FlixChatter Review: Café Society (2016)

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Café Society is director Woody Allen’s latest film about old Hollywood – or sort of. Set during its golden age (30s, 40s), its main protagonist is Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a naïve young New Yorker looking to make his way by moving to Hollywood to work under his uncle Phil (Steve Carell in a wooden performance), a high powered Hollywood agent.

Leaving a loving Jewish family in New York, which includes his mother Rose (an excellent Jeannie Berlin) and a gangster older brother (Corey Stoll), Bobby arrives in LA, and taken under his uncle’s wing. To help him get acclimated to his new surroundings, Phil tasks ‘Vronny’, his secretary (Kristen Stewart) to show him the sights. Before long, a romance ensues and some rather complicated triangles come into play.


Café Society
is watchable at best, with Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous photography, its glamorous ensemble cast (Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Sheryl Lee) and Allen’s trademark impeccable pacing. However, the cast is mostly sidelined to the rafters.

Aiming seemingly for that classic, light, airy romantic comedy – the likes of Twentieth Century (1934), but without it’s creative punch and slapstick. It’s peppered with cynicism throughout, perhaps to intrigue a moviegoer discussion into the imagined realities of love and romance in the Hollywood jet-set. But it all feels a bit hollow and ultimately, forgettable.

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Perhaps Allen’s point is to stress the emptiness of the rich Hollywood life, but it’s hard to care for any of the main characters who don’t evolve much. It does feel a bit like Allen doing a monologue on Hollywood, love and death to himself. But that in itself, unfortunately, does not make a great, or even a good film.

The one redeeming quality about the film are the scenes with Bobby’s immediate family, which were too few and far in between. The family dynamic offered the most effective comedy throughout and reminded me bits and pieces of 1987’s award winning Moonstruck.

In the end, the Dofmans were the only characters I could sympathize with. And by film’s end, Bobby was most definitely not even a part of them at all.

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So what do you think of Café Society? Let us know what you think!

Everybody’s Chattin + Trailer Spotlight: The Big Short

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Happy Tuesday everyone! Well, it’s a three-day work week for me so technically today’s already *Friday* for me, wahoo! 😀  I’ll be taking a week blogging break as my hubby and I are flying to Arizona Thursday to hang out with an old friend of hours who moved there last year from MN. I’m also going to be visiting my friend Cindy B. whom I met through the blog! I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few blog friends over the years, it’s truly one of the perks of blogging! 😀

So about those links…

  • Speaking of Cindy, she just posted a classic review of The Terrace, starring real life couple Paul Newman + Joanne Woodward
  • Michael posted some thoughts on Sicario, which Ted will be seeing tonight as I can’t make it to the press screening. On a related note, Adam reviewed another Denis Villeneuve film, Prisoners.
  • Mark reviewed the acclaimed documentary AMY on Amy Winehouse, whilst Jordan apparently isn’t wowed by Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut The Gift.
  • Jay & her crew have been busy covering TIFF 2015 and posted this awesome TIFF by the numbers post.
  • A lot of Oscar front-runners are no doubt coming out of TIFF and other film festivals, but check out one of the most important blog award, that is Drew’s Fisti Awards on the year 1990
  • Last but not least, have you checked out Margaret‘s Tom Hardy Appreciation yet? I always love celeb crush appreciation, and who doesn’t love Tom Hardy? 😛


Trailer Spotlight: The Big Short

Boy, for some reason I hadn’t even heard of The Big Short! Apparently it’s been in the works for some time and even movie pundits thought it wouldn’t be ready until 2016. Well, today they released a trailer and sounds like this could be an award contender for Christian Bale and Steve Carell. I love the casting of those two, but why’s Bale sporting the same haircut as his younger Bruce Wayne days?? Despite my indifference (I’m being nice here) to Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling, I am looking forward to seeing this!

The film is based on the book by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Moneyball) focuses on men who made millions from a global economic meltdown. Here’s the official synopsis:

When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything


I saw Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo in the cast list but I could barely spot them. Heck, Karen Gillan actually got third billing on IMDb but she’s not even in the trailer (or if she was, it must’ve been a blink-and-you-missed it moment). I have no idea how thisIMDb STARmeter works but how in the world is her starmeter higher than Carell AND Gosling?? [scratch head]

Anyhoo, a few trivia about this movie from IMDb… This will be Adam McKay‘s first time directing a drama and also his first film not starring Will Ferrell. I really enjoyed The Other Guys and Ant-Man but he also wrote Get Hard which I have absolutely no desire to see. We’ll see how he fares in a drama though it’s not devoid of comedic moments judging from the trailer. According to Michael Lewis (the author of The Big Short novel), the big four: Bale, Pitt, Gosling, and Carell all agreed to take significant pay cuts in order to be in the film.

According to THR, Oliver Stone’s Snowden moved out of the Christmas frame to 2016, opening up the slot for The Big Short. Paramount will release the film in limited release on Dec. 11 and then wide on Dec. 23. The film also will make its world premiere as AFI’s closing night film on Nov. 12. Man, there are SOOO many good movies coming out this Christmas.


So what do you think of The Big Short trailer?

Mini Reviews: Hitman Agent 47 | Seeking A Friend For the End of the World | The Last Flight

I wrote some of these reviews last week, but just haven’t got around to posting ’em. I haven’t got much time to write reviews lately, as I’d rather devote my time to my script. But at the same time, I do have something to say about some of the movies I saw, so why not write about ’em, right?

So here we go:

Hitman: AGENT 47 (2015)

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I quite enjoyed this but I realize it’s an easy target for critics who probably expected too much from this video-game adaptation. It’s a popcorn action flick, something that doesn’t demand much from you intellectually, so just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. I had a low expectation but I thought the story was pretty decent and at 96-min-long, it moved along pretty swiftly.

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I quite like Hannah Ware whom I’ve never seen before. Nice to see that her character is actually the heart of the movie. Style-wise it’s got plenty, I mean you watch this kind of movie to see the high octane shoot-em-ups, so I wasn’t disappointed. Rupert Friend makes for a pretty efficient, if not wholly-charismatic killing machine, but I think he fits the role well. Zachary Quinto is pretty much playing a similar character to Sylar in the Heroes series, but he’s watchable enough. I actually like this one overall than the previous Hitman movie, so definitely NOT as horrible as critics made it out to be.

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Seeking A Friend For the End of the World (2012)

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I was mostly curious to see this for the pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and on that front I enjoyed this quirky comedy/drama. As the title says, an asteroid threatens an apocalypse and a man (Carell) whose just been jilted by his wife decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart, Knightley plays the neighbor who somehow ends up tagging along.

SeekingAFriend2SeekingAFriend1 The two surprisingly have an interesting chemistry, but the movie is kind of uneven and at times I couldn’t really get into the story. Fortunately the ending is pretty sweet and it wasn’t as predictable as I had dreaded. So overall, it’s worth a look for the cast and the fact that it breaks the stereotypes in terms of casting, not just the two leads but some of the characters they meet along the way.

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The Last Flight/Le dernier vol (2009)

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This is another film I was curious about because of the pairing of the actors, Marion Cotillard and her real life partner Guillaume Canet. I LOVE Cotillard, she’s one of those actresses I’d watch in practically anything. Here she plays an aviator Marie Vallières de Beaumont who goes on a journey to find her lover after his plane disappears in the Sahara. In her quest, she encountered a French lieutenant Antoine Chauvet who loves the Tuareg people and even speak their language and has a Tuareg lover. In the course of their arduous journey, they develop feelings for each other.

TheLastFlight2 Now, the story is VERY loosely based on a real life adventure of British aviator Bill Lancaster, but they pretty much only used his name and a small part of his life for this film, the rest are fiction. I wish they had actually adapted Lancaster’s real story, it’s far more compelling and has more drama! Sometimes truth IS stranger (and more interesting) than fiction.

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This French film has gorgeous visuals of the desert landscape, filmed in Morocco. Director Karim Dridi seem to be a big fan of Lawrence of Arabia as some shots look like an homage to that David Lean classic. But the pace is s-l-o-w and the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere and a little bit of the intense pieces seem disjointed from the rest of the film. If it hadn’t been for the performance of the two leads, I might’ve turned this off halfway through. There’s a line from the film that says “I’m afraid I’ve taken you nowhere.” Well, the same could be said for the film itself. I don’t regret watching this one, but still I wish it were a lot better.

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So have you seen any of these? Let me know what you think!

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

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Well, now that I’ve posted my Top 10 Movies of the year and picked my Top 10 favorite FEMALE Performances and Top 10 Film Scores of the year, I’m finally down to my last 2014 Recap list. It’s quite a crowded category, more so than the female counterpart, as obviously there are more roles for men as there are for women on any given year. But I’m still picking only 10 on the main list, and another 10 15 on Honorable Mentions (there are just too many to keep it to just 10). Naturally these are performances from films I got a chance to see last year. So in case you’re wondering where’s Jake Gyllenhaal, Eddie Redmayne or J.K. Simmons, well I haven’t seen Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything nor Whiplash.

Same w/ the ladies, this list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

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It’s one of those transformative roles that all actors are privileged to get but not everyone can pull it off. Well, I always think that Steve Carell is a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for and Foxcatcher‘s director Bennet Miller said during our interview that “…it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them.” But it takes so much more than just putting on a fake nose to create a convincing character. I’ve seen him in serious roles before in Little Miss Sunshine, but took his dramatic potential up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. As I’m writing this, I couldn’t help recalling his earlier role as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, yet I couldn’t fathom that they’re played by the same actor!

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing an eccentric genius on screen. But apart from being British and a brainiac, Alan Turing couldn’t be more different than his Sherlock persona. Cumberbatch effortlessly captures that brilliant intellect and that arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the world around him, but he also convincingly conveys Turing’s inner tumult. The final scenes where Turing is treated as a social outcast is the film’s most heart-wrenching moments. All the pain, anguish and utter despair is palpable on Cumberbatch’s face but without a moment of overacting. It’s no doubt the actor’s shining hour, a personal best even amongst his already impressive resume.

3. Chris Evans – Snowpiercer

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In a year when he’s truly coming into his own as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in its sequel, Chris Evans also emerges as a capable indie leading man. Certain actors often become stuck to play certain roles because of how they look and I think Evans is one them. But Evans is more than just a pretty face & a hot body, even if his role choices are questionable at times. I saw that he has dramatic chops in Puncture but this is an even more complex role – not to mention a better-crafted film overall – and he gets to show what he can do as an actor. As a conflicted rebel leader with a dark past, Evans displays an unusually somber, soulful and heartfelt performance. I’d love to see him tackle more dramatic roles like this in the future, he certainly has it in him.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Whilst Carell is comedian playing a dark role, the normally-serious Ralph Fiennes got to do the opposite. It’s such a thrill to see him being so goofy here, and he seems to relish in the character’s inherent zany-ness. Apparently Wes Anderson wrote this role specifically for him, which I think is an inspired choice that absolutely paid off. His deadpan delivery is really fun to watch here, and he has that effortless elegance about him too that fits the role of the legendary concierge M. Gustave.

5. Tom Hardy – Locke

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It takes an actor of a certain charisma to hold your attention for 1.5 hour long when all you see is him inside a car the entire time. But charisma can only go so far without the skills, but thankfully, Hardy’s got both. This is the first film with him in the leading role, after seeing him stealing scenes left and right in films like Rocknrolla, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was a co-lead (with Joel Edgerton) in Warrior, an intensely physical role that he offsets with layers of vulnerability. As a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life, his body is barely shown the entire movie, so he had to rely on his eyes and facial features to convey every single emotion. Suffice to say, he delivered with aplomb. It’s a mesmerizingly-nuanced performance that confirms my opinion that Hardy as one of the finest actors working today. Seems that he’s only just getting warmed up.

6. Michael Keaton – Birdman

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One of the highlights of 2014 cinema for me is definitely seeing the perpetually-underrated Michael Keaton getting a career resurgence. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, as he’s the kind of actor who can tackle hard-hitting drama as well as silly comedic roles effortlessly. In Birdman he gets a chance to tackle both and he relish in that opportunity. He’s been garnering kudos left and right and he’s the one I’m rooting for the entire award season. The fact that there are many similarities between his character Riggan and his professional acting life certainly adds a dose of amusement as well as authenticity to his portrayal. Keaton infused Riggan with such depth and genuine pathos that even during some of the film’s most bizarre scenes as Riggan descend into madness, he’s always emotionally engaging.

7. James McAvoy – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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If only you more people had seen at least one version of this romantic drama, even just to see how good both lead actors are. McAvoy’s co-star Jessica Chastain is on my Top 10 list of Female Performers from the same film. I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since Atonement and the Scottish actor has since done an amazing job balancing big blockbusters like X-Men: First Class to small indies like this one. He’s an instantly likable actor who I vehemently believe is more talented than people give him credit for. What I love about McAvoy is that there’s always such a natural way to his acting that you instantly believe he’s that character. Here he wears his character Conor like an old shoe, a man desperately trying to somehow regain his lost love. There is a moment in the film where Conor is alone in an empty apartment and he reminisce on his marriage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a shame that AMPAS doesn’t even notice this film as both Chastain & McAvoy’s marvelous performances are certainly Oscar-worthy.

8. Edward Norton – Birdman

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Another highlights from Birdman and why this is truly one of the best films of the decade is seeing Ed Norton in a role worthy of his talent. It’s definitely a scene-stealing role in a film that’s already jam-packed with fine performances. Just like his co-star Keaton, Norton did a brilliant dramatic and comedic turn as a self-absorbed diva of an actor who’s more comfortable in his own skin when he’s on stage. All the scenes of him and Keaton are truly the film’s highlights as both actors not only baring their skin down to their underwear, but they also bare themselves emotionally. It’s too bad that he probably won’t win an Oscar again this year, but I sure hope the three-time Oscar nominee won’t be wasted playing second/third banana in subpar movies like Bourne Legacy ever again.

9. David Oyelowo – Selma

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I’ve made my quibbles known about one of the egregious snubs of this year’s Oscar. But if there is justice in the world, this wouldn’t be the last we see Oyelowo’s name being mentioned during cinema’s award season. Even in bit parts in a myriad of movies ranging from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, Jack Reacher, etc., I always notice his performance. He finally got to shine in a prominent supporting role as Forrest Whitaker’s teenage son in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also deals with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s interesting that a year later he got to play the key figure in that historical movement, a role that I read he’s been dreaming to play for some time. Oyelowo didn’t just get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mannerism and speaking style right, it’s more than just a brilliant impersonation but he truly embodied the role. What’s more, he portrayed Dr. King as not just a heroic figure but as a man, flawed and plagued with doubts just like any regular person would. He is just as convincing as a powerful and persuasive orator as he is in the quieter scenes that demand subtle nuances. I can’t wait to see what Oyelowo will tackle next.

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 

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Is there anything Mark Ruffalo can’t do? I feel like I’ve been missing out as for whatever reason I didn’t really pay attention to him until recently. I was going to list his performance in Begin Again but technically that’s a 2013 film, but man what an astounding display of versatility. His role as an Olympic pro-wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher couldn’t be more different than a distressed & disheveled record producer in Begin Again but he’s utterly believable in both. Ruffalo’s role is actually the least flashy compared to Steve Carell’s and Channing Tatum’s, but his character is no doubt the heart of the film. It’s a role that demands the perfect amount of nuance and subtlety and Ruffalo pulls it off wonderfully. The video interview scene alone when he’s asked to describe Carell’s character is simply masterful, I remember marveling at how good his performance was as I was watching it. I think that might’ve been what earned him his second Oscar nomination.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I truly didn’t expect to see some names would end up on this list. I honestly have never seen Tyler Perry nor Zach Galifianakis in anything other than clips of their movies, but they definitely left an impression on me in their respective films. There are some big breakthroughs here too, especially Dan Stevens and Chris Pratt, garnering a lot of buzz in their successful starring roles. There are also some perennial favorites of mine who definitely still got it (Keanu Reeves), as well as a brand new actor I’ve never seen before. Manish Dayal‘s like the male counterpart of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for me and I hope to see him more movies! As for Guy Pearce, I sure hope that he will get the recognition he deserves one day as he’s simply a phenomenal actor.

Here they are in random order:


Thoughts on these male performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

Weekend Roundup + Musings on the SAG Awards & Golden Globes Nominations

What a hectic weekend it’s been. With my hubby’s company holiday party, a Christmas concert, a TCFF bloggers meet-up and a morning screening, I barely had time to even open my laptop until Sunday night. No time for home cinema at all obviously, though I did see two press screenings: Into The Woods on Thursday night and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb Saturday morning.

It’s my first Night of the Museum movie I’ve ever seen, in fact I didn’t even know this was the third entry, wow! It was fun enough that I might check out the previous two. As for Into The Woods, well let’s just say that apart from some hilarious sequences, this material might’ve been more suited for a play. I’ll post a double review of both before Christmas.

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Ok, this post marks the first Awards Chatter of the year!

I finally had time to put my thoughts down on the two recent award nominations that was announced back to back last week. To keep this post at a manageable length, I’m only limiting my comments to under 15 categories each, and on FILM nominations only (as I barely watch any TV to have any opinion on those).

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BEST PICTURE (drama)
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
 …
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David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve only seen two out of this list, but Selma‘s press screening has been scheduled in the first week of January so I’m looking forward to that! I honestly don’t know which one I’m rooting for most, I guess I’ll know after I see Selma but I’m glad there’s finally a good Martin Luther King Jr. adaptation. But where’s Gone Girl?? It’s nominated for Best Director but no love from the Hollywood Foreign Press for the film itself?
 …
BEST PICTURE (comedy/musical)
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent
 …
After having seen Into The Woods, I definitely don’t think it deserves a nom! I wish Begin Again had been nominated here over that one instead, it’s just a more entertaining and engaging film by a wide margin. Ah well, I guess out of this list, I’m rooting for Birdman with Grand Budapest Hotel a close second.
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BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay | Selma
David Fincher | Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu | Birdman
Richard Linklater | Boyhood
 …
As I haven’t seen Selma and Boyhood, out of the three I’ve seen, I’m torn between Iñárritu and Fincher. Congrats to Ava DuVernay for making history as the first-ever African-American woman to be nominated in the Best Director category! At the same time, why does it take THAT long for a woman of color to finally get directorial recognition?! Well, out of the ones I’ve seen, I’m leaning towards Iñárritu as Birman is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen and will surely end up in my final Top 10. It’s hilarious yet poignant at the same time and I’m just glad to see Michael Keaton making a major comeback!
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BEST SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Again, I’m rooting for Birdman here, though I think Gillian Flynn did a fantastic job adapting her own novel Gone Girl, so I definitely wouldn’t cry foul if she wins.
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BEST ANIMATED FILM
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
  …
Yay, three of my fave animated films are nominated!! Out of Big Hero 6, HTTYD 2 and The LEGO Movie, I’d LOVE to see Big Hero 6 win, but I think The LEGO Movie could very well be the one to beat this year.
 …
ACTOR (drama)
Steve Carell | Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch | The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal | Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo | Selma
Eddie Redmayne | The Theory of Everything
 …
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This is such a strong category and each seems to be quite deserving of a nom. I’m bummed that I have only seen two performances here, Carell’s and Cumberbatch’s. Carell is absolutely astounding and virtually unrecognizable in Foxcatcher and so my money is on him this year.
 …
BEST ACTOR (comedy/musical)
Ralph Fiennes | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton | Birdman
Bill Murray | St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix | Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz | Big Eyes
 …
I LOVE the fact that Fiennes is getting a nod for a comedic role and deservedly so. But I’ve been a fan of Keaton for some time and I’m really rooting for him to sweep all the awards this year.
 …
BEST ACTRESS (drama)
Jennifer Aniston | Cake
Felicity Jones | The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore | Still Alice
Rosamund Pike | Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon | Wild
 …

So the trend that actress who *deglamorize* for a role usually gets nominated continues. I haven’t seen Cake yet and I honestly haven’t heard much of it apart from Aniston going sans makeup in the role. I guess I might rent it when it’s out on rental. I’d LOVE to see Pike win this category, I mean she’s just fantastic as Amy Dunne, and please please please, don’t give it to Witherspoon!! I’m already so disappointed seeing her name here, I mean I’d rather nominate Gugu Mbatha-Raw for either Belle or Beyond the Lights any day!

 …
BEST ACTRESS (comedy/musical)
Amy Adams | Big Eyes
Emily Blunt | Into the Woods
Helen Mirren | The Hundred Foot Journey
Julianne Moore | Maps to the Stars
Quvenzhané Wallis | Annie
 …

I’ve only seen Emily Blunt‘s performance here, and though I’m not crazy for the movie, I do think she’s VERY good in the role but she’s always been a great actress IMO. Kudos for Moore for her double nominations though I have yet to see either one of her performances.

 …
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rosana Arquette | Boyhood
Jessica Chastain | A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley | The Imitation Game
Emma Stone | Birdman
Meryl Streep | Into the Woods
  …
Both Knightley and Stone were good in The Imitation Game and Birdman, respectively, but I don’t know who I root for most out of those two. I’ve always like Chastain as an actress and I’d have liked to see her get a nod for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Interesting that Streep’s character is considered a supporting role in Into the Woods, as she seems to have a pretty major screen time there. In any case, does she have to be nominated for EVERY SINGLE ROLE she plays EVERY YEAR though?? I could think of a handful of actresses I’d rather see in her place, for one I’d love to see Andrea Riseborough (or Naomi Watts) in Birdman get a nod! I was also impressed by Kim Dickens as Detective Boney in Gone Girl.
Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in 'Birdman'
Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in ‘Birdman’
 …
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall | The Judge
Ethan Hawke |Boyhood
Ed Norton | Birdman
Mark Ruffalo | Foxcatcher
JK Simmons | Whiplash
 …
Woo hoo for Mark Ruffalo! I was a bit worried Channing Tatum would get a nod in the supporting role instead of him. I guess Tatum could be considered a co-lead with Carell. But Ruffalo was truly the heart of the film and he was truly believable and compelling in the role. Meh on Robert Duvall, but I guess it’s better him getting a nod than Robert Downey Jr from The Judge.
 …

BEST SCORE
Alexandre Desplat | The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson | The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor | Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez | Birdman
Hans Zimmer | Interstellar


I’ve been listening to Interstellar’s score a lot lately so I guess that’s my favorite from the bunch. But Reznor’s work for Gone Girl is excellent and I’ve been a fan of Desplat’s work generally. Seems that the Academy loves him, he’s been nominated 6 times in the last 7 years, but he has yet to win. So perhaps this would be Desplat’s year?
 …

SAGawards
I’ve never blogged about the SAG awards before for some reason, but it could very well be far more important than the Globes and other awards apart from Oscars. Per THR, in the years since the SAG Awards were first handed out in 1995, the guild’s acting nominees and winners have predicted the Academy Awards’ acting nominees and winners more consistently than any of the many other accolades that collectively constitute the awards season.

It’s definitely the year of the Brits! There’s a British actor in practically every acting category both at Golden Globes and SAG this year.
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
STEVE CARELL / John du Pont – “FOXCATCHER”
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH / Alan Turing – “THE IMITATION GAME” 
JAKE GYLLENHAAL / Louis Bloom – “NIGHTCRAWLER”
MICHAEL KEATON / Riggan – “BIRDMAN” 
EDDIE REDMAYNE / Stephen Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 

Pretty much everyone I predicted would be nominated are on this list, and yay once again for Keaton! It’s a big year for Cumberbatch & Redmayne as this is the first SAG nom for the two Brits that would likely lead to the Oscars. VERY curious who’d win this year but I have no quibble about the nominees. I was bummed not seeing David Oyelowo‘s name here but apparently Selma wasn’t completed in time to send screeners to the SAG voters, hence the exclusion.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
JENNIFER ANISTON / Claire Bennett – “CAKE” 
FELICITY JONES / Jane Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 
JULIANNE MOORE / Alice Howland-Jones – “STILL ALICE” 
ROSAMUND PIKE / Amy Dunne – “GONE GIRL” 
REESE WITHERSPOON / Cheryl Strayed – “WILD”

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Unlike the more predictable MALE category, the Lead Best Actress category is full of surprises! Jennifer Aniston getting a double nomination, esp. from SAG, wow I’d never guess THAT as I have never even heard of her film Cake until a few weeks ago. I just hope there’s more her performance to warrant that nom than simply going sans makeup (and having bad hair) for the role. One thing for sure, as I said above, I don’t buy Witherspoon in a similar ‘non-glamorous’ role in Wild.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
ROBERT DUVALL / Joseph Palmer – “THE JUDGE” 
ETHAN HAWKE / Mason, Sr. – “BOYHOOD” 
EDWARD NORTON / Mike – “BIRDMAN” 
MARK RUFFALO / Dave Schultz – “FOXCATCHER”
J.K. SIMMONS / Fletcher – “WHIPLASH”


I’m rooting for Norton and Ruffalo out of this bunch, both of them are nothing short of excellent. I guess Norton’s role in Birdman is flashier but Ruffalo shines in a more understated performance in Foxcatcher. I definitely wish Duvall won’t win this category, I don’t know why he’s even nominated here.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
PATRICIA ARQUETTE / Olivia – “BOYHOOD”
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY / Joan Clarke – “THE IMITATION GAME”
EMMA STONE / Sam – “BIRDMAN”
MERYL STREEP / The Witch – “INTO THE WOODS” 
NAOMI WATTS / Daka – “ST. VINCENT”

[sigh] Meryl Streep once again, am I the only one tired of seeing her name in EVERY SINGLE NOMINATIONS year after year? Boy I didn’t even know Watts was in St. Vincent, I thought if she were to get a nod it’ll be from Birdman. I was quite impressed with Stone in Birdman, perhaps her best performance I’ve ever seen from her after her mediocre turn in those Spider-man movies and an entirely unconvincing one in Gangster Squad.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
BOYHOOD (IFC Films)
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
THE IMITATION GAME (The Weinstein Company)
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus Features)

ImitationGame_Cast

It’d be interesting if The Imitation Game with its all-star British cast win this thing but they do have an excellent ensemble! I personally love The Imitation Game and Birdman ensemble as I think the supporting cast absolutely deliver across the board, and they’re not just a glorified cameo like many in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

So who got snubbed??

So the most popular four-letter word during award season is back once again!

Seems that the early frontrunner Unbroken is not really much of a contender. I bet Angelina Jolie (who’s been nominated for Golden Globes half a dozen times, even for The Tourist!) would never guess Jennifer Aniston would get DOUBLE nominations this year. Perhaps the HFPA and SAG voters just don’t want to see both of them competing on the same red carpet or something? But the fact that the film didn’t earn a single acting nom, even for its lead Jack O’Connell is surprising to me. Now, the movie itself might not even be THAT good, so whether it’s really a SNUB remains to be seen.

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Jolie on the set of ‘Unbroken’ – Photo courtesy of HollywoodTake.com

Some consider this a snub, but I’m not all that surprised NOT seeing Interstellar nor Matthew McConaughey amongst the nominees. I’m not disappointed either as the film didn’t wow me. Seems that Ben Affleck is also not getting any love for his performance in Gone Girl, which arguably is one of his best acting in recent memory.

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Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

Lastly, two Cannes winners: Bennett Miller (Best Director for Foxcatcher) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor for Mr. Turner) are both missing from both Golden Globes and SAG nominations. I have been hearing nothing but praise for Spall’s performance as the eccentric British painter, so this seems to be a pretty glaring omission.


Well, there ya go folks. So who do you consider the surprises and/or snubs this year from both GG and SAG awards?

FlixChatter Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

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This film is what you’d call a quiet suspense type of film, brimming with unsettling tension throughout even when there’s barely any action going on. The film starts with the two pro-wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, respectively) as they practice in a gym. It gives us a glimpse into the relationship of the two of them and how Mark is a doting older brother to his rather tetchy younger brother. It’s also apparent that Mark is the better wrestler, though both are Olympic champions. The film then takes us into the process of how Mark ends up living in the large estate of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who wants to coach Mark and his team for the 1988 games in Seoul.

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Carell underwent quite a physical transformation for the role, wearing a prosthetic nose and made up to look older. But not only that, he also altered his mannerism and even tone of voice that he’s barely recognizable here. To say he looks creepy is an understatement, and the whole set up certainly gets under your skin. Both Mark and John are two people who have been living under someone else’s shadow, which feeds into their insecurity, anxiety and in the case of John, paranoia. I actually read the story of this case prior to watching the film, but it didn’t ruin the experience for me as it’s more of a character study than a plot-driven film. The story focuses mostly on the odd and unsettling relationship between Mark and John for the first two acts, but by the time Dave becomes part of an unlikely trio in the third act, things got more sinister that lead to an eventual tragic event.

There’s a homoerotic undertones between Mark & John that’s deliberately kept vague. It’s left up to the viewers’ interpretation as to why later on Mark act as if he was betrayed, that it must’ve been something that cuts really deep for him to go 180 in his behavior towards John. I remember feeling as if I missed something here and it’s a bit frustrating. There’s also very little dialog in the film, which can be used to great effect, but that at times I feel that the film is a little too austere to really be emotionally engaging.

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This is the kind of film that truly rely on the skills of each actor and the three leads are more than up for the task. Carell obviously is the revelation here. Comedians can often be quite effective in serious roles and I know Carell has dramatic chops when I saw him in Little Miss Sunshine. But he took it up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. Tatum’s good here in a taciturn role and you could say it’s quite a transformative performance for him as well as I’ve never seen him looking so dour. Ruffalo is a reliable actor and his character Dave is definitely the character I sympathized most here. Miller calls him the heart of the film despite him having the least screen time out of the three. He’s a natural choice for playing someone who’s got a thousand best friends, as Dave is revered on the wrestling and cherished by those who knew him. Vanessa Redgrave‘s appearance is basically a cameo but it’s a key scene that show how much John is so desperate of his mother’s love and approval. I’ve mentioned in my interview with the film’s director that Sienna Miller as Dave’s wife seems an unlikely choice but I think she’s fine in the role, though she wasn’t given that much to do until the finale.

Bennett Miller‘s direction style is so matter-of-fact that it sometimes feel like a documentary. But yet I feel it’s lacking a sense of time as I’m not sure when things happen from the time the characters first met to the time the violent incident occurs. For example, I read about the 48-hour standoff between John and the police, but in the film it felt more like 48 minutes. It also suggests that John’s mother’s passing directly led to the brutal finale, whilst in fact the two events are years apart. The slow pace also feels tedious at times, especially in the first act, and apart from a couple of amusing scenes, the mood is somber and grim throughout.

I must say that as much as I admire Foxcatcher, it’s not an enjoyable film and far from being a feel-good film. It’s one of those films one appreciate but not necessarily love as I couldn’t quite connect with any of the characters. Still, I’d recommend it for the amazing performances of the three main actors and it’s quite a fascinating tale of an American tragedy involving one of the country’s wealthiest and most prominent families.

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Has anyone seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think!

Q&A with Foxcatcher’s director Bennett Miller

With the award season upon us, one of the names that’s been showing up in film sites/blogs list of Oscar frontrunners is the psychological drama Foxcatcher. The film has been screened in various film festivals in the US and internationally, and finally it’s opening this week in the Twin Cities. Earlier this month, I had the chance to sit down with director Bennett Miller when he’s in town as part of a press tour around the country promoting the film.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Foxcatcher marks Miller’s third film following the critically-acclaimed Capote and Moneyball, and this one is also based on a true story of pro-wrestler brothers Mark & Dave Shultz and their sponsor, millionaire John du Pont. The film stars Channing Tatum as Mark, Mark Ruffalo as Dave and Steve Carell as Du Pont. During our interview, Miller gave us insights into his atypical casting choices, working with producer Megan Ellison (founder of Annapurna Pictures who happens to be the daughter of Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle), the origin of the film + the years it took to get it made, and how Tatum was his only choice for Mark Schultz.

The roundtable interview took place at The Grand Hotel Minneapolis, so this excerpt includes questions from two other interviewers, Eric Henderson (EH) from CBS Radio and Paul McGuire Grimes (PMG) from Twin Cities Live & Paul’s Trip to the Movies Blog. My questions are marked with my initials, RM.

[There are major plot points being discussed,
so consider this a spoiler warning if you have not seen the film
]

PMG: So I just have to have to say that I really enjoyed the movie. It’s think it’s very chilling and suspenseful, and I love the character buildup in it. I’ve noticed that all four of your movies are all based on true stories. Is that something that you look for? Are you more inspired by real life events that you like to dig into and research or is it just mere coincidence?

Miller: I honestly don’t know. I mean I don’t look for it. I don’t tell people “Oh I’m looking for a real life story.” It just happens that way. I like real life stories. Real life stories, at least for me, they all have to have an allegorical quality. They add up to something more than just the story. I try to do these stories because you can see more into them. You can treat the real life story and examine the real story with cinema in a way you cannot examine it with any other medium. So, compared to news coverage or another form of journalism, a film can actually do something in the exploration of the truth of events that “non-fiction” formats can’t. Cinema can capture and shine a light in areas where nothing else can.

PMG: How did you first hear about this story? Did you read Mark’s book or was it a script you came upon?

Miller: A total stranger approached me at an event and handed me an envelope that I would learn contained newspaper clippings about the story.

PMG: That seems a little creepy, but…

Miller: A little creepy, but that’s how it happened. I then set about exploring it and researching it, getting drafts done, and the screenplays.

RM: How long ago was that?

Miller: That was eight years ago. 2006.

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Photo courtesy of Zimbio

RM: I just have a quick question about casting. How did Steve Carell come into being cast as John du Pont. And also related to that, Vanessa Redgrave?

Miller: Well. Steve Carell’s agent threw his name into the mix, and I can’t take credit for having been the first to think of it, but it did make a certain kind of sense, in part, because nobody expected John du Pont to murder Dave Schultz. You don’t want an actor in that role who you would expect to murder somebody, and it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them. I just had a lot of confidence that he had it in him. I thought it was just a question of him getting the right opportunity to do something like this.

PMG: I think you have a real good knack for doing that. I mean, Jonah Hill and Chris Pratt in Moneyball gave performances I don’t think anyone expected them to give and now he’s [Hill] doing The Wolf of Wall Street. I think you definitely have something do with that. And now with Steve Carell, you have him to do this side that we have never see him do before and it’s fascinating and it’s brilliant to watch him do this.

Miller: Yeah or there is a tendency to restrict people to opportunities that only allow them to do things similar to what they have done before. So, I think it’s probably true that most people are capable of far more than they get the opportunity to prove, but as it happens in this industry, there is a strong tendency towards derivation.

PMG: Do you ever get resistance from the studio or anyone saying “I don’t know if you want to cast Carell in this” or do they just kind of give you the free reign to do it?

Miller: Well, it was [producer] Megan Ellison, so no. She’s just very supportive and pretty certain. Had it been another studio, perhaps, it would be very possible.

EH: What is the working relationship with her? I mean she’s really a superstar right now in the field.

Miller: It’s ideal because ultimately her interest is the same as the filmmakers. And filmmaking is a tricky industry because it requires partnerships with financiers whose interests necessarily are not identical to the creative interests.

EH: Which is sort of mirrored in the film itself, kind of, the financial aspect of it.

Miller: Which is, I think, one thing that was interesting to her, you know, but those interests rarely are 100% harmonious and compatible. In the case of Megan, I think ultimately what she wants more than anything else, the biggest consideration and the governing principles that the movie is everything that it can and should be. She cares more about that than anything. It’s not that she doesn’t care about the financial side or it’s not that she’s reckless about or ignorant of that, it’s just that she cares about the creative aspect more. It makes for a very ideal partnership with filmmakers I think.

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Miller directing Vanessa Redgrave – photo courtesy of Zimbio

RM: It’s kind of fascinating to me that the two female characters, the mother and also the wife of Dave Schultz, are both played by British actresses and they are also not who I would expect to play those roles which enhance the roles themselves.

Miller: It’s a coincidence that they are British. Although Sienna [Miller] is half American, her father is American. Why wouldn’t you expect those actors? Which actor would you expect? Which actor is cast in a role that makes common sense?

RM: Well, I don’t know now that I’ve seen it. I mean, now I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. On the top of my head, I kept thinking maybe somebody like Amy Ryan maybe, for the role of Dave Schultz’s wife. But I thought Sienna did a great job. And Vanessa Redgrave can pretty much do anything.

Miller: She [Redgrave] is so good. I think of everybody she seems to make the most natural sense, and she’s probably playing closest to her strengths compared to the other actors.

EH: One actor we haven’t really mentioned yet is Channing Tatum. I think right now we haven’t come up with a word like “McConaissance” yet. Clearly, he’s on the verge of that or is even in the mid of it. Was he an actor you wanted specifically for this role from the get go?

Miller: Yeah, totally. I offered the part to him eight years ago.

EH: So based off of Step Up?

Miller: No before that. It was based off of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006). I saw that film, never having heard of him before, and I offered him the role before there was even a script. I got a meeting with him and said I was intending on making this film, and walked him through it, and he hopped on eight years ago. Things took a while, and things sort of unraveled. I couldn’t get the movie made, so I moved on to Moneyball and then came back to it. I bumped into him and said I was still planning on making this film if he was interested.

EH: And of course by that time his Sabermetrics score, or whatever, had gone up considerably.

Miller: It had. If you would have based that projection on just Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, you probably would not have imagined the turn that his career did, the kinds of movies that he did. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, they’re just so different. But it was Guide to Recognizing Your Saints that gave me the confidence that he was right for this, to the point where I didn’t even have a second choice.

PMG: I like that his character, unlike Carell’s, you know a lot about his character, he’s vulnerable and he brings those aspects apart. We don’t see that a lot from him. There’s a very different side, and it’s a wonderful performance from him. Hopefully, people see that and trust him more than the other roles he typically gets.

Miller: I hope so. I think they will. Again, he’s another one because of his qualities he tends to get used for particular things and he becomes known for that. I don’t see him to be any better suited to do rom-coms than he is to do something like this. In some ways, I think this is much more closer to what his natural vernacular would be as an actor.

PMG: Can you talk a little bit more about the filming style? There are a lot of wide shots where you let the camera sit and watch all of the images come across, very dialogue free, you just watch the characters. There’s a lot of improv on the set, correct? Can you talk a little bit more about that and the idea behind that?

Miller: The improv or the wide?

PMG: Both. Did they both play into each other?

Miller: The wideness, the steadiness, deliberateness of the style, the austerity of it, I would say is meant to concentrate you and sensitize you to the subtleties of what’s happening.

PMG: And it works.

Miller: The “dialogue-less-ness” of the film similarly, I think, draws you in and sensitizes you to pay attention to what’s not being spoken in the times when there are words so the style hopefully helps you process a film that’s communicating on different frequencies. There’s lots going on…

PMG: That‘s not said.

Miller: Exactly. As far as the improvisation goes, it’s actually linked to that as well and as much as we’re looking for ways to express things in the way that people express things inadvertently, so you can have the same words and one reading will reveal one thing and another will reveal something else and to really make that work, sometimes, or often times, it proves most effective to really just experiment and see what happens. There’s a scene when the two brothers are warming up at the beginning of the movie where they wrestle and it gets out of control.

It was scripted, more or less, but I decided to shoot it like a documentary and ask them [Ruffalo and Tatum] to start the scene much earlier than the scene had been conceived to start. When I watched the footage and assembled the first cut of that, it became clear that we learn about these two guys, who they were, and who they were to each other and the rivalry, and the reverence, the competitiveness, and the love, it’s all in there. I was able to cut something like twenty minutes of scenes.

Foxcatcher_Carrell_TatumEH: Speaking of things left open to interpretation, I’ve read some online debate now about this too, there seems to be a thread of sublimated homosexuality going on in the character of John du Pont. Is that one of those things you had in the back of your mind or was it inadvertent?

Miller: Sublimated, I would say … I don’t think that anything ever became explicit.

EH: The only shot where I questioned was the midnight training bout between Carrell and Tatum.

Miller: That kind of stuff really happened, though, so I think that’s how it expresses itself. But it’s never quite admitted that that’s what happening there.

EH: It would be a politically tricky parallel to draw, I imagine, to insinuate a connection between du Pont’s sexuality and his violent act.

Miller: I would have no problem if I thought that’s what happened. I think what happened is what we show what happened. The bigger issue is that thematically you’ve got a character who is fundamentally incapable of admitting and accepting who he is and he, himself, living in the shadow of his ancestors.

EH: Exceptionalism.

Miller: Yeah and trying to live up to some inherited role or a concept of an inherited role or something like that but the truth of his inadequacy, the truth perhaps of his sexuality, the truth of his leadership abilities, or lack thereof…

EH: Or that his mom’s children as horses essentially.

Miller: Right.

Miller_FoxcatcherCastRM: So I think that’s why he identifies with Mark maybe because you know he felt like Mark was always under Dave’s shadow too.

Miller: Mark was susceptible to that and he understood that I think. I also think each saw the other, Mark and du Pont, as an answer to …

PMG: The void that they had?

Miller: Yeah. Somehow the other one was the answer you know, to validate each other.

RM: They thought they could complete each other or something?

Miller: Or together that this guy, who he is, and that he would ally himself with me, is the form of validation that I want. Meaning, both of those characters I think thought that.

RM: There are so many favorite scenes, but the one that stood out to me was the one in the chopper where Mark and John were trying to say “Ornithologist. Philatelist. Philanthropist.” and Mark just couldn’t get it, and they just keep repeating those three words. I thought there was something eerie and that they were snorting heroin…

Miller: Cocaine

(Everyone chuckles)

Miller: They would never do heroin.

RM: Right. I am just wondering, what is the most challenging scene? Are there any for you that were just tough to get down?

Miller: That scene turned out to be pretty easy just because Steve Carell somehow conjured up what happened and he improvised that. That just came out of him. Often it was the simple scenes that you trip up on. The big dramatic intense scenes like when Channing beats himself up and wrecks the room and gorges. Big scene in the script. Big scene in one take. Only one take. Some of the other quieter scenes end up being the most difficult. The simpler they are, the more unforgiving they are.

PMG: Can you talk a little bit more about the research process? Did you get a lot of support from the Schultz family or even the du Ponts about what happened?

Miller: The Schultzes very much so. Mark Schultz, Nancy Schultz, Nancy’s kids. Dave Schultz was somebody who had a thousand best friends, and I feel like most of them came out of the woodwork to support us and put their trust in us. I spoke to law enforcement officials, people who participated in the siege, cops who lived on the estate. I spoke to a few du Ponts who gave us a little bit of insight, but they weren’t around too much. And, of course, wrestlers, the wrestling community.

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Miller and his Foxcatcher cast at Cannes

EH: So, how mind-blowing to win at Cannes? [Long pause] I mean, you beat Godard!

Miller: Oh ok I might’ve… that’s so American of you.

EH: And I’m sure Godard would say the same.

Miller: Right. It’s very nice to be regarded by your peers. [Another long pause.] I mean, that’s really what it amounts to. I wouldn’t call it “mind-blowing.” It was more humbling.

EH: You strike me as someone who might be more humbled.

Miller: It’s humbling and the overwhelming feeling is gratitude and even some kind of debt. You want to live up to people’s hopes for this medium. It’s a very difficult thing to work. It’s a complex thing. Anyway, it felt nice.

RM: Congratulations!

Miller: Thank you.

PMG: It’s a wonderful movie. I’m excited to see what other people have to say once it opens, and the praise Steve gets, and Channing, and Mark, who we didn’t talk about, but is always fantastic.

RM: He is indeed fantastic here.

Miller: Oh I thought we did talk about him. Yeah, he is the heart of the film.


Foxcatcher opens in limited release today in the Twin Cities.
Check out the trailer below:


Hope you enjoyed the interview. Have you seen Foxcatcher? If so, what did you think?