a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for November, 2013

I Walk Out on “Catching Fire.” Ugh. What a turgid piece of…

Yes, yes, I did it. I walked out on “The Hunger Games: Part 2 – Catching Fire” It was an absolutely turgid piece of …blank…

If I said what I  REALLY want to say here, well, it’s unprintable…

Poor Jennifer Lawrence stuck in this Big Dead THING, which is the “Hunger Games” franchise. I didn’t see Part One, but the hour or less I spent suffering through Part 2, which at the very least NEVER caught fire…all I saw was the first movie being referenced ENDLESSLY. So I didn’t understand what they were talking about.

And Poor Jennifer Lawrence, the Academy Award winner poor little rich girl, who is making a FORTUNE trying to activate this inert’ globular disaster movie in the truest sense because it IS a disaster.

She’s clearly a foot taller than the midget-like Joss Hutcherson who is playing opposite her. You can sometimes see the disparity in height. He’s standing on a box, or two, trying to kiss her and is photographed from all sort of odd angles trying to hide this.

He’s really short and on SNL last week they had him playing a character named “L’il Peanut”, which was more apt.

This movie was so bad I kept thinking about L’il Peanut all through it, and feeling sorry for Poor Jennifer Lawrence. Her large, blank, ovoid face revealing nothing but MORE blankness. But she was giving it the good ole college try, though her character clearly has never been to college.

And then Phillip Seymour Hoffman came on, and I just FLED!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Readers, Dear Cineastes, Happy Thanksgiving! You’re what I’m thankful for this great year for films, plays and guests!

Re: Oscars ~ What Do the Independent Spirit Nominations mean? A lot if you’re the Coens.

In terms of Oscar, what do today’s announcements of the Independent Spirit Nominations mean? I think this year they may mean more than they’ve ever meant before, since Oscar is looking like it’s going Indie in a big way this year.

The only films that weren’t eligible were the mega-budget ones like “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips”, but also middle range budgeted films like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “August: Osage County” and “Saving Mr. Banks.”

So that showed some surprises, like the  Best Actor category nearly matching what have been predicted all along. And they even expanded this highly competitive category to six. Wish the Oscars were flexible enough to do something like that!

Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Bruce Dern(Nebraska), Matthew McConaghey(Dallas Buyers Club), Chiwetel Ejiafor(12 Years a Slave), all turned up. As did Michael B. Jordan(Fruitvale Station) As did Oscar Issac for “Inside Llewyn Davis”. He’s the one I can tell you for sure right now will NOT turn up on the Oscar shortlist of five. Nor will Jordan.

Someone who MIGHT surprise in Supporting is John Goodman, for his blown-out, slightly comatose, drugged-up jazz musician. It’s a small part, but he steals the film. And Goodman has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED! Not ever! For shame!

Apart from Goodman’s mega-bolt jolt, I was very disappointed with “Inside Llewyn Davis”. Shockingly so. I was really psyched to see this movie that has been heaped with critical praise since Cannes.

The ending is terrible and shocking and depressing. And it has one of those Coen Brothers  abrupt endings, like in “No Country for Old Men” or “A Serious Man.” BAM! And then suddenly when you least expect it, it’s over.

I’m up and down on the Coens. And so, shockingly were the Indie Spirits,  and while nominating “Inside Llewyn Davis” for Best Feature, and Oscar Issac for Best Actor, they did not even nominate them for either their directing or writing!

I felt cheated, bitter, by “Inside Llewyn Davis” and soooo disappointed.  I felt like a great opportunity had been missed. And all that hype that’s it had! For what?

But then that’s what Llewyn, their Welsh-descent, folk-singing failure is feeling. So maybe it’s right that I felt that way. That’s what was intended. I was feeling what Llewyn was feeling. Did I over-identify with something inside myself that I didn’t want to see?

It’s their attempt to examine failure in show business and self-destruction and what happens to the middle-of-the-road talented. They end up as road kill, this film is saying.

And a contemplation of the mediocre, ends up being, well, not that interesting, really.But it’s haunting…I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Oh! But they want to identify with, to LOVE Llewyn, and by gosh, they try every cinematic trick in the book to engage you with this semi- likable, stumble-bum of a failure. He fails at EVERYthing!

Carrie Mulligan turns up almost unrecognizably as his some-time girl friend/folk singer, Jane, who simply yells at him “YOU’RE A LOSER!””You suck!” She repeats over and over.

But the film wants you to identify with his struggle, and you do, sort of, but then you get kicked in the teeth quite literally and  harshly by the quixotic conclusion. As Llewyn does.

Oscar Issac, who’s first major film role this is, has to carry nearly the whole damn thing. That and an orange-colored cat. He and the cat are the plot. The cat becomes the symbol of Llewyn’s career, and the love/hate relationship with this  cat, who isn’t even his, is meant to show us Llewyn’s best side, his humanity.

“Oh! You see he can’t be that much of a loser! He likes animals!”

But it’s not enough to hang a picture on.But that’s precisely what the Coens’ have done. They want us to examine, really examine failure.

Oscar Issac has beautiful, large, dark soulful eyes, which the Coens’ and their camera keep getting lost in. And I did too, except when you look inside Llewyn Davis, there’s not much there. He’s a middling singer. And a big-time clusterfuck. Or rather, HIS CHARACTER is. The Coens’ have set Issac an almost impossible task.

Try to play a middlingly talented, not very nice guy, bent on destroying everything around him that’s good. A great part. And a fine, dangerous line to walk for an actor. A tight tight rope balancing act between alienating everyone while not alienating the audience from yourself as a talent. Tough stuff. And you have to say that Issac gives it everything he’s got.

However, it’s nice to see Greenwich Village looking like it did in the early ’60s, when the film is set. And folk music to me is no big whoop. Never was.

And I never dug Bob Dylan, who is supposed to be lurking in the shadows, as the arbiter of change. What change? To me  there was none.

So I left this film feeling totally down on it, like Llewyn is on his whole life, not just his music. So this kind of non-traditional movie, is the sort of film that the Indies would shower nominations upon. But they seemed to feel the same way about it that I did. Mixed. Or mixed up.

And I bet the Academy does, too.  Although if, in a field of ten, the Coens’ “A Serious Man” can get a best picture nod out of AMPAS, then who knows? “Inside Llewyn Davis” could, too. The Coens have an ardent fan base of admirers in the Academy.

But like “A Serious Man”, it won’t win anything. MAYbe a “Best Original Screenplay” nod, and a Supporting Actor nom for John Goodman, too. And T-Bone Burnett was in the background taking care of all the musical numbers, which were many.

And like “Les Miserables” last year, all of the songs were sung live, and not pre-recorded, and in front of a live coffee-house audience. Who also seemed half-dead.

This is a very tricky high-wire act the Coens are trying to pull off. Making a full-blown Hollywood movie movie about an abject failure. A mediocrity, who no one loves. A singer who can sing well, but not THAT well. An unsympathetic sympathetic character is then what? Simply pathetic?

Why should we waste our time? And awards?

E.T.A. Tonight “Llewyn Davis” won Best Picture at the Gotham Awards! And Oscar Issac bounded on to the stage to accept for the Coens who were not there(They probably thought “12 Years A Slave” was going to win, and so did I, but it got NOTHING!) and Issac wowed the crowd by saying, he was so proud and happy to be accepting the award for the Coens. “It’s a movie made in New York about New Yorkers, filled with New Yorkers,” And everybody loved him.

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CONGRATULATIONS MELONIE DIAZ! BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEE! INDIE SPIRIT AWARDS!

Congratulations to my charming talented guest Melonie Diaz for her first Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for “Fruitvale Station! And here I am, the Oscar Messenger, telling her this would happen! And she didn’t believe me!

Independent Spirit Nominations Announced! 12 Years a Slave leads!

The Independent Spirit Awards were announced this morning, and  first of all let me congratulate, the Stephen Holt Show’s guest Melonie Diaz who received a Best Supporting Actress Nomination for “Fruitvale Station”!!! I’ll re-post her great satellite interview with me asap.

But first things first, “12 Years A Slave” dominated now as it will continue to do, I predict, for the rest of the Awards Season, with seven nominees, Best Picture, Best Director(Steve McQueen), Best Actor (Chiwetal Ejiafor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress ( Lupita Nyong’O), Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. I’m still saying it will also win all those awards and more on Oscar Night. And certainly with the Critics Awards which start piling up on Monday with the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review on Tuesday. It’ll be like a juggernaut or a landslide. Look out!

“Nebraska” came in second, as it were, which is how most Alexander Payne films do. This bleak, small Black and White film about senior citizens in the plains states came out in the Place Place(using Tom O’Neil’s derby metaphor here http://www.goldderby.com) getting nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay (Alexander Payne), Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Supporting Actress(June Squibb) and the surprise here for Saturday Night Live Alum Will Forte, for Best Supporting Actor, for his sensitve, understated turn, which everyone has been ignoring heretofore, as Bruce Dern’s caring son.

For all the nominees, check out http://www.awardsdaily.com and/or Kris Tapley’s analysis at http://www.hitfix.com/incontention

Oscars, Critics awards get closer

Well, it’s still pretty early but no sooner than next week, both the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review will announce, one day after the other.

I think both these organizations, who are vastly influential, will go for “12 Years a Slave” as Best Picture. Both organizations are here in NYC, natch. And think they are both going to go also for Chiwetal Ejiafor for Best Actor for “Twelve Years a Slave” and Cate Blanchett for Best Actress for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” Let’s face it, Woody Allen is the essence of New York, so I think they won’t be swayed by the Hollywood Star Power that the Golden Globes represent.

I don’t see any of the Hwood centric films scoring here…No All Is Wet. I mean “All is Lost” for Robert Redford, or the ship-wreck(and train wreck of lawsuits)of “Captain Phillips”. Maybe the National Board of Review will go for Bruce Dern’s space cadet in “Nebraska.” That would be a table for Paramount, and one for Sony Pictures Classics for “Blue Jasmine” and several table for Fox Searchlight.

And they are announcing so early, both groups may not see AT ALL, the late breaking “American Hustle” or the even later breaking “Wolf of Wall Street.” So don’t expect either of those films to show up UNLESS they get seen. The NBR has a Top Ten list that “Hustle” could crack IF it’s all that.

Also expect the overwhelmingly Jewish National Board to give something to “The Book Thief.” Even if it’s just a mention on its’ Top Ten List.

And they always give something to George Clooney so he shows up, which this year the only thing would be “August:Osage County” as a producer.

Think back two years ago when “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” wasn’t seen by either of these groups in time, but did end up snagging one of the Oscar ten slots for Best Picture….

Supporting I also think is going to go “12 Years” way. Although the NBR is famous for spreading its’ wealth(so it can sell as many tables at its’ event as it can) so there may be other films represented by them, that aren’t represented at the New York Film Critics.

So they won’t match exactly, but I think Best Picture will be the same for both groups. They know the world is watching.

Also look for the National Board to include a Weinstein co. actor or actress in its’ largesse. Most likely Oprah Winfrey. For Best Supporting Actress. For “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

Michael Fassbender is someone who the NYFCC will honor, but who might the NBR give it to? Is this were the ubiquitous Tom Hanks’ scores this year for Disney, playing Disney, in “Saving Mr. Banks”? Think of all those tables they have to sell.

The NBR has also awards for Best Male and Female Newcomer and expect Lupita Nyong’O to end up there. And perhaps Michael B.Jordan from “Fruitvale Station”? Although he’s not THAT new. But being as this is the Year of Years for African-American performers and films, you just might find Jordan showing up here.

Last year, if anyone remembers, this is where the disgracefully under-rewarded Ann Dowd of “Compliance” got Best Supporting Actress.

But they won’t give Lupita TWO major awards (though she deserves them) so PERHAPS this is where they become the HFPA and give Best Supporting Actress to Oprah! That will sell a lot of tables. And turn them from an also-ran, announcing ONE DAY after the NYFCC, into an EVENT!

“Twelfth Night” on Bway ~ One of the Best I’ve Ever Seen!

How can I begin to describe the joys of the impossibly wonderful “Twelfth Night” now on Broadway? It’s simply one of the best productions I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE!

The two-time Tony Award winning genius Mark Rylance is probably on his way to another award (or awards) for his astounding performance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Not usually considered a memorable role in Shakespeare’s comedy, which is usually played, as always by a woman, and as a sort of wan, sad, elegant lady,who is mourning the death of her brother. Olivia is usually the straight person in a cast of characters who are off-the-charts loony.

And here the masterstroke is Rylance plays Olivia as the looniest toon of the lot. He seemed to be channeling Margaret Dumont of the Marx Brothers movies. His  love-struck Olivia becomes the absolute center of this production, and the play, too, and it seems absolutely right. AND HILAROUSLY so.

The audience, some of whom were seated on the stage, was absolutely getting EVERY SINGLE Elizabethan joke and laughing so much, it made this marvelous “Twelfth Night” the longest “Twelfth Night” I’ve ever sat through.

With a half-hour pre-show added, wherein you get to see the actors get into their costumes and make-up right on stage and the musicians tune up their authentic, period instruments, this un-cut version was heading to the four-hour mark. But I didn’t mind one bit. I was in theatrical heaven!

One always wishes, if  one is a bardolator, that one could travel back in time to Elizabethan England, and see just what it was that made Shakespeare so great. And the brilliant thing that Rylance and his director of many productions, Tim Carroll have done is that they are so exact in a replication of how this comedy of Shakespeare’s was probably done, you absolutely believe you are in Elizabeth’s England, and that you’re discovering this great play for the first time and finding it  to be one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable. In the hands of Rylance and co., all of whom are on their Elizabethan A-Game, “Twelfth Night” really ranks among one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

It’s an absolute delight from start to finish. All four hours of it.

And we, the press, were warned off coming to see it last night, because the light-board failed, and so we were not going to see it as it was meant to be performed, I was told, by the worried press agent. I decided to go anyway. And we discovered, when we entered, the stage was flooded with candle-light!

And that just made it magical! We were time-traveling!

There did seem as the play went on to be more and more stage lights focused on it, so perhaps the lighting board was being repaired as the show went on, but they were all white or a very pale blue lights

But of course, Shakespeare’s King’s Players DID perform by candle light.

And the stage at the Belasco was full of candles. There were six or eight chandeliers that were dropping candle wax on the actors, and an upstage set piece with more and more candles on it. sort of in the shape of a Christmas tree. So the stage was ablaze with honey-colored light. Which had a warming, charming, and totally disarming effect, which was just right.

And all the female parts are played, as they were in Shakespeare’s time, by men. Rylance’s Olivia dominating every scene, as we watch the character go from a very demure, lady-like, mournful royal in widow’s weeds atop a small tiara,  to a hyped-up matron who is hiking up her skirts and losing her beads, as she falls head-over-heels in love with the young Cesario, who is really a girl Viola, dressed, in disguise as a page-boy. Rylance,who usually blows everyone off the stage, he is such a strong performer, but here he is matched quite evenly by the great Samuel Barnett as Viola, equally convincing as a man or a woman. Tony Nominee and Drama Desk Winner, Barnett will be familiar to Broadway audiences from “The History Boys” a few years back.

I knew he had greatness in him, and the promise he showed in “History Boys” comes to full fruition as this glorious beautiful Viola/Cesario, who matches Rylance’s antic, love-crazed Lady Olivia, beat for comic beat.

And he’s not blowing the great Stephen Fry off the stage as Malvolio. Oh no! Making his American and Broadway stage debut, Fry a major stage, film and television star in England is simply magnificent as Lady Olivia’s simpering steward.

Fry is a towering figure. He’s a huge man, and he makes Rylance’s Lady Olivia seem dainty by comparison.

Also, the large and bosomy Maria of Paul Chahidi, a maid servant of Olivia’s, who is also daintiness personified, as well as the mischievous mischief-maker, who sets much of the plays comic stratagems in motion. Chahidi and Rylance, who are both wearing floor-length gowns, move with such humorously mincing small steps they seem to be floating across the stage, or on roller skates! Hysterical!

The men, who actually play men in this cross-dressed production are at a kind of comic disadvantage, you’d think, against Rylance’s Olivia, Barnett’s Viola, and Chahidi’s Maria(or Mariah or Mary as she’s variously called), but Rylance has wisely peopled the supporting cast with very strong character actors who are as funny as the “women.”

Colin Hurley is a pint-sized Falstaff as Sir Toby Belch, who has to play all manner of drunkeness throughout, and his extremely tall co-hort Sir Andrew Aguecheek is perfectly matched by Angus Wright. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria form the toxic trio of tormentors who want to bring down  the supercilious steward Malvolio, leaving a letter supposedly from Lady Olivia that tells him “Some are born great, Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, “Twelfth Night” itself is having greatness thrust upon it by this astonishing, laugh-riot of a production. Sub-titled “Or What You Will,” which is the Shakespearen equivalent of saying “Whatever”, or “This play is just a trifle. Don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t take it seriously.” And “Twelfth Night,” or as the bill-boards are spelling it “Twelfe Night,” was a name just tacked on to it at the time, because it was performed for Queen Elizabeth I as part of the twelfth night after Christmas celebrations. As if Shakespeare didn’t know what to call it.

The words “Twelfth Night” are never mentioned throughout the play. But I did catch, I think it was Viola saying “What You Will”.

This historic production is a dream come true, and is thrusting a greatness upon “Twelfth Night” as one of the best comedies ever written. It will now always be referred to by all who attempt to match this magic. It’s an impossiblity.

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