Trailer park: Victor Frankenstein, Joy, The Revenant

Good tidings we bring to you and your, er, fellow cinema fans. Here’s my latest ‘trailer park’ entry, highlighting a few that have caught my eye for films coming up soon.

Victor Frankenstein
Seemingly stealing the style straight from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films, here we have James McAvoy’s Dr Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor in a sort of irreverent buddy movie – with monsters. And Andrew Scott, naturally.

Joy
David O. Russell reunites the dream team of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro (after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) once again for this hugely obvious Oscar grab. That said, it looks really good, and Lawrence looks to be on fine form.

The Revenant
In this film DiCaprio plays a fur trapper left for dead by his hunting party and then hunts them down seeking revenge. With credible Oscar talk this could be DiCaprio’s time to win one. And with Tom Hardy as the bad guy and Alejandro G. Iñárritu directing this promises to be an epic Western survival yarn.

Still Alice… Still sad, sorrowful Julianne Moore

I haven’t seen Still Alice yet but I appreciate Julianne Moore’s performance is meant to be quietly brilliant. It’s won her a Best Actress Oscar, so it should be.

And you have to hand it to her, no one does sad, sorrowful and full to the brim with pain and anguish quite like Julianne Moore. The film poster for Still Alice is masterful in its simplicity and use of vibrant colours to contrast Moore’s expression.

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Looking at her filmography, she took supporting parts for years across a number of different genres. Maybe she has now, in recent years, found her niche?

This may sound like a rant, of sorts. But it’s really not. I’m a fan. But now she’s got the Oscar for sad, why not mix it up? I’d love to see happy, feisty, aggressive, bitchy and bad ass Julianne Moore. I’m sure she’s got those qualities in her locker.

So how about it Julianne, fancy embracing a new career direction?

Oscars 2015: As the dust settles

So that’s the Oscars done for another year. Were they everything you expected? Did the actors and films you’d hope get recognition actually get it? And, more importantly, does it all even matter?

In answer to the last question, probably not, but industry acclaim is often (but not always) indicative of a job well done. And who wouldn’t want a big shiny award for their efforts?

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This year it seems Grand Budapest Hotel cleaned up (production design, best score, costume design, makeup and hair). As did Birdman (picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography) and Whiplash (supporting actor, film editing, sound mixing).

Eddie Redmayne took Best Actor for The Theory of Everything and Julianne Moore Best Actress for Still Alice.

So, were these all worthy winners? Were any overlooked or snubbed?

Yes, yes and yes.

There’s always going to be unhappy people come awards season, but I think Birdman perhaps did a little too well – although it does seem typical Oscar material. Last year my film of the year was Nightcrawler, which got barely a look-in, although it got a nomination for Original Screenplay and it would have been nice to see it beat Birdman, but this was a tough category and all entries there were outstanding ones.

Talking of tough categories, Best Actress was apparently a shoo-in for Julianne Moore for Still Alice. I’ve not seen the film yet but it sounds very ‘Oscar worthy’ in terms of the material and her performance. Literally all of the other nominees could have won in my book, they all were fantastic (Rosumund Pike – Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon – Wild, Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything, Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night).

theory

I’m pleased Redmayne took Best Actor. His performance was truly astonishing and a thoroughly affecting one as Stephen Hawking, edging out Keaton’s washed up actor trying to reinvent his career in Birdman. And out of a category with five nominated, two were Brits (the other being Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game) which was pleasing to see.

Given the experimental nature of Boyhood or the electric performances in Whiplash it would have been nice to see either take Best Picture, but losing out to Birdman is something I can grudgingly accept with a ‘well played, sir’.

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Best Supporting Actress went to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Now I haven’t seen the film but I’d have really liked to see Kiera Knightley take this category for her underrated performance in The Imitation Game, or perhaps Laura Dern for her tender one in Wild.

I could go on and on, but let’s stop there. To sum up, not a bad list of winners. Not too many surprises or upsets. There’s some I would have preferred to win over others, but I’m not too cut up about it all.

What was your reaction to this year’s winners and losers?

Oh, and a final note, The Lego Movie should have won for Best Original Song. In that respect, everything is not awesome.

Until next year.

On my mind… Charlize Theron

the_burning_plain19Having just watched The Burning Plain it’s become clear that we need to discuss the career of Charlize Theron. She doesn’t get anywhere near enough love (or interesting roles) and that needs to change. This isn’t an intervention or a rant. Simply put, this is a frank acknowledgement of talent.

As all the great actresses of our generation tend to do, she mixes blockbusters and smaller projects with consummate ease. Another point to mention is that, like some of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses, she’s not afraid to remove the glamour and strip things right back, leaving little to hide behind except her performance. This is evident in Monster, but it’s also a strong theme in all of her work highlighted below. Still… I’d love to see her in more. Hollywood, it’s time to step up and send her scripts!

Anyway, here’s my pick of her best performances to date:

The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
She largely burst onto the scene here – opposite Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino – with a beautiful, tormented and captivating performance. One which set her career standard.

Monster (2003)
A deserved Oscar win for what is considered a powerhouse performance. When one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women transforms herself to this level you sit up and take notice.

North Country (2005)
Continuing a fine run of form she got a best actress nomination for this role in what some critics have argued – in some ways – was a more complex character to portray than her Oscar winning one in Monster.

The Burning Plain (2008)
Guillermo Arriaga (the writer behind Babel) directed this tale of loss and guilt and, whilst the film is somewhat confusingly edited, Theron shone in her scenes with another fine display.

Young Adult (2011)
There’s no doubt that director Jason Reitman’s tale here was both tough, tender and funny throughout. A large part of that was, once again, down to Theron, who balanced the film’s comic and tragic moments with equal skill.

Katniss and a mockingjay: the revolution will be televised

Hunger-games-catching-fire-lawrence_katniss‘Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire.’ The same could be said of Jennifer Lawrence these days. Following her award winning performance last year, she’s got some exciting things lined up to hit the screen soon. American Hustle, reuniting her with Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell, is out in December which, from the trailer, looks to be a right sexy treat. It’s covered in my recent trailer blog, along with some other ones worth a look. She’s also part of the jaw-dropping cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past, comfortably slotting herself into another juggernaut of a franchise.

Then there’s The Hunger Games. One thing that struck me about the middle slot of this trilogy is just how bleak and desolate it feels. I suppose, given the three act structure of a film (setup, conflict, resolution) and extrapolating that over a three film arc (or four film arc, as the conclusion will be a two-parter), Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Catching Fire, a reviewthe second one will always be rife with conflict and see the antagonist flex his or her muscles to gain the upper hand. Think Empire Strikes Back and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

On that note, and given the fact most of the audience will have seen the first one, this feel films tougher and more emotionally affecting than the first. Indeed, many of the characters have matured and grown wise to what life is like under this oppressive regime; off and on love interest Peeta and Katniss’s sister Primrose are typical examples. The latter calmly taking a needle from her mother’s shaking hands to sedate someone after a savage beating.

And talking of beatings, this film has them aplenty (mostly administered by soldiers looking like a cross between storm troopers and extras from a Daft Punk video).Hunger Games Catching Fire5-20131105-172 Austrian director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I am Legend, Water for Elephants) doesn’t let up; there’s precious little in the way of light moments to lift the mood. At times I questioned the 12A certificate (there were a lot of kids in the audience at my screening). However there was minimal cause for concern, in the event of a violent act the director would invariably cut away at the last moment, something no doubt advised by the studio to make the broader kid-friendly certificate. A tactic to save kids’ sensibilities perhaps, but still psychologically affects us adults, as we can fill in the gaps.

This is only really an observation though. Lawrence has taken the reins of this franchise in able fashion, proving he can handle action, drama and quieter character moments equally well. He’s also avoided directorial flair for the most part, letting the cast grow in their roles. jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-Trailer-3As you’d expect, the focus is by and large firmly kept on Lawrence’s Katniss – we see everything from her point of view. And rightly so, she’s not only the catalyst and linchpin for the entire story, but also a tough female protagonist, something of which we’ve not seen on the big screen in a long time.

Hence perhaps why Jennifer Lawrence is fast becoming a favourite of tinseltown. In years past Hollywood has taken Oscar winners and tried to turn them into action/superheroes and failed (Hallie Berry, Catwoman; Charlize Theron, Aeon Flux; hell even Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider to an extent), perhaps lack of success was down to poor script, a weak director, sub-standard supporting cast… Who knows.

ID_D37_14785.dngNow, however, it feels right. Lawrence feels right. Maybe the industry has just finally got its act together. I’ve been a fan of hers since Winter’s Bone and, for me, she’s not put a foot wrong (please Jennifer, stay away from run-of-the-mill rom-coms!). And with Francis Lawrence directing the concluding two-parter of this tale, it looks to be in most competent hands. President Snow, watch your back… And your front. In fact, just watch out. Katniss is coming, she’s mad as hell and she just won’t take it anymore.

Jeff Bridges – old-timer hits rich vein of form

I’d like to chat, if I may, about Jeff Bridges. Now some might say he’s in the twilight of his career, but I think he’s just getting into his stride. Let me explain.

IMDb shows his first credited role took place on a TV show called Sea Hunt from 1958-60. From there, in 1972, he became one of the youngest ever actors to get nominated for an Oscar, aged 22 for The Last Picture Show. During the period between 1970 to the end of the 1990s, obadiah iron manhe received further nominations and critical acclaim for performances including: Starman, Against All Odds, and Fearless.

Then, at the end of the 90s, he gave us arguably his most iconic character, The Dude in The Big Lebowski. A character many consider to be a career high – or at least the most memorable.

In 2008 came Iron Man. A bit of an unexpected hit for the studio and the cast. Bridges, here, giving us the scheming Obadiah Stane, facing off against Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. A brilliantly realised character, Obadiah is the ultimate CEO-gone-bad and Bridges plays him perfectly. Never a moment when he overdoes it, letting Obadiah’s quiet menace come through, effectively hidden behind Bridges’ genial nature until the third act. The Dude has gone bad.

jeff-bridges-as-bad-blakeThe tipping point
For me, this film was where Bridges’ career moved up a level. With Iron Man he had reached a point where he could play wonderfully complex, yet thoroughly engaging characters. Some villians, some good guys, all of them flawed in some way. Some may say they’re all variations of The Dude, but that’s lazy and inaccurate.

At this point Bridges’ rich vein of form began to gather pace. Beginning with a brilliant and underrated turn as Bill Django in The Men Who Stare at Goats in 2009. He then gave us – the same year – a fantastic performance as washed up, boozy singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.

His journey from bitterness and self-loathing through to redemption and inner peace is thoroughly believable and compelling. Indeed, the performance won him an Oscar, making him – quite fittingly – also one of the oldest actors to ever win the award, aged 60.

jeff-bridges-true-gritOld-timer delivers
In 2010 this followed with another critically-acclaimed performance as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit. Another award-laden film. Following John Wayne’s iconic footsteps was no easy thing, but Bridges gave a strong performance, thoroughly inhabiting Rooster’s gruff nature.

Beneath his hardened exterior, though, Rooster showed compassion and sense of responsibility towards Mattie Ross (played with plucky determination by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld). Many of the scenes in the final act where he comes through for Mattie time and again are incredibly moving.

So, to sum up, even though The Dude is now in his mid 60s, I think he’s doing some of the best and most consistent work of his career. Let’s hope the roles keep coming!

Silver Linings Playbook – smart, edgy rom-com

Seems David O. Russell is on a bit of a roll. Following a six-year break after I ♥ Huckabees, the Writer/Director returned in 2010 with a film which bagged him an Oscar nomination for Best Director, critically-acclaimed boxing tale, The Fighter.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKHis latest effort, Silver Linings Playbook, is another triumph – dramatic, touching, funny and heart-warming. This is down to a smart script, assured direction and stand-out performances – particular from the two leads, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

What’s it all about?
Pat (Cooper) is a history teacher with bipolar disorder, recently released from mental hospital following a violent outburst upon catching his wife with another man.  Despite suffering mood swings and having to contend with a restraining order, he’s convinced he can win back his wife. Then Tiffany (Lawrence) enters his life, herself a recovering sex addict, a condition brought about following the death of her husband.

The two initially bond discussing the types of medication they’ve taken – then begin to form an unlikely friendship. Pat asks Tiffany to give his wife a letter, hoping something which explains he’s getting his life back on track will rekindle their marriage. Tiffany thinks he’s deluded but agrees to help, but only if Pat helps her practice for a dance competition. We all know where this is going right?

silver linings playbookA tale of two wounded souls
Whilst the story may be nothing new – with the exception of the bipolar aspect – this film lives or dies by its leads. Both Cooper and Lawrence deliver career-best performances. For Lawrence, that’s saying something. She’s already had an Oscar nomination for her performance as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone. Here, her latest offering looks likely to get another Best Actress nomination, possibly even a win.

Cooper was surprisingly impressive. All twitchy, unfocused energy with a blunt, direct nature and an imposing presence. You get the sense this is a guy capable of violent outbursts, but really trying his hardest to hold it all together. He also brings comic timing to the character, helping balance out the darker moments. Easily his best work to date. That said, his performance alone would not have lifted the film to the heights it achieved.

silver linings lawrenceLawrence the silver lining
The secret weapon of this film – or true silver lining if you like – was Tiffany. Once again, Lawrence showing the depth of her talent. She’s just astonishing. Obviously there’s a sizeable age gap (Lawrence was 21 during filming, Cooper 37), but she displays a maturity beyond her years – making the attraction between the two wounded souls of Tiffany and Pat wholly believable. She gives Tiffany a wildly unpredictable nature – often switching instantly between vulnerable, raw and conflicted, to steely, fiery and determined. This tends to break down Pat’s defences, leaving him utterly confused, poor chap.

Does this better her performance in Winter’s Bone? Perhaps not, but it more effectively displays her talents and range as an actress – marking her out as one to watch with great interest in the future.

Silver Linings Playbook De NiroDe Niro the dad
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning De Niro, playing Pat’s dad. Another flawed soul with a touch of OCD, cut from the same cloth as his son. It’s arguably his best performance in a long time.

In some of his more comedy-driven roles in the last few years he’s probably overplayed it, to a degree. Here he pitches it perfectly. David O. Russell really does seem to get the best out of the the actors at his disposal, even if he’s known for sometimes rubbing them up the wrong way.

To sum up, Silver Linings is a smart, quirky, dramatic rom-com that tackles some tough issues (marriage, mental health), however it’s buoyed up by a smart script and strong performances – with Lawrence showing that Winter’s Bone was just the start of her ascendancy.