Cinema Release Round-Up: Carol & The Danish Girl


Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Phyllis Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler

Carol-Poster


Release date: January 14th, 2016

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, StudioCanal

Country: USA, UK 

Running time: 118 minutes


4/5

Romantic-drama Carol is one of the biggest Oscar contenders of 2015. From the outset, the movie packs a significant punch – featuring a socio-political/forever taboo topic, a stacked cast, and talented director. It fits the definition of a critical darling – resembling the type of drama people shower with praise during Oscar season.

Thankfully, with Carol, the wave of positive feedback and awards is warranted – benefitting the aforementioned pedigree, subject matter, and alluring narrative. The story is set in the 1950s New York City, illuminating the last era of formality and normality in US history. Aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is struggling to be enthusiastic about her life. Working at a high-end department store, she instantly connects with single mother Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett).

The narrative, similarly to similar LGBT-related dramas/love stories (Brokeback Mountain), revolves around a touching, slow-build romance between polar opposites. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film illuminates the original text’s fascination with 50s-era existence. Thanks to Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay, the film relates issues of yesterday to today’s socio-political climate. Without overstating its welcome, the film makes for a startling reminder of society’s unease and disdain.

Focusing on the essential aspects, the central conflict revolves around Carol and Therese’s yin-yang dynamic. Director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There), avoids convention at every affecting twist and turn. In a nonlinear fashion, the story finds its focal point in the opening scene before flashing back to the beginnings of Carol and Therese’s connection. Haynes, handling similar material with Far From Heaven, depicts their relationship with reverence and restraint.

The performances solidify Carol’s emotional impact and socio-political resonance. Blanchett, with two Oscars for searing performances in The Aviator and Blue Jasmine, is undoubtedly one of contemporary cinema’s finest actresses. Stepping outside her comfort zone once again, the Australian icon immerses herself in this confronting role. If not for Brie Larson in Room, Blanchett would be picking up a third Oscar this season. Similarly, Mara portrays the tiniest details with careful precision. Matching Blanchett point by point, this still-rising star conveys her character’s inner turmoil with class.

Carol is a unique romantic-drama and character study – with Haynes, the screenplay, and the performers bringing humanity and dignity to a thought-provoking tale.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=679wr31SXWk


 

Director: Tom Hooper

Writers: Lucinda Coxon (screenplay), David Ebershoff (book)

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw

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Release date: January 21st, 2016

Distributors: Focus Features, Universal Pictures International

Countries: UK, USA, Belgium

Running time: 119 minutes


2½/5

The Danish Girl is chock-a-block with everything you would expect from an Oscar-bait docudrama. The director’s style resembles that ‘British’ style of period-piece filmmaking, the script ties itself too closely to a subject you cannot ignore, whilst the actors and performances reek of attention-seeking theatrics. From a mile away, this docudrama comes off like a template of everything done 1000 times before.

The Danish Girl is not as trite or idiotic as you would expect, but it is still not good either. The story examines one of the most inspiring transgender cases in modern history. It begins with the sizzling marriage between artists Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) in mid-1920 Copenhagen, Denmark. Gerda, to attract attention from local art galleries, paints portrait paintings of Einer in women’s clothing. However, after a string of outings in the get-up, Einer reveals his inner self – a woman named Lili Elbe he has hidden for decades.

The film marks a cavernous rift between story, direction, and performances. This version of events, based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, is only loosely based on the interesting, socially relevant true story. Being the first recorded case of gender reassignment surgery, these events deserve more than Hooper’s self-conscious, tepid interpretation. The screenplay, unsure of its intended audience, shows and tells throughout the film’s exhaustive run-time. After each revelation and emotionally gripping moment, the characters forcefully describe their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Director Tom Hooper had similar troubles bringing The King’s Speech and Les Miserables to life. Like his preceding Oscar favourites, his style overshadows and eventually suffocates the intriguing central premise. His direction – based around ‘unique’ camera angles and movements – steals the spotlight. However, Hooper never confronts or delves into the significant social, cultural, and psychological themes.

Thanks to Hooper and Redmayne, the film presents timid versions of transgender characters. Redmayne’s repetitive, one-note performance is insulting – depicting Einer/Lili’s conflict by touching fabric, quivering, blinking uncontrollably, whispering, and wincing in every scene. Since his Oscar-winning performance in The Theory of Everything, the performer has shown limited range and subtlety. Vikander eclipses her counterpart, bringing personality and charm to a difficult role.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d88APYIGkjk

Truth Audio Review: Facts & Follies


Director: James Vanderbilt

Writer: James Vanderbilt (screenplay), Mary Mapes (book)

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid

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Release date: October 15th, 2015

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics 

Country: USA

Running time: 125 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

Cinderella (Home Release) Audio Review: Shattered Slipper


Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Charles Perrault (novel)

Stars: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard

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Release date: March 13th, 2015

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


2½/5

Review:

The Monuments Men Review – Stuck in Trenches


Director: George Clooney 

Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (screenplay), Robert M. Edsel (book)

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman

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Release date: February 7th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The dreary pace.

What ever happened to the concept of ‘classic Hollywood’? The Golden Age of Hollywood was defined by artistic efforts created by influential and enviable crusaders…I presume. Having researched this part of entertainment history (I know, I’m a nerd), I’ve come to a predictable yet apt conclusion – Hollywood doesn’t make movies the way it used to. Literally and figuratively, this statement sports several obvious and subtle traits. Modern Hollywood, continually compared to what it was, doesn’t stand up to criticism. So, who better to boost Hollywood’s wavering reputation than national treasure George Clooney? From Tibet to Timbuktu, everyone knows who he is.

Matt Damon & George Clooney.

In fact, Clooney’s latest effort, The Monuments Men, strives to make gigantic and awe-inspiring leaps of faith. Unfortunately, the movie trips and falls more often than not. Tellingly, this movie contains the right ingredients. In particular, not to be overlooked, the movie’s A-list performers have boosted some of the past decade’s greatest works. However, this saccharine docudrama’s reach exceeds its grasp. Embarrassingly, the movie keeps reaching for Clooney’s previous efforts’ level of quality. His immense star power and determination fight to bring classic Hollywood back. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men comes off like an elaborate dress rehearsal. Needing one-or-two final look-overs, this mawkish dramedy fits great assets into awkward places. Admittedly, this is an inspirational and unique story. Based on Robert M. Edsel’s literary account The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (had me at the title alone), this kooky adventure flick can’t decide what it wants to do. Here, multiple characters take this troop’s intentions across harsh lands to all corners of Europe. Set during WWII’s final moments, the movie picks up with the Nazi’s retreating to Berlin. Stealing priceless artefacts and destroying cities and communities, Adolf Hitler’s forces are taking everything to hell with them. Noticing their disgraceful actions’ impact, Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney, of course) presents his findings to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Cate Blanchett.

Given the all-clear, Stokes recruits representatives from Western Civilisation’s brightest sectors. After throwing Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) back into the action, Stokes invites a gaggle of veteran soldiers to take-on Germany’s fiercest armies. Honestly, I’m trying to make this movie’s intricate plot seem more interesting than it is. Though their names aren’t important, the supporting characters are boosted by a plethora of acclaimed performers. Soon enough, Manhattan architect Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculpter Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), painter Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), theatre director Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Lt. Donald Jefferies (Hugh Boneville) join Stokes. Gathering intelligence proving Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum to be in development, the group infiltrates  Europe to such retrieve artefacts as the Van Eyck Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Sadly, despite the immense talent dousing each frame, star power and attention to detail don’t distract from The Monuments Men‘s crippling flaws. Obviously, the premise is boosted by these esteemed actors. It’s invigorating seeing these actors collaborate and crackle on screen. Unfortunately, from the twenty-five-minute mark onward, this rambunctious crew splits up to take on different missions. The narrative, separating into several under-utilised and tedious parts, exhaustively plods. Within the first third, the movie’s jarring tonal shifts and underwhelming turns stick out. After their separation, Granger meets up with disgruntled museum curator Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett). With Simone key to the mission’s success, Granger’s intentions become distorted. At least, that’s what I thought his story-line was about. For this subplot highlight’s the movie’s biggest flaw – cluttered with convoluted arcs and under-utilised concepts, the movie’s underdeveloped plot-lines are disjointed and meaningless deviations.

“Stop, stop. Stop. I seem to have stepped on a land mine…of some sort.” (James Granger (Matt Damon), The Monuments Men).

Bill Murray & Bob Balaban.

Beyond Clooney’s hubris blinding his gaze, his and long-time co-writer/producer Grant Heslov’s screenplay lacks depth, charm, and consistency. Steering away from emotional impact, the exposition-and-cliche-driven story-lines lack definitive resolutions. Considering Clooney’s greatest works (Good Night, and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), he should know how to fuse relevant, politically-driven narratives with eclectic, period-piece settings. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men‘s broad, bloated sub-plots distract from Clooney’s grand vision. With plot-strands switching from blissfully lighthearted to disturbingly dark and vice-versa, this homage to classic Hollywood already feels wholly dated. Irritatingly so, Clooney’s influences and viewpoints rest close to his heart. Like with The Ides of March, Clooney uses his democratic, no-nonsense agenda to kick this movie into overdrive. Thanks to the true story’s significant profundities, the movie almost  becomes socially and spiritually involving. Commenting on art’s effect on culture, the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the first world, Clooney’s fiery viewpoints reach breaking point. Amongst Clooney’s feisty attacks, the hit-and-miss gags also distort his intentions. Injecting slapstick humour into heartbreaking sequences, The Monuments Men awkwardly  connects contrasting genres and influences. Beyond the kitsch opening credits sequence (honouring The Dirty Dozen), Clooney’s overt sense of humour hinders this heavy-handed docudrama. Thankfully, Clooney’s visual style elevates this otherwise underwhelming dramedy. Along with the movie’s sumptuous and electrifying mis-en-scene, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is jaw-dropping. Overcoming Clooney’s tonal transitions, the visuals are far more substantial than his overwhelming opinions. 

I hate to criticise Clooney’s work. For an entire generation, his scintillating screen presence and immense talent establish him as one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures. However, The Monuments Men, despite the commendable intentions, is an uninspired, confused, and weightless dramedy. Hampered by Clooney’s agenda and affection for classic Hollywood, his ambitiousness and profile prove costly. Somehow, this WWII docudrama lacks dramatic tension, laughs, and genuine thrills. Despite Clooney and co.’s involvement, its clear why Brad Pitt didn’t show up. 

Verdict: A lively yet disappointing WWII dramedy. 

Reshoot and Rewind’s Oscar Predictions – 86th Academy Awards


Thankfully, this Academy Awards season has been a true delight. We’ve seen Matthew McConaughey transform into a national treasure, a 90-minute sci-fi flick shoot for the stars, and Pharrell Williams tell us to be clap along and be happy. Admittedly, this may be a cheesy re-tread of similar Oscar prediction lists that have come out over the past few days. However, due to expectations, I should probably throw in my two cents. Here are my predictions for this year’s Oscar winners. The names in bold highlight the nominees who will, and in some cases should, win.

Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Directing

American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)
Captain Phillips (Billy Ray)
Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)
12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
Her (Spike Jonze)
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

Best Cinematography

The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)
Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)
Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)
Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Best Costume Design

American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)
The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)
The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)
The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor)
12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Best Film Editing

American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten)
Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse)
Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)
12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty)
The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Best Original Score

The Book Thief (John Williams)
Gravity (Steven Price)
Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song

Happy (Despicable Me 2)
Let It Go (Frozen)
The Moon Song (Her)
Ordinary Love (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Best Production Design

American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler)
Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard)
The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)
Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)
12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker)

Best Sound Editing

All Is Lost (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns)
Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney)
Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge, Chris Ward)
Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman)

Best Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro)
Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland)
Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow)

Best Visual Effects

Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds)
Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick)
The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

Hopefully, my predictions aren’t too distasteful. We’ll find out how accurate they are when the 86th Academy Awards ceremony kicks off on Sunday night.