The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review: Fences (UK Cert 12A)

Originally written by August Wilson in 1983, Fences won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tonys (including Best Play) for its initial production. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis appeared in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, both winning Tonys for their performances. The two actors are reunited for this film version, with Washington pulling double duty as director too.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is a former baseball star in Pittsburgh. Whilst an exceptional player in the Negro League, Troy never made it to the Major Leagues (which he ascribes to racism). Now hauling trash for a living, he struggles to provide for his family. Rose (Davis) has asked Troy to put a fence up in the garden and Troy has co-opted youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo) to help. Cory has the opportunity for a college football scholarship, which puts him on a collision course with his father.

Washington is exceptional in the lead role of Troy. Full of bluster, regret, indignation, the role of Troy is a real challenge and Washington handles it with aplomb. Wilson's dialogue is dense. Really baroque, without being flowery (I can imagine massive blocks of text on a page). Washington handles these with ease. You might not always like Troy as a character- his treatment of Cory has as much to do with jealousy than wanting to protect his child- but it's a truly brilliant performance. 

Frankly, if Viola Davis doesn't win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Rose, then it'll be the biggest Oscar robbery since Brokeback Mountain not winning Best Picture (no, I'm still not over it). She is simply superb in every scene. A woman who is fiercely protective of her kin but no pushover, she is the force that binds the family together as it threatens to tear apart. It's a really meaty role which Davis- exceptional actress that she is- plays to the hilt. When Rose finally gets to call Troy out, Davis channels a fury and a rage that is quite literally breathtaking. The tsunami of emotion erupts and it is just superb.

When you have two towering performances in the leads, everyone else needs to up their game. And they do. Adepo is wonderful as Cory, wanting to step out from under his father's shadow and forge his own way in the world. There's a lovely turn by Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy's friend, co-worker and confidante Jim Bono and by Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy's son from a previous relationship. A musician, Lyons- like Cory- wants his father to be proud of him.

Finally, Mykelti Williamson is heartbreaking as Troy's brother Gabe. An ex-soldier, brain-damaged during World War II and now constantly under the threat of being institutionalised for causing public disturbances, Gabe's compensation money provides the roof over Troy's head. Child-like, innocent and unworldly, Gabe is now a soldier for St Peter (Judgement Day is a constant theme). There's also a touching turn by Saniyya Sidney towards the end of the film but to discuss her role would be a massive spoiler.

Wilson completed the screenplay before his death in 2005 and it is (I imagine) a very faithful adaptation of the stage play. But that is the main failing of the film: it feels like watching a live broadcast of a performance rather than a film. Confining the majority of the action to the backyard and the kitchen robs the film of scope, and also the opportunity to see other characters rather than just hear about them. We could have seen Bono's wife Lucille, or sat in on Troy's meeting with the commissioner, maybe seen Miss Pearl and Gabe in her house. It would have made the film more alive in a way.

Sometimes I will recommend a film because of its performances, not necessarily because of the film itself. If you want to see an absolute masterclass of acting, see Fences. There's not a bad performance in the bunch. In fact, this is one of the strongest ensemble casts I've seen in film for a good long while.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Monday, 20 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: Writers' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick update today as The Writers' Guild Awards were handed out yesterday (Sunday 19th February).

The film winners were:

Original Screenplay: Moonlight

Adapted Screenplay: Arrival

Documentary Screenplay: Command And Control

The Oscars have put Moonlight in the Adapted Screenplay category (as it's based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who gets a story credit with Jenkins credited for the screenplay). Under the WGA rules, because McCraney's play was unproduced, Jenkins is credited as sole screenwriter. 

Either way, the two WGA winners will go head to head in the Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars with 20th Century Women, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, The Lobster and Hell Or High Water in contention for Original Screenplay.

For anyone interested, Command And Control is a documentary about the near launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas in the 1980s. So now you know. 

And now the end is near... Awards Season comes to a head this coming weekend with the Razzies and the Independent Spirit Awards being handed out on Saturday (25th February) with the 89th Academy Awards rounding things off on Sunday (26th February). 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: BAFTA Film Awards Winners

Tonight (Sunday 12th February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 70th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted once again by the utterly luminous Stephen Fry. Viola Davis, Amy Adams, Naomie Harris, Eddie Redmayne, Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Ken Loach, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Emma Stone were among some of the stars in attendance to celebrate the best in film.

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: La La Land

Outstanding British Film: I, Daniel Blake

Leading Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Leading Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Supporting Actor: Dev Patel (Lion)

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Adapted Screenplay: Lion

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Babak Arivari (writer/director), Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh (producers of Under The Shadow)

Animated Film: Kubo And The Two Strings

Documentary: 13th

Film Not In The English Language: Son Of Saul

Cinematography: La La Land

Costume Design: Jackie

Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Make Up And Hair: Florence Foster Jenkins

Original Music: La La Land

Production Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Sound: Arrival

Special Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Short Animation: A Love Story

Short Film: Home

Rising Star: Tom Holland

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Curzon Cinemas

BAFTA Fellowship: Mel Brooks

The first award of the evening was Outstanding British Film which, unsurprisingly and deservedly, went to I, Daniel Blake. Ken Loach's acceptance speech set the tenor for the rest of the evening- many of the acceptance speeches were political in nature, either pointing out the common humanity within creative arts or criticising policies made both here and overseas. 

I was a little surprised by Emma Stone and Dev Patel winning but it's nice to see something a bit different to the usual. Hence, it was quite lovely to see Kubo And The Two Strings win Animated Film over the juggernaut that has been Zootopia

La La Land was the big winner of the evening with five BAFTAs, Lion and Manchester By The Sea each had two. Despite nine nominations, Nocturnal Animals walked away empty-handed, as did Moonlight

So next in awards season will be the Writers' Guild Awards which will be handed out next Sunday (19th February), just one week before the Oscars. There'll be a small post about it on Monday 20th, ahead of what's going to be a busy week.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Countdown: 10 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Have Appeared In Doctor Who

Few television shows are as iconic or as culturally dominant as Doctor Who. Even if you're not a fan, you know about the TARDIS, the Daleks, K9. Its influence is felt all over the world and- much like the Harry Potter franchise- it's seen as a bit of a mark of street cred to appear in it. This goes for actors just starting in their careers as well as established stars.

So, here are ten Oscar-nominated actors that have appeared in Doctor Who. They are listed in the order in which they appeared on the show.

1. Pauline Collins

Pauline Collins is not only one of a small group of Oscar nominees who have appeared in Doctor Who, but she's also one of a small group of actors who have appeared in both the classic and revived series too. She played Samantha Briggs in the Patrick Troughton story The Faceless Ones and then appeared as Queen Victoria opposite David Tennant in Tooth And Claw. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Shirley Valentine.

2. Richard Todd

Todd's Oscar nomination came in 1950 for his lead role in The Hasty Heart. It would be more than 30 years later before he would appear in Doctor Who, appearing as Sanders in the rather trippy and philosophical Peter Davison story Kinda.

3. Eric Roberts

Few roles in Doctor Who are as iconic as the Doctor's nemesis, The Master. Roberts (nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Runaway Train) took the role in the 1996 TV Movie opposite Paul McGann. He doesn't quite fit the role but seems to be having an absolute ball, especially with lines as camp as 'I always dress for the occasion'.

4. Andrew Garfield

One of this year's Best Actor nominees for his stunning turn in Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield appeared as Frank in the 2007 two-part story Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks.

5. Carey Mulligan

The 2007 episode Blink (which introduces the Weeping Angels) is widely thought of as one of the best episodes of the revived series. That's in no short measure to the brilliant performance by Carey Mulligan as substitute companion Sally Sparrow. Mulligan would go on to be nominated for Best Actress for her role in An Education.

6. Felicity Jones

Eight years before her Best Actress nomination for playing Jane Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, Felicity appeared as socialite-with-a-secret Robina Redmond in the very fun Agatha Christie inspired episode The Unicorn And The Wasp.

7. Sophie Okonedo

Sophie Okonedo was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda. She played kick-ass future monarch Liz Ten in The Beast Below (Matt Smith's second story as the Doctor). Whilst it's not very good, Okonedo is excellent. She reprises her role in a later episode, The Pandorica Opens.

8. Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunton was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Vera Drake in 2005 (the same year as Sophie Okonedo). In 2011, she appeared as the Voice of the Interface in the Matt Smith story The Girl Who Waited. Her soothing tones help companion Amy Pond survive alone on an alien planet.

9. Ian McKellen

Acting legend Sir Ian McKellen has been nominated for two Oscars: Best Actor for playing film director James Whale in Gods And Monsters and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. In 2012, he provided the Voice of the Great Intelligence in the Christmas special The Snowmen.

10. John Hurt

The late, great John Hurt was nominated for two Oscars- for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Midnight Express and Best Actor for The Elephant Man. In 2013, he appeared as The War Doctor, a previously hidden incarnation of the Time Lord, for the 50th anniversary story The Day Of The Doctor and went on to reprise his role for audio dramas for Big Finish.

BONUS: Peter Capaldi

The incumbent Time Lord- who will sadly be leaving the series at the end of this year- is not only an Oscar nominee but an Oscar winner! In 1995, Peter won the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar for writing and directing Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life. Here he is, with his award:

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: Loving (UK Cert 12A)

It's a surprising (and sobering) fact that interracial marriage has only been legal in the US for fifty years, following the Supreme Court's 1967 ruling in the case of Loving v Virginia, brought by an interracial couple- Richard and Mildred Loving- against their home state. Now, the story of the Lovings' marriage and their legal fight have been turned into a film, directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special).

Despite dealing with heavy themes and a very emotive subject, the film is gentle, thoughtful, restrained. There's barely a raised voice throughout. 

The lion's share of the praise for the film has come for the dignified performance of Ruth Negga as Mildred, whose lead performance gained the film's only Oscar nomination. There are times when she's fragile and times when she's forthright. There are no showy look-at-me histrionics, it's a very low-key and natural performance which is absolutely magnetic. Negga has a very expressive face and there are times when she doesn't say a word but you can see the emotions play across her face. This is a star-making role for an incredibly gifted actress. 

It is a shame that Joel Edgerton hasn't been praised more but his performance as Richard is just as strong as Negga's. Richard is a man of few words, a laconic, taciturn presence, but utterly devoted to his wife and children. In one of the most powerful moments, when the ACLU lawyer asks Richard if he has anything he wants the lawyer to tell the court, the response is simple: 'tell them I love my wife'.

As you may not be surprised to learn, because the focus is so much on the main couple, the other characters are not fleshed out as much. However, there's good support from Marton Csokas as the utterly deplorable police chief who arrests Richard and Mildred, Bill Camp as a sympathetic small-town lawyer who attempts to help them, and frequent Nicholls collaborator Michael Shannon in a nice cameo as Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet who helped to bring the Lovings' case to the public eye.

The film plays out against the civil rights marches and protests of the 1960s and the period detail, from the music to the cars, is spot-on and really helps to evoke the age. It's a quiet, well-made biopic about an important piece of American history.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Review: Hidden Figures (UK Cert PG)

Telling the previously untold stories of three black women who worked for NASA in the 1960s, Hidden Figures (directed by Theodore Melfi) is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

It was the surprise winner of the top prize- Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture- at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards 2017 but, having seen the film, it's an accolade that's truly deserved as every member of the ensemble is pitch perfect.

It's been a stellar year for impressive female lead roles but Taraji P. Henson is unlucky not to be recognised for her role as Katherine Goble (later Johnson), the mathematician who helps plan the trajectory for John Glenn's Friendship 7 launch. It's a powerful and strong central performance. Katherine is a multi-faceted character- a widow, a mother, a brilliant mathematician, a black woman in a white world with all the attendant prejudices (having to use the coloured bathrooms in a different building, being given her own coffee pot rather than being allowed to use the communal one). She gets one particularly powerful moment when- drenched in a rainshower from coming back from the bathroom- she lays into her boss about her current circumstances when he questions her about where she goes.

Octavia Spencer is strong as Katherine's friend Dorothy Vaughan. Denied a supervisor's position (despite doing the work), Dorothy catches wind that NASA have bought an IBM computer to replace the work done by the manual computing team. Teaching herself FORTRAN and actually getting the IBM to work, she begins to find a new use for herself. Spencer gets some good scenes against Kirsten Dunst, who plays supervisor Vivien Mitchell, including one where she gets to call out Mitchell's implied or unconscious racism (which elicited a big laugh from the audience)

Janelle Monae is the third 'hidden figure', Mary Jackson, who wants to be an engineer. Mary fights through the courts to be allowed to study at a segregated night school in order to get the qualifications she needs to become an engineer. She's the most forthright and outspoken of the three, but it's a really nicely rounded performance. The rapport and chemistry between the three leads is really quite lovely and very believable which lends an authenticity to their scenes.

Other performances are similarly great. Kevin Costner plays Al Harrison, head of NASA's Space Task Group. A stern but fair boss, determined to get to the stars, he comes round to respecting Katherine, letting her in to briefings and giving her clearance needed, much to the chagrin of head engineer Paul Stafford (The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons in a role which allows him to be more than just a Sheldon clone). There's a nice turn by Mahershala Ali as Colonel Jim Johnson, a soldier who falls in love with Katherine despite them not getting off on the right foot. Glen Powell is also good as astronaut John Glenn.

Much like Loving, the evocation of the 1960s setting is exacting- the nascent civil rights movement and the spectre of the Cold War being the most prevalent ones. A scene where Dorothy and her sons are manhandled out of a library for being in the whites-only section and Mary's husband watching a news report of a bus being bombed give weight to the era. There's a good use of archive/cine-footage from the time throughout too.

This is a fascinating film, shedding light on stories that aren't well known. It's got humour, drama, pathos. It's uplifting and a great way to spend a few hours.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Hidden Figures is on general release in the UK from 17th February 2017

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: Directors' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick awards season update as the Directors' Guild Awards (DGAs) were handed out yesterday (Saturday 4th February). The film winners are:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director: Garth Davis (Lion)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries: Steven Zaillian (The Night Of: The Beach)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made In America)

I have to say, it's no surprise to see Damien Chazelle win. La La Land is a technically impressive piece of film-making and he truly deserves this award. I feel certain he'll win the Best Director Oscar as well (the DGA awards are usually a good bellwether). O.J.: Made In America is also nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar (clocking in at an impressive 7hrs 47mins, to date the longest film to be nominated for any competitive Oscar), so that bodes well for that. 

The next award season update will be next Sunday (12th February) when the BAFTA Film Awards will be handed out.