Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners


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Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners

Cinema Release Round-Up: Spotlight & Room


Director: Tom McCarthy

Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


4½/5

Writer/director/character-actor Tom McCarthy has had a topsy-turvy career chock-a-block with unique choices. From festival hits The Station Agent and The Visitor to Adam Sandler flop The Cobbler, no two projects are the same. His most recent Oscar contender, Spotlight, is the complete opposite of The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol…essentially, everything else up for consideration this season.

Spotlight is a journalism drama/detective-thriller harking back to the old-school style of filmmaking (All the President’s Men, especially). Built from the ground up, the project, thanks to McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer, braves the backlash to discuss one of the past decade’s most arresting true stories. The plot follows The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team – the United States’ oldest operating print investigative-journalism division. The team – comprised of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) – drop everything to investigate cases of widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests throughout Massachusetts.

Make no mistake; this story needed to be told. The events depicted in Spotlight earned the team the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Yes, this subject matter may deter audiences until its inevitable Netflix release. However, this docudrama deserves the big-screen treatment over January/February schlock. This is the perfect example of a terrific story treated respectfully thanks to talented writers, director, and performers. The team’s movements – watched over by editing staffers Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee, jr. (John Slattery) – look and feel organic. Delving into the pen-and-paper, early 21st Century world of journalism and truth-seeking, each action and reaction is etched carefully into every awe-inspiring frame.

The screenplay and direction combine succinctly, creating a restrained and subtle insight into some of the past century’s most harrowing events. McCarthy’s direction makes a point without ever beating you over the head. Each major twist and turn interweaves efficiently, blending together the investigation, significant political events (9/11), and the characters’ backstories. Aided by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, McCarthy’s vision makes for a mise-en-scene/attention to detail lover’s dream. Above all else, its screenplay adds enough humanity and personality to every scene – making the most difficult events seem relatable. Depicting victims, conspirators, and everyone in between, it’s hard to fathom just how accurate and necessary this docudrama is (and will hopefully remain).

The cast adapts to McCarthy’s style, their true-to-life counterparts, and confronting subject matter with aplomb. Keaton, coming off a career-best performance in Birdman, is a charismatic force as a leader stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ruffalo and McAdams deliver lively impressions of their enthusiastic and determined real-life counterparts. Character-actors Schreiber, Slattery, James, and Stanley Tucci commit to consequential roles.

Spotlight will make you angry, highlighting just how evil the Catholic Church became over several decades (without hindrance!). This docudrama is a tight, taut, and detailed insight into journalism, a devastating socio-political issue, and a community in tatters.

Verdict: Necessary and impactful viewing.


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writer: Emma Donoghue (screenplay and novel)

Stars : Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy

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Release date: January 28th, 2016

Distributor: A24

Country: Canada, Ireland 

Running time: 117 minutes


4/5

Room, not to be confused with cult-flop The Room, is a masterclass in single-setting, survival-thriller filmmaking. Compared to everything else blockbuster and Oscar related from 2015 (favouring spectacle slightly over substance), it is one of the more down-to-Earth big-screen experiences.

This drama is certainly not for the faint-hearted, dealing with subject matter the greater population chooses to ignore. The plot revolves entirely around Joy (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay)’s relationship. Confined to a single room, the two form a cohesive dynamic over an extended period. Later, as a sinister figure enters the room every night, the film reveals the full extent of their situation.

Room, like the other Oscar contenders this year, chronicles a relatable character trapped in a nightmarish situation. Based on screenwriter Emma Donoghue’s book, the story runs parallel to confronting new stories from the past decade. The titular space only takes up the first half, with Joy and Jack adapting to their predicament. Their behaviour – acknowledging everything within the room, Joy teaching Jack about the world outside, Jack’s development shifting from open-book toddler to hard-to-control child – all adhere to reality. The room becomes a being in itself, with the TV, bathtub, skylight, and kitchen key character traits.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank) has zero intention of making the same movie twice. Room, although more confronting and visceral than you would imagine, takes a sharp turn in the second half. After Joy and Jack’s escape from imprisonment, Abrahamson bravely balances plot and theme with strong emotional heft. As Jack discovers the intricacies of this big, blue marble, Joy suffers severe, disarming cases of PTSD, malnutrition, and depression. As her mum, Nancy (Joan Allen), dad, Robert (William H. Macy), and step-dad, Leo (Tom McCamus) step in, Joy and Jack are torn asunder by shocking spiritual, physical, and psychological hurdles. For they and us, it becomes almost too hard to cope.

Room, unfortunately, has several difficult-to-ignore inconsistencies and false notes. In particular, the score comes in at inopportune moments – drowning out dialogue and trying too hard to tug the right strings. However, Room also delivers the best set piece of 2015 – as Jack, initially shocked by seeing the outside world in person, pretends to be dead, jumps out of a pickup truck, and rushes for help in the space of a few seconds. It’s performances are similarly exhilarating, with Larson a she-in for this year’s Best Actress gong. Tremblay is a treasure, exuding equal amounts of charm and grief in every frame.

Room makes for a confronting experience, hitting close to home whilst finding the light within the darkness. Its tender craftsmanship proves less really is more in Oscar-season entertainment.

Verdict: A heart-breaking ode to the human spirit.

Article: The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past


Article:

The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past

Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes


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Article:

Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes

Dallas Buyers Club Review – Southern Struggles


Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack 

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn


Release date: February 13th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: McConaughey and Leto.

Worst part: The obvious symbolism.

Today, the first world looks to Hollywood for inspiration. Despite being an easy target, film and TV industries deliver symbols and heroic figures. Thanks to grand illusions, we forget that celebrities are people too. These awe-inspiring figures aren’t simply high profile people collecting giant paycheques while posing for photographs. It’d be easy for celebrities – bombarded with blissful opportunities, temptations, and fan-bases – to make simplistic choices. The late 1990s and early 00s housed laughing stock turned celebrated actor Matthew McConaughey’s extraordinary ascension. Falling into the leading man slot, he picked roles based on giant paycheques and mass marketing campaigns. However, he’s recently proven his worth within the ever-shrinking A-list club. 

Matthew McConaughey.

Fortunately, McConaughey’s slew of award-worthy movies – forming the aptly titled ‘McConaissance’ – has bolstered his once-declining filmography. With his star shining brighter then ever, low-key docudrama Dallas Buyers Club hurls this dynamic actor into serious Oscar contention. However, despite the praise, one mind-boggling performance doesn’t make for a wholly compelling docudrama. Continuing this Oscar season’s trend of fusing darkly eclectic docudramas with powerful performance pieces, the movie relies entirely on the courage of its convictions. The movie chronicles rebellious loner turned dilapidated pharmaceutical figure Ron Woodroof. We meet Woodroof during awkward yet eye-catching circumstances. Woodroof, a serial womaniser and irritable misanthrope, leads a repetitive and tiresome existence. Gambling over rodeo bull rides and card games, his insatiable lifestyle reaches critical and disastrous conditions. With his ‘enviable’ lifestyle delivering countless surprises, his identity shifts violently after an industrial accident. At his local hospital, he is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Taken aback by his condition, his existence is turned upside down. With his friends’ prejudices pushing him away, Woodroof finds solace through drugs and alcohol. At this point, the movie becomes a familiar yet likeable drama aching for attention. Beyond McConaughey’s physical, mental, and emotional transformations (losing 18kg for the role), the movie’s sterling attention to detail and spiritual weight launches it into overdrive.

Jared Leto.

My praise for this significant actor can’t be undone. Over the past three years, McConaughey – gracefully embodying ruthless yet sympathetic criminals (Mud), middle-aged strippers (Magic Mike), honourable and vicious hitmen (Killer Joe), and straight-laced professionals (BernieThe Paperboy, The Lincoln Lawyer) – has become Hollywood’s most dexterous actor. Graciously, the Texan artist saved his best performance for this potent and Oscar-worthy docudrama. Though not quite reaching The Wolf of Wall Street and Killer Joe‘s standards, Dallas Buyers Club delivers heartwarming and confronting qualities. Based on this extraordinary true story, the movie blissfully and honourably explores American history’s most taboo subject. The AIDS epidemic, explored in major releases like Philadelphia, hits like an impactful gut-punch. Despite informative and controversial subject matter, the movie never asks for sympathy. Unlike similar medical dramas, the movie never looks down upon its morally driven characters. In fact, for the most part, the movie refuses to sit patiently in a hospital waiting room. Emphatically immersing us in Woodroof’s journey, this Erin Brockovich-like docudrama becomes a love letter to Middle America’s unique inhabitants. Thankfully, Woodroof and his enlightening journey are insatiably empathetic. Despite his brash personality, this character arc becomes a tangible and exhilarating thrill-ride. Driving through an entrancing time period, this movie’s 20-year production history, coming from a loving place, touches on this and last century’s most debilitating issues. Despite its obvious flaws, the movie’s immaculate relevance pushes it into Oscar territory. The story’s parallels chart Woodroof’s shocking transformations. In comparing Woodroof’s pre and post diagnosis lifestyles, the movie’s cliches stick out. In the first few scenes, Woodroof is the pinnacle of manliness. Snorting cocaine, throwing around dollar bills, and setting up saucy threesomes, certain traits telegraph Woodroof’s overt transformation. Pushing him into the country’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community, this homophobic and anger-fuelled man’s journey is eye-rollingly overt.

“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill f*uckin’ Ron Woodroof  in 30 days.” (Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), Dallas Buyers Club).

Jennifer Garner.

Comparing Woodroof to animals and rodeo clowns, the movie’s heartening screenplay throws awkward moments into enthralling sections. Guided by his own middle finger, Woodroof’s abrasiveness and tenacity almost distort this otherwise heart-wrenching docudrama. Despite its overwhelming richness, Dallas Buyers Club‘s sappy moments and manipulative lines distract from profound narrative. With Woodroof’s transgender friend/business partner Rayon (Jared Leto) becoming a cognitive part of the Dallas Buyers Club, the movie’s touching relationships should’ve provided a well-rounded perspective. However, despite Woodroof’s commendable intentions, the movie delivers two dimensional discussions about major pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and the Food and Drug Administration. Depicted as insultingly villainous, the movie’s antagonists highlight its forceful agenda. Due to an ethically questionable screenplay, Dallas Buyers Club presents broad sub-plots and characterisations without delivering a textured viewpoint. Condemning experimental AIDS drug AZT, the movie hypocritically dishes out awkward side effects. However, director Jean-Marc Vallee(The Young Victoria)’s unique visual style elevates the questionable material. Hurling bleak colour patterns and practical effects across the screen, Vallee’s infatuation with this true story becomes evident. Thanks to the movie’s sickeningly dark turns, this mature and nuanced style amicably suits the material. Beyond Woodroof’s prowess, the performances bolster this conventional anti-hero character study. McConaughey’s turn is simply jaw-dropping. Adding confronting mannerisms to his sycophantic turn, MConaughey’s commitment is thesis worthy. In addition, Leto, known for Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War, fits comfortably into his bizarre and heartbreaking role. Leto’s first acting gig in six years places him in strong contention for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are sorely underdeveloped. Jennifer Garner’s character, Dr Eve Saks, is a single minded and inconsistent plot device. Despite these gripes, Garner performs admirably in this middling role. Expanding her range, Garner’s inherent charm pushes her through the emotionally impactful final third.

Dallas Buyers Club, despite its niggling flaws, is an enjoyably manic docudrama. Thanks to his scintillating transformation, McConaughey shows that big-name actors aren’t just in it for the thrills. He, despite his peculiar reputation, is systematically changing the game. Like Woodroof’s work, McConaughey’s process expands our ever-growing universe. Along with Leto and Garner elevating mediocre characterisations, the movie’s intelligent messages, acute sense of humour, and shocking twists elevate it above Oscar-bait territory.

Verdict: A taut, thought-provoking, and touching docudrama.