a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for December, 2014

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

“The Bridge” Mhz International Mysteries, Saving the Best for Last

BridgeChristian HilborgBridge 2I’ve been saving the best of the MHz International Mysteries for last, and it’s a humdinger, a nail-biter and as gripping as any James Bond thriller (and much more gory). It’s “The Bridge” or “Bron/Bronen”, a Swedish/Danish TV series that is now in its third season with no signs of stopping.

I’ve just finished the terr-rific first season and I can recommend it whole-heartedly for those of you who like the Steig Larson-ish take on modern Sweden, and in this case, too, modern Denmark.

It’s premise is intriguing and it is built around the gigantic Oresund bridge that now connects the Southern most tip of Sweden with Copenhagen. The Bridge is used as a symbol throughout as a bridge of understanding between the two Scandinavian countries. And also of crime-solving.

You see, a corpse of a woman has been found placed exactly on the demarcation line between the two countries during a black-out on The Bridge of the title. Since the dead woman is positioned exactly on the boundary(and she also turns out to be actually two halves of TWO dead women) both Swedish and Danish police have to be involved in this case that is truly an International Mystery. And neither likes or wants to be involved with the other! Typically, a Nordic dilemma, that is played out quite, quite entertainingly.

Sweden of course is represented by a beautiful blonde named Saga, played with great conviction and skill by Sofia Helin. Saga is almost robotic in the way that she treats crime and crime-solving and her personal life, too. “We have sex now?” she states almost mechanically when a guy approaches her in a bar. She doesn’t mince words, does Saga.

And she is known for blurting out the most intimate details of her own and her colleagues personal lives at the most inopportune moments, usually at staff meetings. It is to Sofia Helin’s credit that she makes the character of Saga continually believable and also trustworthy.

Her Danish counterpart is the much older Danish Police inspector Martin Rohde, who is always unshaven, looks like a rumpled, unmade bed, and frankly can’t stand working with Saga, whom he finds incredibly irritating. Saga feels she is always right and Martin hates to admit that she is. He is played marvelously by Danish character actor Kim Bodnia. Saga and Martin are like Beauty and the Beast. And Bodnia reminded me of the late, great James Gandolfini. But this time he’s a hard-working cop, not a criminal.

The series is in Swedish AND Danish and is constantly flipping back and forth between the two languages neither of which I speak. Danish and the Danes as a whole seem funkier and more guttural, more working class, if you will, than the high-brow Saga and the Swedes.

But they make for a VERY interesting crime=stopping couple, and in that sense “The Bridge” is quite character-driven, which I liked.

The crimes are horrific, too. The upper half of the torso of the first corpse(and there will be many of them as the series progresses) is a Swedish diplomat and politician. The lower Danish half is an unknown prostitute/drug- addict. Immediately, the dramatic dichotomy between the two countries is set up right at the get go.

One of the more ghastly murders takes places on TV sets in both countries as a gagged and bound-in-a-chair homeless man is slowing being bled to death on International TV by the murderer..

And there are other colorful characters who come and go throughout the episodes. Main among them was the  smarmy journalist Daniel Ferbe played by the charismatic Christian Hillborg(pictured above^) The murderer sets up contact with him early on, as the criminal mastermind behind all these killings is also trying to use Ferbe as a way to get his message about Swedish(and Danish) societal wrongs out via the media.

This first season was filmed and aired in 2011. I can’t wait for Series 2 and 3. Stay tuned! Love that Swedish noir! Or in this case I should say Scandinavian noir, since “The Bridge” involves both countries marvelously.

Christmas Miracle! Cinema Village Saves Christmas!

CINEMA VILLAGE SAVES CHRISTMAS FROM THE TERRORISTS

 

Independent Arthouse Hosts Manhattan’s Exclusive Run of Sony’s THE INTERVIEW 

 

Opens on Thursday, December 25

 

December 24, 2015, New York, NY – – New York City’s Cinema Village announced today that it will open the most discussed movie of the year, THE INTERVIEW, directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, on Thursday, December 25th as Manhattan’s exclusive venue.  The independently run theater and cinematic first-responder, located at 22 East 12th Street (between 5th Avenue and University), joins 200 theaters across the nation to show the film after the major chains continued to refuse to show it.  The film will be shown daily at 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:05 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. Tickets are available now throughhttp://www.cinemavillage.com.

 

Davd Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are the team behind the popular tabloid-TV show “Skylark Tonight”.  After learning that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of the show, they successfully set up an interview with him, hoping to legitimize themselves as actual journalists.  However, as Dave and Aaron prepare for their journey to Pyongyang, the CIA steps in, recruits them, and assigns them an incredible mission:  Assassinate the dictator.

 

ABOUT CINEMA VILLAGE

Built in 1963 in the shell of a turn-of-the-century fire station, the independent Cinema Village is the oldest continuously-operated cinema in Greenwich Village, and one of the oldest continuously-operated art cinemas in the city. And they’re not going to let some crummy as-of-yet unspecified terrorists push them around. Not on Christmas.

Merry Christmas to All My FB friends & Fans!

Christmas 2014Merry Merry Happy Happy Christmas to all my FB friends and fans, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of literature all!

Brit Jack O’Connell Triumphs Over Miscasting in “Unbroken”

Unbroken 1The young British actor Jack O’Connell’s biggest triumph over adversity in the torture porn epic “Unbroken” is making the audience believe he is an Italian American. Director Angelina Jolie WHAT were you thinking? I ask you. Does the above ^ picture look even remotely like an Italian? He looks Irish, if anything, and it turns out he is a through and through Brit.

So the audience has to suspend their disbelief for quite a large chunk of the early part of the movie that is receiving mixed critical reaction, and I think I know why. It’s the casting. Don’t tell me that Jolie couldn’t’ve had her pick of any of the young Italian stallions that abound States-side. But no, she has to go to England to cast this super-hot, young, working-class Brit with washboard abs. Angie, he’s CUTE, but not Italian at all! And to add insult to injury the SECOND lead in this film about WWII is played by Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan Gleeson’s son, who is IRISH!

So we’re supposed to believe that these two dive bombers who get stuck in a life-boat for 47 days, after their airplane gets shot out of the sky by the Japanese, are AMERICANS?!?

There seems to be something, well, broken about “Unbroken”, and I think it’s this. Both leads are NOT  UNBELIEVABLY Americans!

As this overlong film wears on and on and on (are they NEVER to be rescued from that lifeboat?) I had to admit O’Connell, as he was beginning to suffer and starve, began to get to me.

And by the time the INCREDIBLY over-extended, over-done, over-heated second half of the film takes place in the several  horrific Japanese prison camps that Louie Zamperini (yes, that’s his real name, and he was an Olympian track hero, and a real person, and 100% I.T.), O’Connell is suffering and suffering and getting punched in the face and hit and caned and starving, and being kicked and well, just about everything you can think of, and yes, it’s all true,  you do begin to feel for O’Connell as an actor and how in the world did he ever endure all this, AS AN ACTOR?

This is the main problem with “Unbroken” I feel. It’s the casting and as good as O’Connell gets towards the end of the picture, you are always aware that it’s a PERFORMANCE. He doesn’t draw you in. You observe him. You admire his acting chops. When you should be feeling the tortures of the damned. Well, actually, you DO feel like you’re being tortured. I left with a headache, there was so much audience-torture going on. Who’s gonna sit through this? Masochists? Is there that big an audience for plain, unrelenting torture? In the end, he does survive, of course, to tell this tale of horror, but YOU, the viewer barely do. I left craving an Ibuprofen.

I don’t think the Academy is going to sit still for this at all, as they watch their screeners, (or should I say screamers?) of this  true horror epic over the holidays.

Jolie’s work is really the great Roger Deakins’ work. The cinematography is picturesque in the classic Hollywood way, and it’s extremely beautiful. Even the torture scenes are perfectly lit and shot.

But Angelina Jolie in her sophomore directing stint, hired the cutest, hottest, masochistic young actor she could find. And he IS CUTE! Blue eyes, cheek bones, incredible physique. Jack O’Connell is clearly going to survive this debacle of a debut and go on to quite a healthy career, despite the pain and agony he has to endure in “Unbroken.”

The ones who are suffering the most are the poor audiences.There’s so much torture and so little uplift at the end, it’s really a cheat. Angelina just got fixated on the S&M of it all as Louie draws the sadistic attentions of the Japanese Prison Camp guard whom they call “The Bird”(rock singer Miyavi) hits him again and again and again.

Last year’s “The Railway Man” starring Colin Firth and an incredible Jeremy Irvine as the older and younger believably British Brit P.O.W.s in yet ANOTHER Japanese prisoner camp, were MUCH more effective, and the torture scenes were there, and were harrowing, (Irvine gets waterboarded!) Because they were a resonable length.

In “Unbroken,” the same scenes don’t work as well,because they go on for sooooo lonnnng. Same with “Bridge Over the River Kwai” the classic ’50s David Lean film this tries to emulate. Lean, who was a film editor, before he became a great director, knew when to yell “Cut!” Angelina Jolie does not.

So rent either “The Railway Man” and/or “River Kwai”, and you’ll have a much better time. “Unbroken” could break you.

 

“Selma” The Film That Could Stop “Boyhood”s Oscar

Selma 1The astonishing “Selma” is the film that could stop “Boyhood”s seeming march to the Oscars. About Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement of the ‘6os, African-American director Ava DuVernay, has done the seemingly impossible and created a moving, tumultuous film that is so right on and right now, Oscar with his gleaming social conscience can not in all good conscience ignore “Selma”, DuVernay for Best Director and the superb British actor David Oyelowo unforgettable, searing performance in the leading role.

I could go on and on. And you know what? I will. There is so much to praise about “Selma” and it’s got the sweeping scale and scope that Oscar appreciates and a message that is very, very important for audiences to see TODAY. RIGHT NOW.

As I reported earlier, it got a standing ovation at its first public screening in LA at the AFI festival. And Oprah(who’s also in the film) and Brad Pitt are the producers of it.I saw it this week and was just blown away by its’ power.

And Martin Luther King is painted as a Christ-like figure. He was a minister after all. But the film doesn’t gloss over his humanity. Oyelowo is allowed to go to the dark side with him. They show his infidelity, his troubled marriage to Coretta Scott King, who is the real saintly figure in his relationship, the film makes clear. He makes mistakes. He makes wrong calls. People are killed on his watch. Violence erupts everywhere. For injustices that seem ludicrous to contemplate today, but of course, race in the United States is still a very serious issue. The trouble in Ferguson, Missouri reflects in this incredible, important way.

Martin Luther King would not be surprised by today’s headlines. In a way “Selma” predicts them or foreshadows them. And Oyelowo and Ava Du Vernay and the film itself are all going to be nominated for Oscars. “Selma” is so strong, it makes films like “Boyhood” and “Birdman” seem mere piffle, when compared against them.

I saw Dr. Martin Luther King speak. He was at my college to deliver a speech on race, talking about what students could do to change things.

I remember being impressed by his great, eloquent voice, and the fact that he seemed younger than I had expected. He spoke also completely extemporaneously, with no notes or papers of any kind on his podium.

Of course, as “Selma” makes abundantly clear, he was ALWAYS speaking out on the topic of race, and so he needed no notes to guide him. He knew what he wanted to say and said it.

I was seated up in a balcony and to the side, so I could see that he had no papers in front of him. I knew I was witnessing a historic moment.

And a year later, he was assassinated, while I was still in college. I remember the day so well. “It was unbelievable” I thought “How could this be happening?” He was so young and vital. And then I remember looking out my dorm window at the nearby football field, and seeing the all-white football team practicing, as if nothing of import effecting their lives at the University of Rhode Island had happened.

“Selma” brings back all those memories and creates a world of its’ own incredibly vivid and important ones.

See this film. By all means, see it.

 

Top Ten Movies of 2014

Fiennes 1Marion 2Selma 2Theory 1Gone Girl 1This year has been a rather thin one for movies as the most talented bail for writing/directing series TV. I was barely ably to scrape up ten films I could really get behind but here they are below.

1. Theory of Everything

2. Selma

3. Two Days, One Night

4, Gone Girl

5. Whiplash

6. Nightcrawler

7. Grand Budapest Hotel

8. I-Origins

9. Calvary

10. Belle

 

“Into the Woods” is 4D. Drab, Disappointing, Depressing & Disneyfied

Woods PrincesInto the Woods 1Yes, that’s right “Into the Woods” is in 4D. Not 3D. The D’s being Drab, Disappointing,  Depressing, and yes, Disneyfied. What a great waste of a Great What-Might-Have-Been. A golden opportunity squandered and cheapened like the Golden Egg that the Giant’s Golden Goose lays (off-screen in Giantland) and that Jack (of Beanstalk fame) steals. It looks more like a giant basketball, than an egg. But it serves as a metaphor to represent what the makers of this mess have turned a great musical into. A Golden Basketball. Or something that the whole family can use and bounce around, hurting or offending no one.

Except perhaps those of us who saw the ORIGINAL Broadway production in the ’80s. I can barely describe the power it had in that first incarnation.

The niftiness( and shiftiness) of combining all those great Grimm fairy-tales of childhood lore into one complicated Jungian mash-up.

And then, and THEN, because all these presumptuous fairy tale characters, Jack main among them, have caused the death of the giant, his wife, a giantess, descends to stalk the land and squishes half of the cast to death.

Believe it or not, this was a musical that I always felt was Stephen Sondheim’s reflection of the AIDS crisis, which was at its’ fever peak, at the time of the original Broadway production. Suddenly, for almost no reason, half the characters we had come to like, some of them a lot, like the Baker’s Wife, just DIED.

And this was a metaphor for the AIDS crisis. Half or more of all the people I knew, mostly gay, although some not, phfft, were gone never to return.

So in that sense the original ’80s “Woods” was heart-breaking, soul-searing and profound and when Cinderella, beautiful beyond description, sang “No One Is Alone” to the survivors of the Giantess’ wrathful apocalypse, it was utterly moving and I remember it to this day, a jewel-like, ineffable Broadway musical moment. It was cathartic.

I was waiting to feel SOMEthing like that in this facockta movie version. But no. I didn’t get it. Although they had the super, sharp Anna Kendrick sing it. Not a traditional beauty with her hawk-like, aquiline features, she radiates intelligence, which is all to the good and she sings beautifully, but THEY KEPT CUTTING AWAY FROM HER!?! Which in this case ruined the impact of the iconic song and the film’s climatic moment utterly diluted and lost.

This is just one small example I can pull from MANY in this film, trying to illustrate just how watered-down, and MILD. Nearly pure pablum this disappointing Disneyfication is.

What a shame!

The death of one of the central characters was absolutely pivotal to the original and her death by gigantic squashing was traumatic in the original because she was the one really decent character (spoiler alert!) the Baker’s Wife, who you really cared about. The role was considered a lead and won Johanna Gleeson a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, no mean feat, in any year.

Here played by Emily Blunt, the part seems curtailed, and well, blunt-er. And certainly her death is. She sort of falls out of frame, slowly, like she was simply, well, falling. A little girl in the row where I sat said “Mommy, what’s happened to her?” In fact, the child kept voicing simply confusions all the way through the movie.

Emily Blunt’s part has been curtailed in its’ impact to feature more of her co-star Meryl Streep as the Wicked Witch. And thank goodness they have Meryl in this movie! SHE’S terrific in it. She sings and screams and cackles up a storm, and casts spells with the help of perfectly executed special effects. Her performance seems larger than life and it is! It should be. And she’ll get her 19th Oscar nomination and then lose to Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood.”

But as good as she is when she’s all made up in horror garb and face-to-give-you-nightmares, when she transforms into the beauty she once was about half-way through the film (and of course, loses all her magical powers), she plays it as a blue-and-green version of Kim Kardashian, which makes her not at all the heroine she turns into in the stage version. She’s a reality show joke. So the film loses its’ moral compass there, too.

British comedian James Corden is mis-used too as the Baker. He seems ten years too young to be Blunt’s hubby, and he just over does or over-bakes all that he has to do. He’s too much of a muchness. Whereas Blunt in what should be the leading role, is just not enough.

There are high-points, though. Main among, the surprisingly comic duet of the two Princes, Cinderella’s Prince, and Rupunzel’s Prince, wailing about “Agony” on the rocky outcroppings of a stream. Chris Pine, as the really sleazy Prince Charming, shows you just why Cinderella keeps running away from him, couldn’t be better in this scene. And Broadway’s Billy Magnusson matches him beat for bare-bresting bro beat, as they keep trying to out do, or out-complain or out-splash each other, as each claims to have the greater “Agony”, and they both end up soaking wet! Hilarious. Billy for those who don’t know was Spike in Christopher Durang’s Tony-Winning play “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.”

And then the film settles down to its’ gobbledygook of a book. And the tedium layer in this lonnnng film gets higher and higher.

Broken thankfully, by Meryl, chewing as much scenery as she can fit in her green mouth, as she knocks both “The Last Midnight” and “Children Will Listen”(the other great Sondheim song) out of the ball-park, hitting high-notes you never thought were in her register. Such a shame that she never got to do “Evita” when she was the right age for it. And MADONNA got to do the screen version! What a sad story that turned out to be!

And yes, a lot of the Sondheim score is present and accounted for, but a lot also seems to be missing, replaced by even inane-er dialogue by James Lapine, who simply should be shot at dawn for participating in the tragic abortion of a film musical.

And they think THIS is going to appeal to a family audience?!?! It’s going to give little children nightmares. Like Lilla Crawford’s performance as Little Red Riding Hood will surely do for the rest of my life. For all the wrong reasons.

Johnny Depp is great in a VERY small part of the Big Bad Wolf. In this case, I WANTED him to devour Lilla Crawford completely. But no such luck, she is saved, and alas we have to endure looking at her and listening to her sing(flat) for the rest of this overlong, un-fulfilling movie.

So the dueling, vain Princes, and Meryl’s Witch-for-the-Ages, make the unbearable bearable.On my Top Ten List, it’s not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online Film Critics Pick “Grand Budapest” Best Pic!

Fiennes 1One critics group after another this week! Tis’ the season! Now the Online Film Critics Society have named the wonderful “Grand Budapest Hotel” as Best Picture. Out of the three most awarded contenders so far “Grand Budapest…”, “Boyhood” and “Birdman” I’d pick “Grand Budapest” myself. Their Best Actor was Michael Keaton. Best Actress was the scintillating Rosamund Pike for “Gone Girl.” Supporting honors went to Edward Norton for “Birdman” and Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood.”

Complete list at http://www.hitfix.com

Broadcast Film Critics Nominations Announced

 

The Broadcast Film Critics, sometimes known as the Critics Choice Awards announced this AM and “Birdman”(13 nominations),Budapest 1 then “The Grand Budapest Hotel”(11) led the pack followed by, of course, “Boyhood”(8).

The most interesting thing is that Steve Carrell was snubbed for Best Actor for “Foxcatcher” in a field of six actors! As I prediceted BTW. And “Foxcatcher” also did not make it in to the Best Picture category in a field of ten…very big blow to its’ Oscar chances, which now seem limited to Mark Ruffalo in Supporting Actor, who did nominated.

However, Marion Cotillard DID make it into Best Actress and Tilda Swinton was in in Supporting Actress for “Snowpiercer.” Again both in a field of six.

Also left out of Best Picture was “Into the Woods” but Meryl Streep was IN in Supporting Actress. I’m seeing tonight and will give a full report back.

Also “Gone Girl” was in as was “Nightcrawler.” The Broadcast Film Critics are considered the MOST predictive of the Oscar precursors, but they’re muddying the waters a bit with their fields of six nominees in many categories where they Oscars, of course only have five

BEST PICTURE
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Unbroken
Whiplash

BEST ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton – Birdman
David Oyelowo – Selma
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Jennifer Aniston – Cake
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods
Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer

For complete list see http://www.awardsdaily.com

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