War movies are their own genre and have devoted fans in every generation. Perhaps combat films help us empathize and support our soldiers, make the war more ‘real,’ or show us the horror in the hope that we can put an end to that level of conflict. I doubt that but I am an eternal optimist. Make no mistake, EYE IN THE SKY is a war movie filled with Continue reading
Between film, television, and web series, there have been nine iterations of Jane Austen’s most famous work; Pride and Prejudice. Upon seeing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES amid a lecture hall filled with college students, who are the perfect target audience for this film, I feared Continue reading
I figure that, given the majority of the voting Academy is mature white men, that I should get to pick my own nominations. Sure, I could trust the Academy to do the ‘right’ thing, and maybe they will, but I just want to make sure that my feelings are clear. So…here are my personal picks for the top 5 categories.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
THE BIG SHORT
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
MARK RUFFALO for Infinitely Polar Bear
TOBEY MAGUIRE for Pawn Sacrifice
STEVE CARELL for The Big Short
JOHNNY DEPP for Black Mass
LEONARDO DICAPRIO for The Revenant
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
JENNIFER JASON LEIGH for The H8ful Eight
CHARLIZE THERON for Mad Max: Fury Road
BRIE LARSON for Room
ALICIA VIKANDER for The Danish Girl
EMILY BLUNT for Sicario
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
MARK RUFFALO for Spotlight
CHRISTIAN BALE for The Big Short
TOM HARDY for The Revenant
WALTON GOGGINS for The H8ful Eight
STANLEY TUCCI for Spotlight
*I want to give an honorary spot to RJ CYLER for Me, Earl & The Dying Girl, a young actor destined for greatness.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
JENNIFER JASON LEIGH for Anomalisa
OLIVIA COOKE for Me, Earl & The Dying Girl
ISABELLA ROSSELLINI for Joy
JULIE WALTERS fro Brooklyn
KATE WINSLET for Steve Jobs
QUENTIN TARANTINO for The H8ful Eight
TOM MCCARTHY for Spotlight
ADAM MCKAY for The Big Short
RIDLEY SCOTT for The Martian
ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU for The Revenant
My 2016 Oscar Nominations
Greetings Dear Readers!
As another year comes to a close, and a whole new year bursts forth with film promise, I am called to compose my essential film list. Sure, I could call it a “best of” list but really – as I have declared previously – critics operate and judge within their own preferences, emotions and intellectual viewpoints. Of course I have my own ideas about what film(s) are best, but my year-end list is composed of the films which I feel you need to see, films which, beyond merely Continue reading
The issue of child sexual abuse is horrifically difficult to broach in any medium. The worldwide sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic church goes beyond what most people could imagine as it was a secret held and systematically covered up by members of the church and community for decades. The scope and breadth, now widely known, could not be comprehnded by anyone outside of the active Catholic community. In 2002 a Boston lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian brought a child molestation suit Continue reading
At the end of every calendar year come a slate of ‘Top 10,’ ‘Best Of’, ‘Star Picks’ in film, art, theater, literature…you know the drill. Last year I took note because the ‘best’ book of the year according to several sources was a non-fiction work by Héctor Tobar entitled Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free. I recall vividly the events beginning in August 2010 when 33 miners were trapped half a mile below the surface of the earth in a gold mine. That even one of them survived was beyond any of the statistics or hope. That all of them survived is a legitimate miracle. I still haven’t read the book, but fortunately now we can watch THE 33 and experience the anguish, the faith, the commitment, and the miraculous events which set them free.
Before cooking on TV became big business and garnered huge viewership, before Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsey and Rachel Ray there were famous chefs. Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and for those really into food, Frédy Girardet. Before them Georges Auguste Escoffier French food God. Chefs were known – sometimes – but usually cloaked in a buttery glaze of perfection and mastery, and one knew little of their personalities. Julia Child was as idiosyncratic, and as delicious, as a croquembouche. Jacques Pepin was handsome, and fabulously elegant in his techniques. Lately, the demanding, impatient and furious chef has appeared as the stereotype, and while working in a professional kitchen is no pleasure cruise to speak of, its portrayal in the film BURNT asks why anyone in their right – or wrong – mind would ever subject themselves to an environment led by someone like Bradley Cooper’s Chef Adam Jones.
Jones is a wildly ego-maniacal, demonically manipulative and angry guy. A one-time rising culinary genius in a famous Parisian restaurant, he imploded from his abuse of drugs, women and his vindictive behavior. Said restaurant, in part due to his actions, summarily closed leaving a wake of orphaned culinary talents and hurt feelings. Jones’ self imposed time-out was in New Orleans where he shucked 1,000,000 oysters for penance, and then, no wiser or temperate, decided to manipulate his way back into the food world of London by maneuvering things and using people in a way typically employed by imprisoned Wall Street bankers.
Returning to his former employer and friend Tony (Daniel Bruhl), Jones informs him that he will take over his restaurant. Let me clarify here, it is not up for grabs per se. He then assembles a cadre of souls to help him achieve his ultimate goal, the only thing that seems to make his life worth living – 3 Michelin stars.
There have been dozens of films about food and cooking. The preparation of food is innately linked to human existence. At its best food can nourish, evoke love and passion…transforming those lucky enough to consume it. I could rattle off a long list of films which left me starving for more, eager to cook, enchanted by raw fish, pomegranate seeds, and countless chocolate jewels. BURNT has endless microscopically close-up shots of flora and fauna, plates with artistic dishes, but it fails to make us hungry. Its surgical precision robs us of the passion, the texture – the sensory yearning we seek in watching movies about food. Furthermore (and I haven’t even begun to discuss Jones as an individual) the cinematography is static and only adds to the epidemic of close-up mania whereby we never get to enjoy the interaction between characters because we are looking right up their nostrils in every scene.
The reason many restaurants have open kitchens is so we, the diners, can watch the dance of the ensemble; the grill person, the saucier, the ringleader, the chef… BURNT hardly ever allows us to witness the masterful way chefs and cooks flow around each other, weaving a shared labor of love resulting in one’s (hopefully) perfect dish.
It remains unclear to me precisely what BURNT wants to be. Are we to be inspired by Adam Jones? Is it a morality tale of someone who had it all and threw it away? Is it redemptive…why do we want Adam to succeed? The fact is, you don’t really care whether he gets his 3rd star, overcooks the turbot, lives or dies. And here’s why: In order to engage an audience with an inspiring, driven protagonist one of two conditions must be present. Either he/she has something to lose, something precious, something beautiful at risk, OR, despite their struggles, anger, and human frailty, he or she must endear themselves in some small way to the audience.
Unfortunately Adam Jones possesses neither, and when he suffers the extraordinary denouement, which, I might add is the best scene in the entire film – the scene where the story finally comes alive – he flails about like a drunken, histrionic toddler. Director John Wells has already set a precedent for directing hard driving, relentless characters in both THE COMPANY MEN (hateful corporations) and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (hateful family). Here he just moves the same crew to a kitchen.
You do not root for Jones. He lacks any attractive qualities save for perhaps his hipster perma-stubble chest hair, and he has nothing to lose. He has already reached his nadir. You can summon empathy for others on his team perhaps, the lovelorn Tony, the wonderfully colorful Max (Riccardo Scamarcio), the single-mother Helene (Sienna Miller) and certainly her spectacular daughter Lily played by make-sure-you-watch-her-rising-star Lexi Benbow-Hart, but not for Adam. Hell, you even root harder for his arch-nemsis Reece played with a subtle Ringo Starr-lesser-Beatle cuteness by Matthew Rhys.
There is a LOT of petulant, enraged, spiteful Adam in the ample 100 minutes, screaming, insulting, and breaking perfectly good china. The body count for dinner plates is extraordinary. Sadly the only thing we are left with is a nasty cut from broken dinnerware and a bad taste in our mouths.(2.5 / 5)
Director: John Wells
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Omar Sy, Riccardo Scamarcio, Matthew Rhys, Sam Keeley, Uma Thurman, Lexi Benbow-Hart
Running Time: 100 minutes
BURNT Movie Review
That sentiment perfectly sums up the Steve Jobs in the new film of the same title. I want to tread carefully here as I did not personally know Jobs, nor do I know anyone who did. There is no question that he was a brilliant, revolutionary mind and creator who, as he would certainly have us believe, single-handedly shaped the look of and our relationship with the technological world. Jobs’ world, according to STEVE JOBS, is one of perfection and control. Two things which are generally recognized as being impossible, a lot like Steve Jobs himself. And so, I tread cautiously here because we must, as we do with all ‘bio-pics,’ dissect the movie version Steve Jobs; the Jobs of Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation, Danny Boyle’s vision, and Michael Fassbender’s spirit. He may be very close to the true Steve Jobs. Or not. I’ll never know. I can assess only the movie, not the man, per se. But I will say with certainty that this Steve Jobs is a miserable, misanthropic, megalomaniacal son of a bitch.
The structure of STEVE JOBS is interesting and, on paper, a great idea. The film is broken into three ‘chapters’ so to speak, told in chronological order. Each chapter is the launch of a new seminal product from Jobs’ storied career. Each chapter is cleverly filmed by Director Boyle in three different formats: 16mm, 35 mm and finally digital. Screenwriter Sorkin and Boyle use the launches like the staging of an ancient Greek tragedy: One where all the critical ingredients of Jobs’ life come crashing together in a messy and potentially rancid stew. His ego-driven mono-vision careens his way through his probable offspring Lisa (played very well by three young actresses Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine), his perpetually furious and disgusted ex-girlfriend (Waterston), his consigliere Joanna Hoffman (played brilliantly by an almost unrecognizable Kate Winslet), one time Apple CEO John Sculley played by the omnipresent Jeff Daniels, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and genius computer scientist with a heart Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg).
The full cast of characters and hangers-on is far larger but this Greek chorus surrounding Jobs’ life at all times comprises the bulk of the film’s emotional content because Jobs himself has so little. Hoffman, Herzfeld and Wozniak orbit Jobs like a tinman, scarecrow, and lion to his big bad Oz. Jobs has tremendous emotional baggage, is brittle with resentment and blame, and exhibits all-around bad behavior, and while he does finally approximate some evolution and generosity of spirit, it’s too little too late.
I must give credit to Boyle for his deft handling of the film’s many perpetually moving parts and personalities. The film flows much like I assume Jobs’ mind did – quickly, furiously, and impatiently. One problem with the film, or at least this portrayal of Jobs, is that it’s hard to root for someone who is fundamentally hateful in every way except for his creations. You can be inspired by and fall in love with someone’s art, and hate the artist. If we wanted to examine his inventions and innovations we don’t necessarily need a whole lot of Jobs to do it well. Why we want to spend 122 minutes with this Jobs is what I haven’t quite figured out. He does not evoke our sympathy, nor does he, as a visionary, compel or inspire. No doubt the real Steve Jobs must have had some quality which could elicit the extraordinary devotion he earned from Hoffman and others, but here there’s none.
Fassbender yields no nuance nor depth, but rather is a narrow, one track road leading to a magical kingdom only he can see, and his performance is conspicuous in its absences. Seth Rogen as Wozniak does a good job and gives the film’s most meaningful and poignant speech. Another potentially pivotal scene between Hoffman and Jobs regarding an emotionally charged situation with his daughter should have been powerful and moving but comes off as trite and annoying. Stuhlbarg is always good and this role seems to come easy to him. He even looks a good deal like the real Herzberg.
As good an idea as the three chapter format may have looked on paper, it is in practice claustrophobic, repetitive and tiresome. Brief flashbacks of young Jobs and Wozniak in the primordial Apple garage made me long for more of the first creative spark, the genesis of what they gave birth to, and we don’t get it. It is, for lack of a better metaphor, like a band’s first perfect album that fascinates and makes us fall in with them, but the subsequent recordings never come close. And so STEVE JOBS misses the mark. Boyle hints at what drives Jobs and makes him tick, but doesn’t go for the jugular. The editing and pace of the film is frantic and ‘ADD,’ and while that serves an artistic purpose – form following function – it is exhausting. We end up being drawn to and wanting to know more about the those around Jobs than the man himself. At least they all have a heart.(2.5 / 5)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterson, Jeff Daniels
Running Time: 122 minutes
Steve Jobs Movie Review
THE MARTIAN is magnificent. There’s my big, bold statement breaking the page, line one. It is in the class of rare films where everything works perfectly, and works perfectly together. It’s the ‘together’ part that often inexplicably fails, leaving us scratching our head and wondering why a movie made by so-and-so starring what’s-his-name based on Continue reading
As a girl growing up in New York City I often accompanied my father to his office on weekends. It was an adventure to go the financial district, the dark towering canyons of lower Manhattan when it was sleepy and quieter than it was during the work week. It also meant that I got to watch the building of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. I watched them rise from a pit in the ground to incomprehensible heights. The ribbed facade on the buildings gave a thrilling illusion when you stood against them and looked up; it was as if the towers were bending over you. The creation of those buildings is part of my personal New York history and with that goes the day a man stretched a wire from one tower to the other and walked across it, apparently without a care in the world. It was pure magic. It was magic even on the local news where we watched and gaped and wondered who in their right mind would take such a risk?
Philippe Petit was 24 years old when he accomplished that feat. Years in the planning and highly illegal, which made the whole thing even more appealing, he was a man driven by a dream, an obsession and a passion so supreme he was more than willing to risk his life to accomplish it. I think it is worth noting here that there are three significant films out this fall about drive, obsession and commitment: EVEREST, PAWN SACRIFICE and now THE WALK. Unfortunately the third strikes out.
Petit is an highly unusual man, which should come as no surprise. Every second of his life was put towards making ‘the coup’ as he called it. One of the most memorable, meaningful and extreme art acts of the 20th century is no circus act, and yet that is precisely how THE WALK treats Petit and the event itself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a talented actor. He can provide drama just as competently as great humor. For artists their art is is their very being, their life, and even the darkest moments of humanity and strife can contain moments of unintentional humor. THE WALK tries so hard to be lighthearted and adventurous that is feels like a Disney kid’s movie. Petit has an unwavering confidence and, in ways arrogance. Yet the script and direction of JGL in THE WALK has him come off as a buffoon – a cartoon character even. He is unable to engage us in a personal way and while we do not need to like him per se, we do need to be held in awe of him, to desperately want him to succeed, and it takes Director Robert Zemeckis far too long to evoke that.
Standing on the ledge around the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a wildly obvious and unimaginative visual metaphor, JGL as Petit breaks ‘the fourth wall’ as we say, speaking directly to us, the audience, in a first person narrative. He is animated beyond belief in what I believe is meant to covey passion and magic but fails to do so. The art direction and cinematography are lovely and do have a fantastical quality reminiscent of the fanciful and gorgeous film HUGO (2011). Cinematography Dariusz Wolski is known for creating incredible visual worlds (the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films, PROMETHEUS) and the look and effects in THE WALK are truly astounding. They are the best quality of the film, but even so, they are not enough to make it impactful. With those mind blowing effects comes a word of caution: If you have any sensitivity to heights, the film is terrifying. There was more than one scene where I had to avert my gaze (and I am pretty hardy) and the gentleman next to me was in danger of vomiting. The effects are so real that the anxiety is less exciting (think RUSH) and far more agonizing (hateful amusement park ride).
The supporting cast is serviceable with Ben Kingsley as Petit’s mentor Papa Rudy, Charlotte Le Bon as Petit’s girlfriend-accomplice Annie Allix, and a nice assortment of character actors rounding out his band of co-conspirators. Director Zemeckis however misses the mark. Stories of heroic, outrageous and extraordinary human accomplishments are told to inspire, to invoke our own passion and drive. They need to be infectious and irresistible regardless of the feat upon which the film may focus. That is accomplished through the person, not the act itself, and sadly Petit is not presented as inspiring. Rather he is drowned under the numerous arguments about his possible ‘craziness.’ In the end THE WALK does provide us with a profound appreciation of the dedication, planning and extraordinary work inherent in Petit’s act. It is also a loving tribute to the towers of my youth which came to transcend all personal stories and become iconographic the world over. As we are moved by the final gleaming vision of the Towers, I longed to be as moved by the incredible story of Philippe Petit.(2.5 / 5)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz
Running Time: 123 minutes
THE WALK Movie Review