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Archive for February, 2017

#OscarsSoBlack?

Last year the Oscars were overshadowed by a controversy so big it even had its own hashtag: #OscarsSoWhite.  While it was reported that celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee threatened to boycott the ceremony (I have no idea if they attended or not), one man spoke sense.  British actor Idris Elba gave a speech bemoaning the lack of opportunities for black people in the British film and TV industry. Idris Elba

This is the real point.  Oscar, or the Academy to be more precise, isn’t a sinister group of people who get together in a dark and smoky room to decide who is going to win the awards based on the current zeitgeist, a desire to snub a group of people or honour someone based on past glory!  The academy is a group of disparate individuals (most of whom are old white men) voting for films they probably haven’t seen.  The hashtag campaign was bore out of a lack of diversity.  In the acting categories, all twenty nominations last year were white:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne, Matt Damon
  •  Brie Larson, Cate Blanchett, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling
  •  Mark Rylance,  Sylvester Stallone, Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, Christian Bale
  • Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kate Winslet, Rachel McAdams, Rooney Mara

But a little like Idris Elba suggested, the problem isn’t with the academy, the problem is with the industry and with the audience, us! Last year’s Oscars may be remembered for the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, but will it be remembered for the snub of numerous black actors?  I would say probably not.  I only saw just over 100 Oscar eligible movie so probably missed a few smaller gems.  Of what I saw, the only black actor who I can think of who should be disappointed is Michael B. Jordan for Creed.

But things are very different this year, the nominations are:

  • Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen, Denzel Washington
  • Isabelle Huppert, Ruth Negga, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep
  • Mahershala Ali, Jeff Bridges, Lucas Hedges, Dev Patel, Michael Shannon
  • Viola Davis, Naomie Harris, Nicole Kidman, Octavia Spencer, Michelle Williams
  • oscar-2017

Seven of the twenty acting nominations are for none white actors.  The most notable film is Hidden Figures for several reasons.  Octavia Spencer is fantastic and well deserving of her nomination, but her co-stars Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe are both equally as good. Finally the film is doing surprisingly well. Viola Davis is probably the safest bet for a winner.

But should we be congratulating ourselves yet?  Fences, Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Loving are all films about black people or black issues.  When the awards are colour-blind, that’s when we have made progress and can celebrate.  A recent example of this would have been Denzel Washington’s best actor nomination for Flight (2012).  He was playing a character who could have been any race (or either sex).  But even this idea is diluted a little by the fact that it is Denzel, not Denzel Washington, just Denzel! You say the name Denzel and everyone knows you are talking about Denzel Washington.  He is such a megastar and so beloved that he does transcend race to a certain degree.  Furthermore the nomination came after he had already won two Oscars and nominated for a further three, every one (with the possible exception of Training Day) playing characters whose race was significant to the plot or their character.  It would have been more telling had he been nominated for his supporting in Philadelphia (1993), a film where his performance was at least as good as best actor winner Tom Hanks.  This was at a time before he had taken on legendary status.flight

Ultimately, awards are bullshit, it would be far more significant if we had a black James Bond, Superman or Batman.  This then brings us onto a different problem of diversity.  During the recent explosion of comic book movies we are yet to see one with a female lead, the first Wonder Woman later this year.  But then we have made some progress, that part of Finn (John Boyega) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2105) would surely have gone to a white actor a generation ago.  The diversity we see in this year’s awards season is certainly not a bad thing, let’s not get to excited about it, the battle will truly be won when we don’t have to talk about Oscar being black or white. 

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8

How does one celebrate a birthday/anniversary? I have been writing this blog for eight years now.  I had no idea what I was doing when I started and had no idea how long it would last, I didn’t think it would still be going after eight years.  Some anniversaries I have mentioned, others I have forgot, will I remember the big one in two years time, will I still be writing here by then? Who knows, for now I give you a staple of movies time-travel.  Take a look below at my first ever post from 19/02/07:

I have been thinking of starting a blog for some time on one of my favourite subjects Movies; I have finally gotten around to it. As it is the weekend of the biggest event in the movie calendar the Oscars I decided to do a my own preview on the awards running through the main awards noting what I think will win along with what I think should win.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Slumdog Millionaire is by far the best film of the nominations and should win. The other nominations are: The Curious case of Benjamin Button is a good film if a little long. Frost/Nixon started life as stage play but has grown into an entertaining and informative film that deserves its place on the list. Milk a little preachy in its approach but a well told story with strong leading performances. The Reader is well filmed and well acted but a very average film that is inferior to many films that didn’t receive a nomination.

frankBest Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler has been the favourite this award season so far; it is the most likely winner but I would go for Frank Langella in Frost Nixon. A fantastic performance that captures the mannerisms of the former president as well as a more sympathetic portrait of the man than I thought possible. The other nominations are: Richard Jenkins – The Visitor, Sean Penn – Milk, Brad Pitt – The Curious case of Benjamin Button.

rachBest Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Like Rourke, Kate Winslet (The Reader) has been the darling of the award season and will probably win but my vote would go to Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married: an amazing performance from the young actress whose character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable, very reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s mental patient Lisa in Girl Interrupted. Angelina Jolie is herself also in with a chance for Changeling. The other nominations are: Melissa Leo for Frozen River and Meryl Streep for Doubt.

jokeBest Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder isn’t realistically in with a chance in a comic role a bit like Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003. The winner will be a well deserved Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight although I can’t help thinking the comic book role may have been overlooked if not for the actor’s untimely death. The other nominations are: Josh Brolin for Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt and Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road.

barca1Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Possibly the hardest to call with strong performances across all the nominations. Amy Adams (Doubt) has to be in with a chance as does Marisa Tomei who is excellent in The Wrestler but I think it will go to Penélope Cruz who lit up her scenes in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and will be presented by her co star Javier Bardem who won last year for No Country for Old Men. The other nominations are: Viola Davis for Doubt and Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

 Best Achievement in Directing: Another tough category but I think as with best film Danny Boyle will be a deserved winner for Slumdog Millionaire but would not be disappointed if David Fincher won for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, both directors made enjoyable epic films. The other nominations are Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon (who is a good outside bet) Stephen Daldry for The Reader (a great performance by Kate Winslet but not a great film) Gus Van Sant for Milk.

bruges1Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: It is often difficult pick the best screenplay especially in the written directly for the screen category, how do you separate it from the best film category. Mike Leigh is an interesting case he is nominated for Happy-Go-Lucky this is his fourth writing nomination to go with his two directing nominations. It would be great to see him win but he does famously use a very loose script letting actors improvise their characters and the scenes. My vote is for Martin McDonagh for In Bruges, his brave script the sticks two fingers up at political correctness in what is probably the best comedy of 2008. the other nominations are: Courtney Hunt for Frozen River, Dustin Lance Black for Milk and Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon for WALL·E.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published presents a different problem. What are you voting for? The best screenplay or the best achievement based on the constraints of the original material. The nominations are based on: two plays, two novels and a novella/shot story. My vote goes to Frost/Nixon (Peter Morgan) as it most successfully moves away from it stage origins and captures the age perfectly. But realistically I think Slumdog Millionaire (Simon Beaufoy) will take the award. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great film that takes it inspiration if not its story from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. As much as I enjoyed the film a still can not forgive it writer Eric Roth for stealing two and a half hours of my life in the form of Forrest Gump! (His co writer on this film is Robin Swicord) The other nominations are John Patrick Shanley for Doubt, a film that seems incapable of transcending its theatrical origins. David Hare for The Reader, a film with great performances but not a great film.

Best Achievement in Cinematography. There is a tend to give the Cinematography award to pretty images and vast landscapes forgetting the true meaning of the art; Cinematography is an art! The use of camera and lenses choices to capture the film makers vision and the use of lighting to capture the mood. There are two very different films that stand out for me: Tom Stern (who has worked with Clint Eastwood on most of his recent films) for Changeling and Wally Pfister for The Dark Knight. However I think voters will be blinded by the vibrant colours in the beautifully shot Slumdog Millionaire (Anthony Dod Mantle). The other nominations are: Claudio Miranda for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Roger Deakins & Chris Menges for The Reader.

 komplexBest Foreign Language Film of the Year is another strange category as only one film can be entered from any one country so The wave misses out to the other German entry Der Baader Meinhof Komplex. I would probably choose this one but think the terrorist subject matter will not go down well in America. Unfortunately I have not seen the Israeli entry Vals Im Bashir but everyone I know who has seen it (both of them) have been amazed by it. The other entries are: Entre les murs (France), Revanche (Austria) and Okuribito (Japan).

So there it is my first ever blog entry. Hope I didn’t bore you too much, if I did you probably stopped reading long before this point! I will be back next week with an explanation of where my blog got its name.

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The best ever DC adaptation the dark Knight has taught us. You either die a hero all live long enough to see yourself become the villain. The MCU will run out of steam and ideas one day. When that happens they can either carry on making progressively worse films or, they can end the series and wait for the inevitable reboot. This dying a hero before it has chance to become a villain. So far Marvel have got it right, But this is where it gets complicated. When do you end a successful serious?  do you bleed it dry or do you get out early leaving the audience wanting more? The latter makes the most sense but the former will be hard for the filmmakers to resist, they do have the bottom line to think of after all.  But, as this happens, they will be confronted with actors who either want to move on to avoid typecasting, or who and ever increasing remuneration. captain-america-and-iron-man

Nobody realistically expects the end of phase 3 to be the end of the  MCU,  but what comes next? Very simply the death of Iron Man and Captain America! this is a comic book movie so their deaths will be heroic and nobody will stay dead forever. And this is where I must admit that the title is a little misleading; Iron Man and Cap don’t have to die, their alter ego’s Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the ones who must die.  After all, the roles of both Iron Man and Captain America have been taken on by other characters.  Their demise Will pave the way for one of the other characters to take over the lead of avengers for a final fourth phase. The most obviously there will be Captain Marvel, Who will be introduced to the serious very soon. But why kill Steve And Tony? There are two reasons for this, firstly: their stories will be told by this time, secondly; the series needs to kill off a few of its major characters to remain credible. There is an argument to end the series at the end of phase three, however, this will not give time to properly explore the new characters that are constantly being introduced such as the aforementioned Captain Marvel. There is another strong if potentially selfish reason for wanting to kill these major characters, it will leave a void that must be filled.  It is unlikely, but could lead to the most interesting character in the universe getting her own movie; I am of course talking of black widow. We have seen hints and clips suggesting a back-story for black widow and Hawkeye but have yet to see either in any detail. I’m not convinced okay I’ll carry a movie but he could play a large part in Black widows a story. But this is just one element of it, do you want another back-story/origin movie? Black widow is such an interesting character that she could be used in the new standalone story.the-avengers

But back to the point. How long before Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr decide they’ve had enough and don’t want to continue in their roles? It has been suggested that Downey Jr is already at that point and is only still on board for the paycheque. What will happen when money is enough to keep them? The worst possible scenario is recasting. Only marginally better is writing the characters out without having the actors to do the story justice. To put it simply they MCU needs Tony Stark and Captain America to die heroes and friends.

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Question: If something you love is adapted into a new medium, do you a: run a mile and pretend it doesn’t exist, or b: go and see it out of morbid curiosity? With this in mind I went to see Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes and quickly learnt that I had nothing to worry about.  Depending on who you ask Matthew Bourne is either the enfant terrible of ballet, or the genius bringing dance into 21st century. 

matthew-bournes-the-red-shoes

From talking to other audience members, and overhearing people in the bar at the interval,  it was clear that there were a lot of people there who haven’t seen the film, therefore, there may be some people reading this who also haven’t.  In short, made by The Archers, aka director / producer due Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948.   The story of Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) an ambitious young dancer torn between her career represented by the controlling company impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and the man she loves Julian Craster (Marius Goring).

the-red-shoes-ashley-shaw

Ashley Shaw takes on the part of Vicky and is sensational (Ashley Shaw danced the lead on Wednesday but shares the role with Cordelia Braitwaite and Katrina Lyndon depending on when you go) as are the rest of the cast.  Knowing the film so well it is difficult to say how well the story is expressed, and how much of it is my prior knowledge.  One thing that is clear, the love triangle between Page, Lermontov and Craster is clearly expressed and is the heart of the story.  I am not sure if an audience needs to understand any more than this to enjoy the production. There are changes to the plot but the centre of the story, ballet of The Red Shoes remains: Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story: a young woman is given a pair of red shoes by a demonic Shoemaker. She puts them on and begins to dance and can’t stop.  Ultimately she dies from exhaustion and the shoes are retrieved by the Shoemaker ready for his next victim.

the red shoes moira shearer

Like with the film, the ballet of The Red Shoes is spectacular.  Without the benefit of movie special effects (yes they did exist before CGI) the ballet relies of stunning production design.  The sets are nothing short of genius. A proscenium arch located on the stage turns at key points of the show changing the audiences prospective.  Combined with a few simple props and some projected images it proves that a little truly can go a long way.  There a few moments from the film that can’t be reproduced without dialogue, most notably an exchange between Page and Lermontov exploring their motivation.

Forgoing Brian Easdale score from the film in favour of the music of legendry film composer Bernard Herrmann.  An interesting choice.  If you listen to Herman’s music from North by Northwest and Psycho you will hear elements similar to those of a ballet score with characters having their own motifs entwine as the characters interact.  But you won’t hear any of this in The Red Shoes, none of his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock are used.  The notable scores used here include re-orchestrated versions of Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and Hangover Square.  The music is fantastic and works perfectly, at no time did I think I was listening to a modern score or one cobbled together, it sounded like a Herman movie score, a classical score with an edge.  The one thing I did miss, a live orchestra.  As fantastic as score is, a live orchestra would have elevated it to a different level. bernard-herrmann

Cinema is my first love and I have loved The Red Shoes since I first saw it as a student more than twenty years ago, but Matthew Bourne’s adaptation is a worthy one. 

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If you are reading this you probably already know as much as you need to about Hacksaw Ridge.  For those who don’t, directed by controversial filmmaker Mel Gibson: Andrew Garfield gives an excellent, Oscar nominated performance as Desmond Doss.  An American Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII but refused to carry a gun making him the first man in American military history to receive the Medal of Honour without firing a shot.

hacksaw-ridge-poster

Question: is Hacksaw Ridge a good two hour twenty minute movie hiding a ninety-five minute masterpiece?  Answer, probably.  Mel Gibson has proved with Braveheart and in particular Apocalypto that he is a master of big, bold and violent action.  But he has never been able to get away with the quieter moments without being sentimental, preachy and heavy-handed.  That is why Hacksaw Ridge was an opportunity to showcase what he does best. andrew-garfield

Understandable comparisons have been made with Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket.  Saving Private Ryan is simply a matter of the brutal visceral war scenes.  While Hacksaw ridge’s portrayal of the Battle of Okinawa is more bloody and violent than Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the Normandy Invasion it is actually less shocking.  Partly because Saving Private Ryan opens with the assault on Omaha Beach whereas, Hacksaw ridge builds up to its battle, but mainly because it was new, when it first came out we had never seen anything so visceral and brutal.  In the years that have followed we have seen Black Hawk Down, Enemy at the Gates, Lone Survivor, American Sniper, as well as real conflicts and atrocities on TV news.  Full Metal Jacket is more complicated, there are two elements of comparison.  Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell is very much in the vein of R. Lee Ermey’s  Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.  But then, the character has become an archetype, think Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman), Career Sgt. Zim (Clancy Brown in Starship Troopers) or even Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge) When Vaughn walks in shouting and giving the recruits nicknames it looked like he would give a pastiche of Ermey, fortunately he doesn’t and is actually very good.  The second more significant comparison is the structure of the film.  Like Full Metal Jacket, Hacksaw Ridge is split into two distinct halves, the first in America, the second in country.  The difference, both halves of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie are equally as good. The war scenes in Hacksaw Ridge stand up to any other war film, but the quieter moments of the first half don’t.

sergeant-howell

I have heard the first hour of Hacksaw Ridge described as a Hallmark Channel movie, this is unkind, it is better than that, but it is overlong, preachy and heavy-handed.  How could this have been improved?  The war scenes account for over an hour of the movie.  There are moments of quiet within this that a clear break points.  It would have been very easy to jump right into the action and intersperse it with flashbacks to Doss in training and at home before enlisting.  This would come in at around 95 minutes.  A tighter more concise film done well would have both been a better watch, and would have given a greater impact.  It would also make the gaps in battle more interesting than they are.

The problem, this shorter bolder film may have been better but it would  have lacked the epic status that war films need to gain favour with Oscar voters. We may have seen a better film but would we have seen a film with six Oscar nominations?

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A busy start to the year with twelve films in three weeks (I was on holiday for the first week).  None of the films I have seen ahave been bad, a couple have stood out as being excellent:

Silence: Possibly Martin Scorsese’s most personal movie for a long time, certainly his most weighty.  While it is brilliantly made and impeccably acted I struggled to connect with it making it a really good film but not a great one.silence

Assassins Creed: The buzz was that this would be the best video game adaptation, it isn’t bad but there are some serious flaws.  The biggest problem, is a total lack of fun.  The 15th century Spain action scenes are brilliant, the present day are terrible and the plot is incoherent at best. assassins-creed

Live By Night: What starts out looking like it is going to be a prohibition era outlaw movie becomes a gangster epic. Ben Affleck’s weakest film as a director but not without merit.   live-by-night

Manchester by the Sea: What is essentially a small family drama is elevated to greatness by great acting and a perfectly structured script.  Casey Affleck is brilliant in the lead, Michelle Williams totally steals the movie in a couple of tiny scenes.MBTS_3869.CR2

Donnie Darko: Back in cinema’s for its 15th anniversary and as good as ever.donnie-darko

Underworld Blood Wars: The fifth installment of the vampires v werewolves franchise.  The plot is paper and silly thin at best but it looks great Kate Beckinsale is excellent as ever. underworld-blood-wars

A Monster Calls: Juan Antonio Bayona tells a story that looks like it’s going to be a family drama, it then develops into what appears to be a monster movie but ends up being so much more. a-monster-calls

La La Land: The musical Oscar favourite is neither the masterpiece that some are claiming or The Emperor’s New Clothes that others suggest. la-la-land

Trainspotting: Re-released in time for the sequel, the cult classic from my student days is, great to see it, it hasn’t lost anything in the 20 years since I first saw it.trainspotting

XXX: Return of Xander Cage: Vin Diesel returns to the franchise.  Poorly made with terrible dialogue but fun and filled with great action. xxx-return-of-xander-cage

Split: M. Night Shyamalan’s career as a director has been hit and miss at best.  This horror/thriller/exploitation movie is something of a return to form.  James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy are both excellent. split

Jackie: Technically not a biopic of first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, more precisely a glimpse at a small but significant moment in her life, a significant moment in the 20th century.  A well structured story with an amazing performance from Natalie Portman at its centre. jackie

T2 Trainspotting: The world is a very different place twenty years on, I worried that there wasn’t a place for this sequel, there was no need to worry.  Both more nostalgic and melancholic than I expected but no less enjoyable. t2-trainspotting

Denial: The true story of the court case that followed Holocaust denier David Irving’s attempt to sue historian Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books. The script is a little by the numbers but the acting is brilliant from Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall.DENIAL

I have excluded the two reissue movies and only considered the ten new releases, the movie of the month is: a-monster-calls-poster

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