October 17, 2016

On the 2016 Fall Film Season

            The early fall portion of the film year always tends to be a bit weird.  Most of the talk about cinema ends up being directed towards the major film festivals and the films that play there.  The problem with this is that most of the talk about film during these months is directed towards films that won’t be in theaters until the winter.  That leaves the films currently in theaters with little room to make an impression, and you end up with a batch of films that tends to be underrated.  For instance, the early fall season last year gave us Everest, a film that didn’t fall in the blockbuster category or the prestige category but ended up being one of the best films of the year.  The 2016 early fall season was no different.  I was only able to catch four films during this time period (one of them kinda counts as a late summer release and another I will be saving for a later blog post), but most of them were quite notable films that might end up in the discussion for my year-end Top 10 list.

            The first film (and the best of the lot) was Sully.  Now Sully did play at the Telluride Film Festival, but discussion surrounding the film feels like it doesn’t exist at this point in time.  That’s a shame because the film features some great artists stretching their talent as much as possible to create an entertaining film out of a concept that really has no business being a feature length film.  I think at this point we take Tom Hanks for granted too much and because of that another fantastic performance in this film is doomed to be overlooked.  He is once again asked to carry a film on just his persona and he more than steps up to the challenge.  The film’s other integral element is Clint Eastwood, whose work here is his most visually experimental since Letters From Iwo Jima.  Eastwood has a reputation of not putting much effort into his films as of late, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here as his visual storytelling allows the narrative of this film to be expanded from what should have been a fifteen minute short into a ninety minute film that does not feel bloated.  It was also nice to see that he was able to use his acting roots to get a very talented cast that includes Aaron Eckhart in one of his finest performances to date as the co-pilot and Anna Gunn, Laura Linney and Mike O’Malley making the most out of roles that barely exist.

            The next film could also be considered a summer film as it was put into limited release in August.  That film is the modern western, Hell or High Water.  This film premiered at Cannes and somehow remained under the radar until its release.  Yet the film contains some strong work from a trio of acclaimed actors and enough directorial and screenwriting gusto to overcome a generic plot.  The film follows two brothers, one a typical middle-aged Texan with no signs of living for greatness or infamy (Chris Pine) and the other an erratic con-man (Ben Foster), as they rob a series of banks.  The bank robberies attract the attention of a soon to be retired ranger (Jeff Bridges), who is struggling to let go of the job that was his entire life.  Now this seems like your typical western film based off of that plot and it kind of is.  However, director David Mackenzie finds new ways to visually portray clichéd scenes.  Additionally, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan uses a series of screenwriting gimmicks that actually deliver deeper meaning to elements of the film.  For instance, the names of the two brothers are never mentioned until the final act of the film.  It’s a startling realization once you realize it but it also reveals the deep relationship that these two brothers have with just one simple gimmick.  So this film deserves a lot of credit for finding some freshness in a genre that has been on its way out for a while now.

            The final film I was able to see during the season was the least successful.  Just like Hell or High Water, The Dressmaker has some western tropes.  The problem is that in addition to these tropes it has the tropes of multiple other genres and this mismatch does not work at all.  The film is a revenge tale of a clothes designer (Kate Winslet) who returns to her hometown to exact revenge on the townspeople who made her leave in the first place.  The film never really takes itself seriously and has many comedic moments.  One problem with this is that most of the comedy becomes extremely campy to the point that I can’t see how anyone would find it funny.  The other problem with this is that this film has quite a few dark moments (including a series of flashbacks about the death of a boy) and the film seems like it doesn’t what to take these moments seriously either.  All this being said, Kate Winslet is typically great and the film is one of a few that you will ever see that is able to incorporate its over-the-top costume design into the plot in unexpected and engrossing ways.

            These films and the controversial but memorable The Birth of a Nation made for an interesting season that almost made up for 2016’s disappointing summer season. 

Hell or High Water=8/10
The Dressmaker=4/10

October 11, 2016

One-Eyed Jacks at New York Film Fest 54

            This Sunday I was fortunate enough to attend the New York Film Festival and see a restoration of Marlon Brando’s lone directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks.  Big names such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg worked on the restoration process, which Scorsese explained in full and rambling detail in an introduction to the film, so I was interested in finding out what attracted them to spending so much time and effort on a somewhat unheralded film such as this.  One-Eyed Jacks is certainly a film worth watching, and very much comes across as a predecessor to Unforgiven.  While the film begins as a typical western it quickly becomes a very subversive genre film that you can’t tell where it will be going next.

            One-Eyed Jacks follows a robber known as Rio (Marlon Brando) as he tries o track down his partner (Karl Malden) who left him for dead.  Obviously this seems like a simple and stereotypical western based off of the basic plotline.  However, this film has a sense of awareness that is ahead of its time (the film was released in 1961).  The film is constantly going left when you expect it to right.  Whether it’s a character abandoning his quest for revenge, female characters driving the plot or the film deciding to create a villain in the third act of the film, this film was using plot techniques that we wouldn’t actually see become common until decades later.  Additionally, this film has a unique sense of comedy for a western.  Brando’s Rio has a set of reoccurring jokes (and we are also introduced to the man while oddly lounging and eating a banana in the middle of a bank robbery he is perpetrating) that are quite notable for an archetype that is usually driven by his seriousness. 

            While the ambition of Brando’s use of comedy in this film is something to be admired it also reveals he was not as strong of a director as he was an actor.  The comedy works in a theater where you can feed off the energy of a crowd, but I can’t see many of the jokes landing while watching this film alone.  Additionally, the comedy is just more added time to an already lengthy film.  Brando tries to do a lot in this film, and his work certainly feels like a man just learning how to direct.  The runtime and pacing of this film certainly suffers because of that.

            That’s not to say Brando’s directorial work was bad here.  The visuals are stunning in this film and Brando finds some interesting ways to bring certain sequences to the screen (a sequence involving Mexican authorities setting up a trap in the middle of a sandstorm comes to mind immediately).  He also gets some fantastic performances out of himself and his cast.  Karl Malden deserves special credit as he delivers one of the more memorable villains I have ever seen in a film.  The lengths that Malden’s character goes to obscuring his lies are incredible and Malden gets to do just about everything (he gets an action sequence, he gets a monologue, he gets to act drunk, he gets to dance) over the course of the film.

            The last restoration I saw at the New York Film Festival was a few years back when they did Richard III (which also happened to be introduced by Martin Scorsese), and One-Eyed Jacks is easily the more memorable of the two.  This film also goes to show that the good stuff in any film festival isn’t just reserved for the main slate and premieres sections. 


September 18, 2016

2016 Green Sox TV Awards

Maura Tierney, The Affair
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
"Battle of the Bastards", Game of Thrones (Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)
The Leftovers (Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta)

September 16, 2016

68th Primetime Emmy Awards: Final Predictions

-Outstanding Drama Series=Game of Thrones
-Outstanding Comedy Series=Veep
-Outstanding Limited Series=The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
-Outstanding Television Movie=All the Way
-Outstanding Reality-Competition Program=The Voice
-Outstanding Variety Talk Series=Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
-Outstanding Variety Sketch Series=Inside Amy Schumer 
-Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series=Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
-Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series=Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
-Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie=Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
-Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series=Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
-Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series=Robin Wright, House of Cards
-Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie=Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
-Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series=Tony Hale, Veep
-Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series=Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
-Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie=Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
-Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series=Anna Chlumsky, Veep
-Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series=Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
-Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie=Olivia Colman, The Night Manager
-Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series=Master of None
-Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series=Game of Thrones (“Battle of the Bastards”)
-Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special=The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (“From the Ashes of Tragedy”)
-Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special=Lemonade
-Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series=Veep (“Mother”)
-Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series=Game of Thrones
-Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special=The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (“From the Ashes of Tragedy”)

-Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special=Amy Schemer: Live at the Apollo

September 11, 2016

2016 Green Sox TV Awards Nominations

-Better Call Saul (Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould)
-Game of Thrones (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)
-The Leftovers (Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta)

-"Axis Mundi", The Leftovers (Mimi Leder, Damon Lindelof & Jacqueline Hoyt)
-"Battle of the Bastards", Game of Thrones (Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)
-"The Door", Game of Thrones (Jack Bender, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)

-Aziz Ansari, Master of None
-Bryan Cranston, All the Way
-Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

-Jemima Kirke, Girls
-Maura Tierney, The Affair
-Ruth Wilson, The Affair

3-Game of Thrones
2-The Affair, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers

September 3, 2016

68th Primetime Emmy Award Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Here are my way overdue thoughts on July’s Emmy nominations announcement:


-Overall there was not much to not like about these nominations.  There was a lot of diversity among the acting nominees, and the diversity was not because of the backlash to the lack of diversity with the Oscars.  It was because all of these actors of color deserved their nominations.  Audra McDonald delivers a show-carrying performance in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill if you have not seen it yet.  The People v. O.J. Simpson has arguably the best ensemble of the year.  Bookeem Woodbine was the breakout star of the year, and Tituss Burgess has always been a hoot on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  Additionally, the nominations seemed to be spread out among more shows this year, and voters definitely seemed to finally kick “the once you’re nominated, you’re nominated until your off the air” mindset that has hampered these awards at times.

-So many acting nominees made me happy.  Jonathan Banks is back for his portrayal of one of television’s best characters ever!  Now let’s give him the Emmy he should have won twice over.  Maisie Williams finally broke through for her performance that has been great from the beginning on Game of Thrones (arguments that it should have been Sophie Turner getting nominated for this season are fully justifiable though), and Bookeem Woodbine turned his breakout Fargo role into an Emmy nomination.  Nothing makes me happier though than Maura Tierney getting a nomination for what might be the performance of the TV season on The Affair. 

-After getting shafted for his impeccable work on the Lost finale, Jack Bender is back in the hunt for an Emmy with his strong work on this season of Game of Thrones’ most emotional episode, “The Door”

-Christian Slater didn’t get nominated for his work on Mr. Robot.  I get that the TV industry loves the guy and feels bad for him for constantly being stuck on shows that get cancelled almost instantly.  However, that should not be enough to get you an Emmy nomination because his one-note performance on Mr. Robot certainly is not worthy.

-Girls is still inconsistent as ever, but there are certainly aspects of this show (and especially this past season) that deserve to be lauded.  It’s a shame that Jemima Kirke still does not have a nomination for her work on this show, and it’s just bizarre that voters decided to drop Adam Driver after one of his stronger seasons and his first season post Star Wars.

-The Leftovers IS the best show on television right now.  There’s no better written and audacious show out there, and it’s baffling how this show still has not picked up a single Emmy nomination in any category.  Sure, the show is polarizing but with HBO and Damon Lindelof behind the show, it does have a pedigree that Emmy voters should be paying attention to.

I had my worst year ever at predicting the Emmy nominations.  I went 105 for 156, which is only good enough for a 67.3%.  The only category I correctly predicted was Outstanding Drama Series where I correctly called all seven nominees.

Of the 2016 Summer Movie Season

            I have heard numerous complaints about how awful a summer season this was for film, and I honestly can’t find much evidence to disagree.  Obviously I have not seen as many films as I would have liked during the season (thanks to car problems and just wanting to spend the warm months of the season outside) although the nine films I did end up seeing seem like a group of films that are in line with what the summer movie season was as a whole.  The blockbusters didn’t really work as films like Jason Bourne and (especially) Suicide Squad failed creatively.  Even Captain America: Civil War, which was ultimately a fun experience, felt more bogged down by franchise restraints than the other Captain America films.  To make matters worse it seems like there wasn’t really any independent fare that broke through.  My one experience with this side of the filmmaking world was Woody Allen’s latest in Café Society.  Café Society unfortunately struggled way too much with being way too similar to ever other Woody Allen film.  Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg (and supporting cast standouts Ken Stott and Corey Stoll) sure do deliver strong performances, but that isn’t enough to distract you from the fact that this is something you have seen before.

            Ultimately, two of the better films of the summer ended up sharing settings.  If you take a glance at the summer box office leaderboards, you will find Finding Dory sitting at the top.  Fortunately, this was a summer season where audiences flocked to a film that was actually good.  Finding Dory is missing that extra something that makes Finding Nemo so memorable (maybe it’s the originality of the first one), but otherwise the filmmakers succeed in everything else they attempt.  This is certainly one of the better directed animated films I have ever seen as Andrew Statnton (who also directed Nemo and the critical favorite Wall-E) finds a way to draw so much emotion from his A-storyline of Dory trying to figure out her past while still making the film’s B-storyline (Marlin still trying to come to terms with being a single father) enjoyable enough to not be as forgettable as so many B-storylines are in films nowadays.  The film also deserves a lot of credit for somehow avoiding the massive iceberg they were heading for with making Dory, a gimmicky character that easily could have been extremely annoying with expanded screen time, even more likeable in her expanded role.  Additionally, I found this film to be funnier than its predecessor with side characters such as Idris Elba’s lazy but intimidating sea lion and the controversial Gerald character delivering the laughs.  Ultimately, Finding Dory isn’t good enough to carry the entire summer season on its back but it is a nice diversion from most of the crap that ended up bring released the summer.

            The Shallows could not be more tonally different from Finding Dory but it does end up taking place on the sea as well as being one of the better films of the summer.  The Shallows is the tale of a med student (Blake Lively) who ends up surfing on a remote beach alone and comes face to face with an angry and man-eating shark.  The film is really a two person show with Blake Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra carrying most of the film (despite what some of the animal characters may think about this).  Collet-Serra has quietly racked up an impressive resume.  He first came onto the scene with the terribly reviewed House of Wax remake but since has followed that up with the underrated thriller Orphan and a trio of solid Liam Neeson action films (the Hickockian Unknown being the highlight).  This film just further cements his status as a director to look out for as he just draws just the right levels of inspiration from both Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.  What you get with this combination is an intense thriller that is able to get away with its sillier moments (and there are quite a few).
            While Blake Lively occasionally gets some human actors to work with she spends most of the film interacting with a CGI shark and a trained seagull.  So she definitely deserves a lot of credit for carrying this film even if it does feel like she is reaching the limits of her acting capabilities at many points.  Most actors of her age just wouldn’t have the courage to take on a role like this where she wouldn’t get many notices for her work despite the fact that she probably deserves them.  It also helps that Collet-Serra shoots her like a goddess throughout the course of the film.

            All in all, The Shallows ends up being something slightly more than dumb fun thanks to some strong direction and a creative performance, and that’s enough to be one of the highlights of this weak summer.

            With the summer gone, and the fall movie season (as well as awards season) on the way I should have some time to update this blog more often. So keep an eye open!

Finding Dory = 8/10
The Shallows = 8/10