moore’s year, I feel. Having still not seen Still Alice, I can’t really comment, but I have seen the rest of the movies mentioned and know that that the field is strong this year. I’ll have my fingers crossed for my favourite Rosamund Pike, with Marion Cotillard a close second, but not holding much hope for either. Some have complained that there is no Jennifer Aniston here, but whilst I did love her performance in Cake, I’m not sure she makes the grade here, though she does deserve a place ahead of Felicity Jones.
’71 (Dir, Yann Demange, 2014) 4/5*
Rising star Jack O’Connell cements his fresh acting pedigree from the likes of Starred Up with this drama based in Belfast prior to the bloody sunday uprising in 1972. O’Connell stars as a young soldier on his first assignment out of training, sent to Belfast, when on his first patrol, he is accidentally abandoned in a predominantly Catholic stronghold of the city and the film follows his attempts to both get back to his barracks and remain undetected by those that would have him killed if apprehended. With superior performances throughout in addition to excellent production design, this is often edge-of-the-seat stuff. The script is nothing to write home about especially, but suffices and is authentic, given the characters we are dealing with. Always watchable, this is engaging, even if the character development for most is a little thin. Overall, however, a very accomplished, sobering piece of cinema that educates as well as entertains.
Unbroken (Dir, Angelina Jolie, 2014) 3.5/5*
The second of my Jack O’Connell double-bill today, who is fast becoming something of a Hollywood darling if you believe his press. Given who is attached to the project (Jolie, primarily) this has seemingly garnered more interest than the previous offering on this list, but whether you find it more worthy, well, you’ll just have to watch them both. Almost as much muck as praise has been thrown at this, mostly by those that can’t wait for Jolie to fail behind the camera. Why? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t give a hoot who makes great movies, as long as they get made. And whilst this is a vast, sometimes heartbreaking undertaking, it somehow smacks too much of what Jolie imagines the vagaries of war would be like, rather than how they actually were. Inarguably, there are some fantastic, tense, dramatic scenes that do her vision credit, as well as the stunning performance she draws from her lead O’Connell. Starting with threatening early on to become a little too Photoshopped for its own good, the planes soon make way for lifeboats, then POW camps in Japan, which fully gives the scale of the story we are being led by the nose through. It is a huge, compelling, almost unbelievable story but O’Connell is always credible even if events are sometimes too much to swallow. In all, a great film from everyone involved, but especially the lead. Jolie has done some excellent work here, and whilst this may not be the best of the year gone by, by some margin, this is still well worth your time.
Vice (Dir, Brian A Miller, 2015) 1.5/5*
Thomas Jane, Bruce Willis and Ambyr Childers star in this sci-fi vision of the near future where anyone can go and live out their darkest fantasies in a resort populated by artificial humans. This paradise for the less than virtuous is called Vice and, perhaps unsurprisingly and something of a comment about the human condition, it’s very popular. That is until one one of the artificial humans suddenly becomes self-aware and then all hell breaks loose. Bruce Willis plays megalomaniac resort owner Julian Michaels, Thomas Jane is the renegade cop who is out to close down the resort for purely moralistic and health and safety reasons and Ambyr Childers plays the part of the unwitting Michelle, a bartender at one of Vice’s clubs who is about to ‘wake up’ and realise who she really is (or isn’t, for that matter). A flimsy, flighty plot and cheesy script make this more of a drag to sit through than it should be as the idea itself is quite sound and original. A little ore finesse and subtlety wouldn’t have gone amiss, however. Both Jane and Willis coast through the entire thing with only Childers appearing to do any real work. Straight to DVD in the UK I would expect, but don’t expect a release over here anytime soon.
The Atticus Institute (Dir, Chris Sparling, 2015) 2.5/5*
Despite having no basis in actual fact, Chris Sparling’s found footage/talking heads horror mockumentary is nonetheless inventive, ingenious and most importantly continually engaging. Created on a shoe-string yet with great production design and story values, Sparling directs his own screenplay about the story of a woman brought to the titular institute, which concerns itself with laboratory investigations into those subjects that appear to have some parapsychological abilities, whether this be clairvoyance, telekinesis, etc. When Judith Winstead is brought to the facility by her sister, it becomes startlingly clear that she has abilities unlike anything the Institute has witnessed and they begin the process to try and find out just what she is actually capable of. With an admirable lead performance from Rya Kihlstedt that is always on point plus eloquent and convincing interviews with the staff mixed with footage from the experiments, this makes for quite the mystery and Sparling unfolds the layers well, drawing the curious in with some nice flourishes amongst a fair amount of exposition, as if leading the viewer by the hand to their seemingly inevitable doom, with intermittent dramatic treats along the way. Becoming maybe a little bogged down during the second act, the drama falter and threatens to become a parody of the impressive efforts that have gone before, but this thankfully doesn’t happen, due to pleasing direction from Sparling in a third act that rewards the viewer for their patience. A better than expected project, that whilst noticeably lacking jumpscares or cheap thrills, will still manage to unnerve its audience.
Taken 3 (Dir, Oliver Megaton, 2014) 2.5/5*
How are we here again? First one, great. Second one, show me the money. Third one? Well, I just don’t know. What I do know, however, is that you are continually judged by those that pay your wages on the decisions you choose to make. Sometimes, it will pay you better in the long run not to accept those offers that will be detrimental to your future well-being. Are you listening Mr Neeson? Obviously not. If he were, well, I wouldn’t be forced to write this. On condition that no-one actually gets ‘taken’ in this third and final installment of the franchise, Neeson is back as Bryan Miller once more, this time trying to get to the bottom of the murder of his ex-wife. If it weren’t for the name and the cast, this would have sat quite comfortably independent of the franchise altogether as there is little you need to know about the previous films in order to get what you can from this and events are quite distinct from the previous adventures. Lacking the vitality and satisfaction of the first (again) of these films is not surprising in the least as that touched something of a nerve, whereas this like the sequel, doesn’t really tug at the viewer in any moral fashion. Boasting a respectable budget, Besson writing and a taste for destruction and running about, this is an average action thriller, ravaged by the potential and expectation of something better. Not the turkey many have claimed, but certainly no genre-defining pearl either. You can stop now guys. It’s officially been done.
And now, Cinema Sins! – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!!
The Best Of Me (Dir, Michael Hoffman, 2014) 2/5*
Short of something to watch on a rainy spring afternoon on your day off? Well, look no further, as Michael Hoffman brings us the tale of two childhood sweethearts reunited after twenty-one years apart after the death of one of their older friends who names them as beneficiaries in his will. Starring Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, this romantic drama is, to be blunt, one for the ladies (or sensitive men, if you will) with themes of love being uppermost. It is well delivered, nicely characterized and shot with only one eye on reality and the other on unattainable perfection. It amazed me that the framing wasn’t adorned with an Instagram border, put it that way. Rose-tinted? Not half, by crikey. It was sweet, corny, predictable and cliched, but nonetheless, it delivered exactly what it meant to, that being a heartfelt love story about what could have been if we’d all made different choices. Best to wait for the Netflix premiere (if it’s not on there already) as this is really ‘tv movie of the day’ type fodder. Performances from all were adequate if not amazing. Probably not worth queuing for, but if you flick past it whilst channel-hopping, you might find it worthwhile to stop for a while with these characters who are charming, rounded and watchable enough to waste some time on. You could do worse.
My Old Lady (Dir, Israel Horovitz, 2014) 2.5/5*
Fifteen minutes in and I had already been forced to think (on more than one occasion) that this is what American film-makers think Americans want to watch when they are told a film is about Paris. In the first quarter of an hour, we were treated to more than enough accordions, bicycles and pretty back streets with architecture full of ‘character’, charm and whimsy. For a minute, I thought Woody Allen had had a rethink and had gone back for another go. Really only watching this due to the fact that Kristen Scott Thomas was going to show up and make an appearance at some point, I was hoping also for a Kevin Kline bonus. Something anarchic out of A Fish Called Wanda would have done. And then, of course, was the old lady herself, the always fantastic Maggie Smith. When an American inherits a highly valuable Paris apartment after his fathers passing, he finds that it comes with a surprise resident that he can’t get rid of, the titular old lady. Skint after three divorces our American abroad (Kline) is forced to stay, having nowhere else to go, nor any money to get there. Sweeping easily between ‘almost’ comedy to actually quite dark, My Old Lady is admittedly well-written, but confines itself to what seems like Horowitz’s helpless stage play philosophy, dispensing with the opportunity to expand the cinematography beyond the bare minimum, with production design that never really threatens to impress. Smith is the highlight as you might rightly expect, with the best lines saved for her acerbic tongue seen more readily elsewhere. The characters are nicely developed and the story is suitably layered and delivered well via strong performances. Better served for the stage, I would imagine, but nonetheless, continually engaging.
Northern Soul (Dir, Elaine Constantine, 2014) 3/5*
Only being something of a nipper at the time and about forty miles up the road, this homage to Northern Soul’s alleged uprising of a generation passed me by, but certainly the feel and tone of Lancashire in the mid-seventies is captured gloriously by Constantine here. Birthed in the UK at least from dedicated lovers of the music, centred mostly around working class urban decay gives the film a naturally dramatic, edgy touch and this extends beyond the music, with the production feeling honourable not only to the sounds, but the fashion, attitudes and lack of temperance experienced by this particular generation of misfits and disillusioned, misunderstood youth. A nice central performance from Elliot James Langridge certainly authenticates the acting chops, supported by Antonia Thomas and Josh Whitehouse and the whole affair feels, by turns, suitably tense and occasionally joyous. You don’t need to be a fan of the music to understand and appreciate the story, as this is not a new idea, just a new place and time for it to be played out. As such, not entirely original, but nonetheless entertaining in a brutal, exuberant, angry and liberating way.
Finally, it’s song of the week. Get your lugholes round this –
Lady Antebellum/I Did With You from The Best Of Me
Film of the Week? – ’71
See you all next weeks, folks.
Lots of love and slop.