|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 20, 2016 at 9:25 PM||comments (0)|
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC **
IDEA: A man raises his six children in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, instituting a robust curriculum of physical and intellectual pursuit. Following the death of his wife, he and the family travel back to civilization to honor her burial wishes.
BLURB: The first red flag is the impromptu family jam session. The tone doesn’t feel quite right; the interaction is forced, the gradually flowering sense of bonhomie less an organic result of an authentic dynamic than an engineered moment of whimsy. That dissonant, naggingly phony tenor runs through most of Captain Fantastic, a film that presents a morally and ideologically provocative scenario only so it can smooth over its actual implications in the name of quirky setups and crowd-pleasing resolutions. The approach is especially hypocritical coming from a film that wants to both endorse and critically assess its family’s counter-culture lifestyle. Instead of offering trenchant observation on either side, the film limply addresses the hazards of their ways while ultimately celebrating even their most troubling qualities as cute, easily reconcilable foibles. Ross takes up their nontraditional, anti-establishment philosophy, and yet he ends up falling back on convention as much as they flout it, his script requiring his actors to become purveyors of eccentricities calculated for optimal audience approval. If any of it registers as more than an excuse for another twee indie fairytale, it’s mostly due to Viggo Mortensen, who textures his casually radical patriarch with shades of righteousness, pomposity, and enviable, if inimical, conviction. He is the grit and complexity in a complicated social portrait that more often than not resorts to facile feel-good sentiments.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 7, 2016 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
SWISS ARMY MAN ***
IDEA: A man about to hang himself on a deserted island is rescued by a flatulent corpse, whose sundry abilities allow the two to survive.
BLURB: A sophomoric jape hijacked by dramatists with a sincere interest in exploring human behavior, social conventions, and the warped face of millennial angst, Swiss Army Man is a disarming blend of the vulgar and the humane that insists such qualities are inextricably enmeshed. Kwan and Scheinert present what is a fairly straightforward allegory of the return of the repressed – a timid, despondent man is visited by the moribund embodiment of man’s primal, suppressed urges, and finds his will to live again by reanimating in him what has died – and deliver it with berserk yet unwaveringly earnest commitment via their outlandish buddy-movie conceit. Defying belief, what sounds puerile and thin on paper is robustly moving on screen, as Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe work in perfect sync with the Daniels’ vision, throwing themselves (literally) headlong into this fantasia of lurid corporeal activity while fleshing out an intimate, borderline romantic pas des deux. Central to being alive, the film asserts, is to be a body in space, and to have a mind that can operate that body in all its weird, improbable glory. Kwan and Scheinert offer up bodies, and a tactilely handcrafted world around them, in contradistinction to a culture growing increasingly dematerialized and disconnected, placing ecstatic emphasis on bodily functions and the simple affinities they afford. One wishes their film was even stranger and more transgressive than it is – for all of its colorful inventiveness, it still succumbs to aesthetic and narrative triteness, with too many montages and what amounts to a depressingly familiar ennobling of male solipsism. Still, their main character isn’t let off the hook here, and if he looks kind of psychotic by the denouement, the film mordantly argues that we would too if we all acted our real selves.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 29, 2016 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP ***
IDEA: Following the death of her wealthy husband, Lady Susan, "the biggest flirt in all England," arrives at her sister-in-law's manor and concocts a devious plan.
BLURB: Love & Friendship is a union of two artists magnifying and bolstering the qualities of one another, Whit Stillman revealing the bitter bite of Jane Austen and Austen sharpening the hyper-verbal, mercilessly unsentimental snap of Stillman. The match is scarily right: Austen’s novella becomes for Stillman a dryly scathing comedy of manners with hardly a room for breath, each astringent, scrupulously tailored line of dialogue at once cutting through the folly of aristocratic social ritual and compounding its exhausting gamesmanship. Nobody plays the game better than Lady Susan, a role Kate Beckinsale relishes as she rattles off reams of primly disparaging incriminations without batting an eyelash. It’s all subterfuge all the time, and Beckinsale’s handling of her deceitful verbosity is as likely to give audiences whiplash as the characters she unashamedly deploys it against. Even at a little over 90 minutes this can grow wearying, but Stillman’s propensity for playfully curt cadences typically keeps things from becoming too overbearing. And while anything resembling compassion seems entirely absent from Lady Susan’s actions, Stillman nevertheless honors the audacity of a woman who wins with baldly mendacious words, whose scheming and haughtiness are symptoms of a rigged world of privilege she’s found a way to use against itself. It’s a character invented by Austen and realized by Stillman as another of his blithely self-deluded heroines.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 20, 2016 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
SUNSET SONG **
IDEA: Facing the depredations of family and a changing land, self-determined farm girl Chris Guthrie paves her way toward independence in early 20th-century Scotland.
BLURB: In a disappointing number of ways, Sunset Song is a prosaic period romance that seems all the more conventional coming from Terence Davies. There are, however, traits that distinguish it and connect it to the director’s oeuvre. Most evident is its ambivalent, romantic/mournful relationship with the past, which imbues it with a heavy melancholy compounded by its protagonist’s past-tense, third-person narration. There is also the volatile family with its brutish father and sympathetic siblings, and a young person on the cusp of adulthood who fiercely pursues her independence. Transience pervades the narrative as a country and its people weather the rapidly changing landscape of the early 20th century. Other Davies hallmarks, including communal music, slow pans and dollies across rooms, painterly side-lighting, and strong female characters persist. In a time when the old-fashioned and the melodramatic are scorned or steadfastly avoided, Sunset Song does at least feel somewhat novel in its unapologetic embrace of classical filmmaking styles, but it also fails to make a case for itself as anything particularly distinctive, less interesting aesthetically and narratively than what Davies is capable of. Its affecting tribute to the resilience of women and of Scotland itself is underserved by a mostly stuffy telling of what is already a familiar story.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 6, 2016 at 10:15 PM||comments (0)|
SING STREET ***
IDEA: Stifled by the vicious parochial school he's sent to, a boy forms a pop band with a young model and a ragtag team of classmates.
BLURB: John Carney believes in the redemptive, transformative power of music. In Sing Street, the kids don’t simply retreat into a world of song to escape their oppressive situations, they actively use the music as a correcting and regenerative source to facilitate relationships that can redeem the ravages of their elders. Carney sees such power in it, in fact, that he renders it downright procreative, tacitly demonstrating the artistic process and performative self-expression as analogous, and perhaps preferable to, real biological reproduction. The film evokes queerness in its depiction of difference and in the ways its outcast characters reclaim the agents that have demeaned them, but like the pop songs it pays homage to, it remains firmly about the promises granted by heterosexual courtship. As such, it looks back nostalgically, exalting not only the popular music of the 1980s but the romantic escapism of old Hollywood musicals. Yet true to its main character’s desire to lead a futurist band, Carney refuses to immure the film in the comforts of the past. Instead, and in spite of its occasionally trite male fantasy scenario, Sing Street functions as an unapologetically wide-eyed tribute to youthful moxie and righteous dreaming, to envisioning the possibilities of the future, quixotic as they might be, with conviction.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 20, 2016 at 2:30 PM||comments (0)|
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! ***1/2
IDEA: In 1980, freshman Jake integrates into a rowdy college baseball team during the weekend before classes start.
BLURB: Everybody Wants Some!! is charged with the attitude that life is something to enjoy, that opportunities of all kinds are things to embrace, and that experiences are things to savor as they’re happening. Such potentially sentimental notions are utterly natural and unsentimental to Richard Linklater, whose newest film espouses this approach to living with a casual profundity that awakens in the viewer an acute, blissful awareness of his own vitality. His characters, a rollicking collective of boastful jocks all beautifully delineated in personality, are certainly at their peak vitality and vigor: their sinewy bodies on full display under eternal sun, Linklater offers a tribute to their virility that’s tied to their ambitions and potentials as individuals. That their boisterous interplay also constitutes a comic anthropological study of male camaraderie and competitiveness furthers Linklater’s affectionate portrait of a very specific, and eventually irretrievable, time in life. Everybody Wants Some!! is not, however, about dwelling in the melancholy of a lost time or describing an end of an era. Although it utilizes his favored ticking clock narrative structure, the film doesn’t count down moments of freedom or happiness but leads to the promise of more of them. An ebullient paean to the possibilities of youth, of being unspectacular but passionate, of being a part of a group but one, Everybody Wants Some!! locates that precious moment of contentment when you understand that everything is right, and you can enjoy the now knowing there are so many still to come.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 5, 2016 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL *1/2
IDEA: A young boy with supernatural abilities is pursued by the religious cult that considers him a savior and the government that considers him a threat. With the help of a childhood friend, the boy's father takes him on the run.
BLURB: Midnight Special is a vexing film that has ideas it never seems interested in realizing and intentions it actively bungles. This is a movie about faith in the unknown that gives us little reason to believe; a glimpse of future transcendence that forgets to generate awe or excitement; an imagining of a reality beyond our perception that feels crushingly earthbound; most upsetting of all, an intimate domestic story of parental love, responsibility, courage, and sacrifice that has no heart. The actors in Midnight Special have apparently been instructed to deliver their lines in a tone of monotonous solemnity, awkwardly signaling emotional cues without ever investing feeling in the thin characterizations they’ve been given. Nichols’ filmmaking follows suit as the narrative plods along stolidly, failing to pick up momentum or break free from the rigid parameters which it has imposed upon itself. One could perhaps argue that Nichols is using this listlessness to illustrate the oppressiveness of his American milieu, where cultish religion and government surveillance seek to control life, threatening to tear apart the home. But if the world has gotten this bad, shouldn’t we have a sense of what is being lost in the process? Shouldn’t we sense the humanity, the suppressed beauty, the potential for grace? Nichols arrives there eventually, but the journey is ponderous, its stodgy images and lifeless performances fatally incongruous with its ethereal aims.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 17, 2016 at 10:20 PM||comments (0)|
KNIGHT OF CUPS **1/2
IDEA: An aimless, dissipated Hollywood screenwriter searches for meaning as he ruminates on loves past and present and deals with old family wounds.
BLURB: Emulating the lavish yet fleeting pleasures that surround its protagonist, Knight of Cups is an evanescent object that seems to disappear as you’re holding it. Malick’s fragmentary, elliptical design leaves little room for lingering: though his camera darts, drifts, lunges, and swirls with immediacy, practically palpating the earthly textures it embraces, the extraordinary sense of perceptual presence he conjures finds itself constantly offset by the ephemeral assemblage of his images, which flow by in seemingly arbitrary order and tend to come and go in media res. There is an aptness to this approach that fits Knight of Cups in particular, a film that is as much about an intense being-in-the-world as it is about the inability to connect and be fulfilled in a culture of ersatz pleasures. But the effect is uneven: too often, rather than powerfully channeling the languor of Christian Bale’s Rick, Malick’s cinematic grammar itself feels tired and desultory, a familiar gathering of his recent formal tendencies that lacks the purposefulness of his best work. Contradictions, however, continue to rule, and Knight of Cups wrestles with interesting ones in its ambivalent yet open-hearted vision of LA. Through Malick’s undiscriminating eyes, there is value to be found on its surfaces, beauty and compassion that can comingle with artifice and vanity, images that can unite the life-giving breadth of the ocean with the idle luxury of penthouse pools. Wholeness and satisfaction, supposedly accorded by material consumption, remain elusive. Malick interrogates and replicates this lack, rendering his latest as frustrating as it is compellingly nebulous.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 26, 2016 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
You might as well flip a coin. The most mercurial, shape-shifting awards race in years concludes this Sunday, and for once none of the traditional Oscar predictors are pointing in anything resembling a definitive direction. Unlike last year when Birdman pushed far ahead of early frontrunner Boyhood by winning all three of the top guild awards - those of the Producers, Directors, and Actors - this year stands as the first since 2004 that those three guilds have crowned separate victors. First, PGA went with The Big Short, causing many to prematurely believe it was the new film to beat. They had good reason: the PGA has called the Best Picture winner every year since 2007, and has not missed once since it began using the preferential balloting system the Academy also currently uses. Then came SAG, which chose the Spotlight team. Finally, DGA went with Alejandro González Iñárritu for the second year in a row - making him the first director to take back-to-back wins in DGA history - for The Revenant. That film also won Iñárritu the Golden Globe and later the BAFTA. The film itself won the top prize from both organizations, as well. Notably, neither had awarded Iñárritu in 2014, nor had they given Best Picture to Birdman. The Oscars did.
So where do we stand? What early in the season seemed like a done deal for Spotlight, which dominated the regional critics' groups awards in decisive fashion, now seems far less certain, and the guilds have only muddied the waters in the months since. All three perceived frontrunners have something working against them. The Big Short and Spotlight can't win, people will tell you, because surely they won't be able to win more than two Oscars when all is said and done, and a Best Picture winner's Oscar count hasn't been that low since 1952. The Revenant, meanwhile, the film many gurus consider to have the unstoppable momentum on its side at the moment, doesn't have a Screenplay nomination and wasn't nominated for its ensemble at SAG. No film has won Best Picture lacking those two things. Not to mention no director has ever directed back-to-back Best Picture winners. Is the Academy really going to confer onto Iñárritu, of all people, the right to break that stat?
Or maybe Mad Max: Fury Road will win in the jaw-dropper of the century. Unlikely, but sounds pretty enticing, no?
So flip a coin. Go with your gut. Preferably not the kind The Revenant is so preoccupied with. For a season this unpredictable, let's hope for some surprises.
PREDICTIONS (with the caveat, as always, that I have little to no knowledge of most of the Short Feature nominees and will essentially be guessing in the dark on them)
When The Revenant won at the Globes, it seemed like a one-and-done deal. The HFPA went with Boyhood and Linklater the previous year, so it felt as if the organization was merely making it up to the director. But then The Revenant kept going. It made serious money at the box office. It emerged from Oscar nominations morning as the nominations leader. Finally, it won the DGA. All of this, and the ludicrous narrative that has bolstered its allegedly grueling, death-defying production have made it appear like a freight train heading to inevitable victory. But I'm not buying it. If The Revenant does win, it will represent a triumph for superlative craft in the service of an overblown, hollow, and politically dubious paean to its makers' egos, where the only thing grueling about it is its grandiose self-importance. Which almost describes Braveheart to a "T," incidentally the Best Picture winner exactly 20 years ago and also the last film to win without a SAG ensemble nod.
But let's look at 10 years ago instead. 2006. The year the modest ensemble film, also the SAG winner, "surprisingly" bested the DGA-winning western. The ensemble film was Crash. The western, Brokeback Mountain. Okay, perhaps a tenuous analogy matching those two to Spotlight and The Revenant, respectively, but I think there's something pertinent there. Spotlight will win over the actors like Crash. Spotlight will divide less people than The Revenant. Its topicality, subdued but considerable emotional heft, and humanity, one hopes, will prove more uniting in a year like 2016 than the vacant excesses of Iñárritu's gruesome epic.
WILL WIN: Spotlight
Alejandro González Iñárritu won last year. The last director to win in consecutive years was Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950. But Iñárritu has the DGA, and by the way, did you hear how arduous it was to make The Revenant out there in all that cold? George Miller, who collected the lion's share of directing prizes from critics' circles back in December, should have more steam for Mad Max: Fury Road, which was surely as demanding a physical and logistical endeavor, if not more so, than The Revenant. Could he eke out a surprising win? Could it be Tom McCarthy, who would be absolutely deserving for the masterful restraint and seamless storytelling skill he brought to Spotlight? Fingers crossed, but sadly ostentatious gestures tend to be more often equated with artistry, and thus win more myopic proponents, than subtlety.
WILL WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Speaking of arduous productions, arduous acting has also proven to make people think they're witnessing something special. That mistaking of physical suffering for consummate acting, in addition to the exhausting PR machine that has kept reiterating the difficulty of making The Revenant, in addition to the HE MUST WIN narrative that has grown increasingly and vexingly fervent around Leonardo DiCaprio in the past few years, will give the actor his first Oscar for one of his least deserving performances.
WILL WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
This lineup is stellar, which is why I'm disheartened that Brie Larson, raw and poignant as she is in Room, has so monopolized the Best Actress awards this season. I'd vote for Cate Blanchett's otherworldly, meticulously nuanced work in Carol first, and then Charlotte Rampling's quietly eroding resolve in 45 Years, and then Saoirse Ronan's miraculously channeled gamut of emotions in Brooklyn. But so it goes.
WILL WIN: Brie Larson, Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
It's all about the comeback kid, the improbable success story that sees an actor nominated, once again, for the role he originated 39 years ago. Thankfully, his win will be less a political late career honor than a genuine acknowledgment of a moving, lovingly textured performance.
WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
This has long seemed the most fluid of the acting categories, and it still kind of seems that way even with Alicia Vikander nudging out in front after SAG. Her performance ticks the boxes for this category: she's a suffering wife, she cries a lot, and she stars opposite a male-nominated co-star. She was also in five movies last year, which means that this vote is just as much for her role as Gerda Wegener as it is for the young Vikander herself, who fills the role of ingénue the Academy so loves to honor. But I'd watch out for Kate Winslet, who won surprisingly at the Golden Globes and a little less surprisingly at BAFTA. At neither, however, did she compete against Vikander's Danish Girl performance, as both organizations rightly placed her in the lead actress category.
WILL WIN: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
All signs point to the ambitious, anarchic density of The Big Short, which impresses in its ability to explain the complicated machinery of Wall Street and the 2008 financial collapse in a way that's simultaneously digestible and cleverly, witheringly sardonic.
WILL WIN: The Big Short
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
All signs point to the ambitious, journalistic density of Spotlight, which impresses in its ability to tell the story of the sobering 2002 investigation of child abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church in a way that's simultaneously compelling and shrewdly unsentimental.
WILL WIN: Spotlight
This category often lines up with Best Picture: the logic is that the winner here foretells the top prize at the end of the night. But isn't this locked and loaded for Mad Max: Fury Road, which almost everyone agrees is the most mind-bogglingly complex, fluent, and kinetically thrilling editing job of the year? Voters have the unfortunate tendency of perceiving "most editing" as the "best editing," but in this case the confusion will be justified.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road
For the longest time, Emmanuel Lubezki couldn't catch a break. Then he won a well-deserved first Oscar for Gravity. Then another the very next year for Birdman. Then another the year after that for... oh, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. On Sunday, Lubezki will join a rare pool of artists to win Oscars three years in a row, and the first cinematographer to ever do so.
WILL WIN: The Revenant
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
I suppose it could be something other than Fury Road's insanely inventive, outlandish post-apocalyptic intricacies, but then I don't know what on earth that "other" could possibly be.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
I really thought the costumes would be swept along in a Mad Max crafts-categories haul, but now I'm not so sure. This category, as of late, usually privileges the most lavish or flamboyant designs, typically in a period idiom. Cinderella fits the bill, although this is its only nomination. The Danish Girl would absolutely qualify, and I imagine that could be Mad Max's biggest competition. But I'm sticking with Max: it's not a conventional winner, but its vivid, character-defining creations are as indelible as anything that's won here in the past.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:
As easy a get as any for Mad Max and its panoply of bodies in various stages of physical grotesquerie.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST SOUND MIXING:
Between The Revenant's richly immersive soundscape that places us smack dab in an environment alternately placid and hostile and Mad Max's artful cacophony of motors and metal, either option is a smart one.
WILL WIN: The Revenant
BEST SOUND EDITING:
This seems the trickier of the two categories to predict, although the winner will certainly be one of the two films out in front in Sound Mixing. The Revenant has sounds that call less conspicuous attention to themselves than the clanging, roaring, revving, and grinding effects of Mad Max, so I'm tempted to pick the latter film, but it could go either way.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
It surprises me to say Mad Max, which I (obviously) believe will be the crafts winner of the night, is not guaranteed to win this one, but that little Star Wars movie is also nominated here and it could be the only place for voters to recognize it. Abrams' sequel also shockingly bested Mad Max at the Visual Effects Society's awards, so maybe that augurs something?
WILL WIN: Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
If the audacious, formally and ideologically daring Son of Saul proves too demanding, then look to France's Mustang. But Son of Saul *is* a Holocaust film, and everyone knows the Academy responds positively to those. Beyond that, it's easily the most acclaimed and awarded of the lot.
WILL WIN: Son of Saul, Hungary
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Amy is the favorite, having won the most critics' groups laurels throughout the season. It's also about music, and a much loved, tragically lost performer, and docs centered around music register regularly in this category.
WILL WIN: Amy
BEST ANIMATED FILM:
The Pixar one that was nominated.
WILL WIN: Inside Out
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Solid lineup, and it's about time the brilliant Carter Burwell gets an Oscar nomination (for his beautiful, yearning Carol score, my favorite here). But this one is going to Ennio Morricone, the Italian music maestro who will finally be receiving his first Academy Award after producing scores of era-defining melodies.
WILL WIN: The Hateful Eight
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
Lady Gaga, right? I actually like the Sam Smith Spectre song - a lot, even - but I can't really see the Academy going back to Bond again, especially after Adele's uniformly lauded Oscar-winning song set a kind of standard nobody thinks Smith came close to reaching.
WILL WIN: "Til' it Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground
BEST SHORT FILM - LIVE ACTION
WILL WIN: Everything Will Be Okay
BEST SHORT FILM - DOCUMENTARY
WILL WIN: Last Day of Freedom
BEST SHORT FILM - ANIMATION
WILL WIN: World of Tomorrow
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 25, 2016 at 9:35 PM||comments (0)|
THE WITCH ***
IDEA: In 1630s New England, a Puritan family is tormented by strange phenomena after being exiled from their village to a farmstead just outside the woods.
BLURB: The Witch is not, strictly speaking, nerve-jangling supernatural horror. Nor is it a period drama about Puritans where the occult stands as a purely metaphorical representation of ideological evil. Instead, it craftily synthesizes the two approaches to tell a story where supernatural evil arises as the logical, inevitable result of dogmatic ideology. In Eggers’ film, under perpetually sepulchral skies in a scarily nascent America, it is the religious zealotry, persecution, and unbridled paranoia of the Puritans that literally breed the witches whose existence they only suspected, fulfilling their fear by inadvertently manifesting it. The Witch is brutally effective in this depiction of self-perpetuating and self-consuming fear, running real witchcraft parallel to the inner turmoil and eventual implosion of its Puritan family unit to underscore just how insidious the latter is, its tyrannical repressiveness a horror equal to or more than that of the spirits lurking in the woods. Less successful is Eggers’ handling of tone and rhythm: he makes an audacious narrative gamble early on that pays off conceptually, but it also somewhat hobbles the film’s suspense, and he has difficulty keeping the rope tightly wound to generate the kind of steady, inexorably building dread the film calls for. Thankfully he makes up for the slack with his ghostly visuals, and certainly in the smart nuances that texture this parable of religious hysteria, one that slyly posits the life of sin so much hostility had gone into averting as both a tragic outcome and ecstatic liberation from a paralyzing culture.