The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 30 January 2015

Review: Ex Machina (UK Cert: 15)


There’s a chance that Ex Machina could have passed me by – another science fiction film about artificial intelligence. What made me near enough hurl myself into the cinema seat was when I saw the film’s poster, which said, “Written and directed by Alex Garland.” If you’ve never heard of Garland, he’s an author and screenwriter, responsible for – in my opinion – one of the best films to ever come out of the UK, 28 Days Later, as well as writing screenplays for Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd. To say Garland is talented is like saying the Arctic is a bit nippy.

The very best science fiction should make you think; not just about your life, but what it means to be alive. That’s not a rule written in stone, but it’s how I separate decent, watchable sci-fi from classic science fiction. Garland’s directorial debut falls into the latter.

Ex Machina will get you thinking, but its complexity has a sting in its tail. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan creates Ava’s (Alicia Vikander) mind, her thoughts, her interactions using popular results from Internet search engines, as well as hacking into the cameras and microphones of every phone on the planet. There are warning signs going off right there! When security agencies such as GCHQ are making the headlines, tracking our Google searches and social media interaction, you have to wonder how much of a personal profile are they building of you when you go online? Also, is a person ever really themselves when they talk down the phone to someone or have a conversation via Skype? This is only a couple of the many questions that Garland fires at you during Ex Machina’s hundred-odd minutes.

Garland’s scriptwriting tends to be claustrophobic, with only a small cast, and his latest work does not buck this trend. You have three characters here: Isaac’s egotistical, playing God, computer genius; Domhnall Gleeson’s shy, careful not to offend, gentle coder, Caleb; and Vikander’s machine, unnervingly swapping from compassionate to aloof with no warning, suggesting there is much more going on behind those eyes. For most of Ex Machina, you have mind games and paranoia going on between the three of them, wondering what the other person knows, all keeping closely guarded secrets. From the first time you meet Nathan you know he’s playing a game with Caleb, you’re just trying to work out what he’s up to. Ava, for the most part, is caring and innocent, a damsel needed rescuing from a glass box instead of a tower, until she turns the tables on Caleb, interrogating him, firing question after question like a computer might do in an online exam. You quickly realise Ava is not as childlike as she seems. Caught in the middle of it all is Gleeson’s Caleb. He’s attracted to Ava the second he meets her – Double Negative’s CGI is subtle and gorgeous to look at, Vikander’s torso a collection of tangled gold wiring encased in gel, her brain visible from the back of her head, giving a gentle blue glow, while Vikander herself is striking in an angelic, otherworldly sense – refusing to listen to Nathan’s warnings that Ava has the ability to flirt and seduce, instead trying to help her escape when she tells him Nathan is not to be trusted.

While Ex Machina is playing the three characters off against each other, it is tense, uncomfortable and wickedly clever. It’s not spoiling anything by saying that the last twenty minutes is standard monster-on-the-loose science fiction (the trailer gives this away) which, while entertaining, is nowhere near as satisfying. Alex Garland doesn’t ruin things, you just wish the whole film was never-saw-that-coming inventive and constantly had you thinking. This is a tiny flaw that can easily be forgiven. Ex Machina is old-school science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov’s novels; it’s seductive, sinister, and thought-provoking, as well as being surprisingly feminist. Plus, any film that can throw in some spontaneous disco dancing to Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night gets huge thumbs up from me.

5 out of 5

Matt

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Watchers Film Show Blog Is 3 Today!


The Watchers Film Show Blog is 3 today!
(and at least we're celebrating on the right day this year, unlike last year!)

We have had over 43,000 pageviews in the 3 years we've been running which- for an idle enterprise started between two mates for a bit of fun- is pretty good going.

We've had pageviews from all around the world: the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Ukraine, China, Canada, Turkey and Australia, as well as the Czech Republic, Thailand and Taiwan!

Our most popular posts continue to be Rhys' excellent Star Wars rewatch posts on the original trilogy (over 3500 views) and the prequels (over 1800 views), with Tez's retro reviews of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, Masters Of The Universe and Alien next in line. 

A massive, huge thank you to everyone who has supported the blog over the last three years- we're really immensely grateful to everyone who's read, watched or listened to what we do. 

Thanks again,

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt and Tez)




Monday, 26 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Producers' Guild Awards and SAG Awards Results


Well, after a brief respite, Awards Season rears its head for a brief moment as two important Guild Awards were handed out over this last weekend.

PRODUCERS' GUILD AWARDS 


The Producers' Guild Awards were handed out on 24th January. The film winners were:

Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures: Birdman

Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures: The Lego Movie

Documentary Film: Life Itself

The fact that Birdman got the PGA over Boyhood has been seen as a sign that the tide is starting to shift away from Linklater's epic. Of course, there are no guarantees- but a win at the PGA is a pretty good indication of Oscar success (if you're nominated, unlike The Lego Movie and Life Itself).


SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS

The Screen Actors' Guild Awards were announced on 25th January. The film winners were:


Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: 
Birdman

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: 
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: 
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: 
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: 
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

No surprises with Moore, Simmons and Arquette adding to their impressive haul of silverware, but a win for Eddie Redmayne in the awards voted for by actors (many of whom are also Academy members) puts him ahead in the Best Actor race (with Michael Keaton probably the second-placed runner). Birdman's win for Best Cast (essentially the SAG's Best Picture) adds to the speculation that it might be a triumph for Birdman come late February.

Up next in awards season is the Directors' Guild Award on 7th February and the BAFTA Film Awards on 8th February.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review: American Sniper (UK Cert 15)


SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.  

American Sniper is a difficult film to talk about, mostly because it deals with an emotive subject (the war in Iraq and America's part in it) and also because it is based on a true story. Any criticism of the film feels like a criticism of the person and that isn't exactly fair on those left behind. 

As much as it is possible, I am going to limit myself to talking about the film as a film- as a fictionalised account of Chris Kyle's life and work- and try and stay out of the bigger picture or wider context of the war, the military and even what Kyle was like as a real person (or what the book he wrote, which the screenplay is based on, says). This might be a bit of a cop-out but it's probably safer. For an interesting look on the historical accuracy (or otherwise) of the film, this is a good article to start with.

Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was raised by a devoutly religious family, initially becoming a cowboy and then signed up to the US Navy SEALS and acted as a sniper in Iraq, completing four tours of duty. He is credited with over 160 confirmed kills although the figure may be much higher. He married and had children and, once he left the Army, he helped injured soldiers in rehabilitation. He was shot and killed in 2013 at a shooting range in Texas by a young army veteran he was trying to help, who was suffering from PTSD.

First things first: there is a lot I didn't like about American Sniper.

Mostly, the bellicose, jingoistic, America-f*ck-yeah, hoo-rah attitude espoused by Kyle. Things were black and white: America is the greatest country in the world and anyone threatening it needs to be put down with extreme prejudice. The world operates in shades of grey, sadly, so this tunnel-visioned narrowmindedness is utterly alienating- not to mention wearying in the extreme. There's no discussion, nothing wavering from that message. They're evil, they're savages, they deserve to die. That's that. Done. I understand that some people see the world thus and that's how they operate- and no doubt for soldiers, they have to see the world in such terms in order to do the things they sometimes have to do- but, as a narrative, it's not something I can get behind.

A secondary issue is the (over)use of war movie cliches that infect the plot. A colleague talking about marriage once he gets home? Dead or injured at least. A shadowy doppelganger of the lead character, doing the same thing but on the other side? Present. That said, Eastwood has an eye for detail and does create some tense moments (such as the section of the film shown in the trailer where Kyle must decide on taking down a child armed with a missile). But after that, it does go down hill and occasionally felt like watching someone play a first-person-shooter.  

Cooper's performance is decent. Kyle is a man of few words, a lot goes on behind his eyes and the subtle hints (underplayed) that he may be suffering from PTSD work well without any histrionics. Kyle appeared to be a man unrepentant about his work- claiming that he would meet his Maker with a clean conscience- and that's a difficult sell without coming across as a psychopath, but the film just about does it. The rest of Kyle's platoon are sadly unremarkable cannon-fodder and those characters are not fleshed out at all. 

The best performance of the film comes from Sienna Miller who plays Kyle's wife, Taya. Her uncertainty at getting into a relationship with a SEAL is played well and she and Cooper have a real potent chemistry together. She is the emotional anchor of the film and absolutely sells it without going over the top. At times you feel like screaming at her 'why don't you just leave him?' but Miller's performance brings across the deep love that Taya has for her husband, which makes the end of the story even more devastating.

Kyle's time away from the forces and his work with rehabilitation is perhaps more interesting than a lot of the previous stuff, but it gets glossed over with a shortish 20-minute coda, with a presentation of the fateful day that Kyle was killed. The action takes place off-screen, with a succinct one-line text to sum it up. The mid-credits then show real-life footage from Kyle's memorial service and the end credits then roll in total silence to let you absorb the tragedy. It's undeniably powerful but utterly manipulative at the same time.

As a film, American Sniper is not without its issues. You either have to get behind the black-and-white view of the world its main character has, or be able to see past it, to engage. It's probably one of the stronger films that has been made about the war in Iraq but it's still not the Iraq war equivalent to, say, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review: Whiplash (UK Cert: 15)


I’m addicted to music, but you won’t find a traditional jazz album in my collection. I can’t fault the musicians, some of whom are the most talented artists ever seen (Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis), but I like my music to have a discernible melody, something I can sing or hum along to. Call me a music fascist, but the way I see jazz, the band is having a lot more fun than the audience. So a film that is pitched as a “jazz thriller” didn’t have me rushing to hand over my money at the cinema. The only reason I gave Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash a go is because of all the five-out-of-five reviews its been getting, and that it stars the mind –bogglingly underrated J.K. Simmons.

One of Whiplash’s many strengths is that there is no straightforward hero or villain here, Miles Teller’s college student Andrew and Simmons’ music teacher Fletcher are far more complicated than that. Andrew wants to be one of the greatest drummers of all time. He’s cocky and callous sometimes, putting his dream first and rarely stopping to think about his family or girlfriend, but the thought of dying without being remembered in the history books terrifies him. All of the legendary sport and music stars have that self-belief bordering on arrogance which puts them at the top of their game, practicing non-stop for hours, and Andrew is no exception. Cinematographer Sharone Meir near enough shoves the camera in Teller’s face as we watch him obsessing over a piece’s percussion, blood and sweat staining his drum kit, or his reaction when Fletcher repeatedly tells him his timing is off. Andrew is far from a cuddly, instantly identifiable protagonist, but you are willing him to succeed, to make it, to the point where you will most likely be nervously fidgeting in your seat.

J.K. Simmons has, for most of his career, had to put up with bit parts, making the most of his limited time on screen (Juno, Spider-Man). It’s taken a while but Simmons has, at long last, been given a role that shows off how talented an actor he is (Chazelle also wrote the script). Fletcher is both mentor and adversary, literally pushing Andrew to breaking point because he wants to unlock the talent this young man has. Music is Fletcher’s passion, but he puts that passion across through profanity-fuelled rages, throwing instruments at unsuspecting band members who don’t make the grade. Simmons manages to make Fletcher cruel and intimidating one minute, then laugh-out-loud funny the next, a tricky balancing act that most actors would struggle to make convincing.

Whiplash is filmed as if virtually every scene is from a momentous live gig, the editing a frenzied pace as we go back-and-forth, back-and-forth between Fletcher and Teller. The film is littered with close ups of Teller on his drum kit, sweat pouring down his face, hands stained with blood; you feel Teller’s struggle, the agony he’s going through just to get a nod or a smile off of Fletcher. Chazelle knows his music, he knows the composition of the film’s title song, written by Hank Levy, inside-and-out, showing off the musicians, whether it’s bassist, pianist or the horn section with perfectly timed shots that zoom in or swiftly pan across the band. Guaranteed, this is some of the best editing you will see in 2015.

Sadly, Whiplash isn’t quite perfect; there are fifteen/twenty minutes where the film lulls. Andrew is on his knees, his dream of being the next Buddy Rich looking like it will never happen. Yet Whiplash near enough follows the rules and traditions of the sports film, except you have a band instead of a team, a rehearsal space instead of a ring. We know that Andrew is going to get another chance, so why does Chazelle’s script take so long to get to this? There’s an impressive scene where Fletcher and Teller sit down and explain the reasons behind their actions, but you still feel like the film wobbles, that it loses that ferocious pace. As Fletcher repeatedly barks throughout Whiplash, “Not my tempo!”

Aside from a quarter-of-an-hour where the film oddly shifts down a gear, Whiplash is one hell of an experience.  It’s emotional, has plenty of questions (for instance, are Fletcher’s methods of teaching barbaric or inspiring?), and, for most of its running time, fires along at a slick, white knuckle pace. Simmons and Teller have one of the most complex onscreen relationships of recent years; it’s primal, whilst also managing to be subtle. With awards season, where studios cynically churn out films that tick all the boxes to ensure an Oscar or a Golden Globe, Damien Chazelle’s debut is unlike anything you will see in cinemas this year. It doesn’t matter how you feel about jazz music, you need to give Whiplash a go.

4 out of 5

Matt

Friday, 16 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Critics' Choice Awards


Aside from the announcement of the Oscar nominations yesterday, there was another awards ceremony to contend with. The Critics' Choice Awards were given out. Below are a list of selected film winners:

Best Picture: Boyhood

Best Actor: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Acting Ensemble: Birdman

Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie

Best Original Screenplay: Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl

A full list of winners can be found here

The Critics Choice Awards also have categories for action movies, sci-fi/horror (which are inexplicably lumped together) and comedies, so Michael Keaton walked away with two trophies last night as he was named both Best Actor and Best Actor In A Comedy. 

Wins for Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette do no harm to their Oscar chances at all, whilst wins for Boyhood and Richard Linklater do likewise. Whilst it's far from sewn up, at least there's an indication on which way the wind is blowing.

After a busy week, the Awards Season mercifully takes a break until next weekend, with the announcement of the Producers' Guild Awards on 24th January and then the Screen Actors' Guild Awards on 25th January.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Academy Award Nominations


As announced earlier today, here is a selection of the nominations for this year's Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory Of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

BEST ACTRESS
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
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

I got 27 out of 33 (which I make as 82%) which is the same as last year. Not too bad.

Meryl Streep gains her nineteenth nomination for Into The Woods. There's a lot of love for American Sniper, and both Morten Tyldum's and Bennett Miller's nod for Best Director are interesting to see. The Lego Movie misses out on a Best Animated Feature nod but does get a nomination for Best Original Song ('Everything Is Awesome!') whilst one of Studio Ghibli's last films The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya does get a nomination.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days Of Future Past get nominated for Best Visual Effects along with Guardians Of The Galaxy and Interstellar.

The 87th Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday February 22nd in a ceremony hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. 

Congratulations to all nominees!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Tez's Official Academy Award Nomination Predictions


Tomorrow, the nominations for the the 87th Academy Awards will be announced. But they're doing things a little differently this year.

At 5.30am PST, directors J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron (last year's Best Director winner) will take to the stage and announce the first twelve categories, which will be mostly technical (Best Sound Design, Best Visual Effects and such). Then at 5.38am PST, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and Chris Pine (Star Trek, Into The Woods) will announce the other twelve categories (which will include Best Picture and the acting awards). It is the first time that all 24 categories will reveal their nominations in the broadcast- usually it's just the major awards with the technical awards being announced by a press release shortly afterwards.

As has been my practice for the last few years, I like to try and predict who will be nominated (this is done for Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting awards). Below is my list of who I think will be named on Thursday.

NB. Just like the last few years, the Academy rules state that there could be anywhere between five and ten Best Picture nominees. I have selected ten films. If the total number of films nominated is less than ten, but one of the movies selected is named in my list of ten, I will count it as a successful prediction.

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

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

BEST ACTRESS
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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)

American Sniper could well sneak in a Best Picture nomination (with Selma looking to be the most likely replacement if it does). Best Director has been a bit of a crapshoot, given the DGA's announcement yesterday; I've still included Ava DuVernay but it's open.

Best Actor could see Steve Carell bumped in favour of David Oyelowo or possibly Ralph Fiennes. It could well be that Academy voters see Carell's performance as more of a supporting role and place him accordingly. The Academy do have previous on this; the year that Kate Winslet won, in every other awards ceremony, she'd been a Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Reader. The Academy bumped her to Best Actress. If Carell does get placed in Supporting Actor, the most likely casualty will be Robert Duvall. 

Best Actress seems fairly settled, although a surprise nomination for Amy Adams (Big Eyes) or Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) in place of Jennifer Aniston could happen. Similarly, whilst the Supporting Actress category is pretty fixed, Carmen Ejogo (Selma) or even Rene Russo (Nghtcrawler) could get named. 

Usually a score of 15 is adequate, but given the fact that there could be anywhere between 5 and 10 Best Picture awards, I'ill be happy with a prediction of 18 or higher. Last year, I got 28 out of 34. I'm not that confident this year.

I'll add the official nominations once they're announced on Thursday afternoon.

Tez

Awards Season 2015: Razzies Nominations


For every ying, there is a yang. For every night, there is a day. For every self-important self-congratulatory awards ceremony, there is... the Razzie Awards. Dishonouring the very worst of cinema in 2014 (and, by God, there was a lot of it), the nominations for the 35th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards were announced today. 

Here are the full nominations:

WORST PICTURE
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
The Legend Of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

WORST DIRECTOR
Michael Bay (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Darren Doane (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Renny Harlin (The Legend Of Hercules)
Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

WORST ACTOR
Kirk Cameron (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Nicolas Cage (Left Behind)
Kellan Lutz (The Legend Of Hercules)
Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways To Die In The West)
Adam Sandler (Blended)

WORST ACTRESS
Drew Barrymore (Blended)
Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman, Sex Tape)
Melissa McCarthy (Tammy)
Charlize Theron (A Million Ways To Die In The West)
Gaia Weiss (The Legend Of Hercules)

WORST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mel Gibson (Expendables 3)
Kelsey Grammer (Expendables 3, Legends Of Oz, Think Like A Man Too, Transformers 4)
Shaquille O'Neal (Blended)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Expendables 3)
Kiefer Sutherland (Pompeii)

WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cameron Diaz (Annie)
Megan Fox (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Nicole Peltz (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Susan Sarandon (Tammy)
Brigitte Ridenour nee Cameron (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)

WORST REMAKE, SEQUEL OR RIP-OFF
Annie
Atlas Shrugged #3: Who Is John Galt?
The Legend Of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

WORST SCREEN COMBO
Any Two Robots, Actors (or Robotic Actors) (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Kirk Cameron & His Ego (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Cameron Diaz & Jason Segel (Sex Tape)
Kellan Lutz & Either His Abs, His Pecs or His Glutes (The Legend Of Hercules)
Seth MacFarlane & Charlize Theron (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

WORST SCREENPLAY
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
Sex Tape
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

It's good to see Transformers: Age Of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting so richly rewarded for their utter excrescence. I do feel a bit bad for Charlize Theron, as I thought her performance was probably the best thing about A Million Ways To Die In The West. Also, fun fact, at the time of writing, Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas is officially the worst-rated movie on IMDb (at the very bottom of the Bottom 100). 

For 2014, there is a new Award. The Redeemer Award is for the artist whose cinematic accomplishment in 2014 has redeemed their nomination or win on a previous Razzie Awards. The inaugural nominees are: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Mike Myers, Keanu Reeves, and Kristen Stewart. This one is a public vote and you can vote here

Next up, I will finally make my mind up (damn you, DGA) and put up my official Oscar Nomination Predictions.


Tez

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Guild Awards Nominations


When I report on Awards Season, I don't tend to mention the Guild Awards (or, if I do, it'll only be to mention the winners). Because the Guild Awards tend to be voted on by members of the Academy, it's a good barometer of the way the Oscar nominations may go. This year's Guild nominations have thrown up some interesting things so I thought I'd go through them. 

PRODUCERS' GUILD AWARDS NOMINATIONS


The nominations were announced on 5th January, and will be awarded on 24th January.

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
The Theory Of Everything
Whiplash

Selma's lack of nomination was a bit of a surprise, as was the inclusion of American Sniper. It's the first real serious shot the film has had during awards season, so it could sneak in for a Best Picture nod. That aside, the usual suspects are in attendance and I fully expect to see at least 9 of these names on Thursday.


WRITERS' GUILD AWARDS NOMINATIONS


The nominations were announced on 7th January, and will be awarded on 14th February.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler
Whiplash

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper
Gone Girl
Guardians Of The Galaxy
The Imitation Game
Wild

I don't tend to focus on the screenplay Oscars, but- as a writer and a film fan- I do have an interest in what's been nominated. Whiplash has had a bit of controversy over where to put the script (the full-length film was originally based on a short directed by Damian Chazelle and expanded from that short) but the WGA have declared it original. The main reason I want to bring it up is Guardians Of The Galaxy getting recognised in the Adapted Screenplay category. It makes me happy.


DIRECTOR'S GUILD AWARD NOMINATIONS


The nominations were announced on 13th January, and will be awarded on 7th February.

FEATURE FILM NOMINEES

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Right... now this is where things get interesting. Anderson, Inarritu and Linklater have been fixtures on the Best Director lists from the start so their nominations are no surprise. However, this is the first mention for both Eastwood and Tyldum in this awards season, over others such as Ava DuVernay (Selma) and David Fincher (Gone Girl).  I think it means the Best Director nominations are far from locked and Thursday might see some curveballs.


Tomorrow (Wednesday 14th) will see the nominations for the Razzie Awards and I will get off the fence and come up with my official Oscar nomination predictions.

Tez

Review: Into The Woods (UK Cert PG)


Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy-tale mash-up Into The Woods was first produced in 1986 and a movie version has been on the table since the early 1990s. But it's director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) that has brought this musical masterpiece to the big screen.

A vengeful witch has put a curse of childlessness upon a Baker and his Wife. To lift the spell, he must find four fairytale artefacts- the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold- and bring them back in three days' time. Meanwhile, Cinderella wants to go to the ball, Jack has to sell the family cow, and a little girl in a red cape must bring bread to Grandmother's house. All of them must go into the woods... But who will live happily ever after?

Because it has a PG rating in the UK, and is a Disney film, the trailers before the film were all for animated kids' movies. Make no mistake, this isn't a happy-go-lucky, fluffy, kid-friendly musical. It's very dark in places- death, infidelity and darkness abound, especially in the second half of the film- and the adult themes of some of the musical numbers might not be too appropriate for younger children. That said, there's a lot of fun to be had here.

Meryl Streep plays The Witch and is the main focus of most of the advertising (despite the character being very much a supporting one in the grand scheme of things). This is the first time Meryl Streep has ever played a witch, and you can see she's having an absolute ball. It's a high camp performance but she absolutely sells it, especially in the Witch's final song, a triumphant screw-you entitled 'Last Midnight' where she leaves an emperilled band of characters to their bickering. An absolutely delightful performance.

Anna Kendrick (who has proven her vocal talents in Camp and Pitch Perfect) makes for a great Cinderella, yearning for a different life then finding out it's not quite what she had planned. Emily Blunt is great as the Baker's Wife, providing an emotional anchor for most of the film. James Corden is a bit wooden on times as the Baker and sometimes struggles to sell the performance but it's decent enough.Chris Pine channels his inner Shatner to play Cinderella's Prince and has a nice tongue-in-cheek duet with Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen) called 'Agony' about his love for the mysterious stranger at the ball. However, a man raised to be 'charming, not sincere' can be trouble and his wandering eye soon causes issues.

Finally, Johnny Depp vamps it up as The Wolf, channelling the 1940s Tex Avery cartoons. This is where I run into a problem. The Wolf attempts to waylay Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, who starts off as a little annoying but mellows as the film progresses) and there are some, frankly, rather pervy comments in his song 'Hello, Little Girl' (especially one about 'scrumptious carnality'). They've cast a 13-year-old girl as Red so the whole thing feels a little bit wrong. Depp earns his 'and' credit, in the film for barely five minutes.  

The film looks sumptuous, so praise should go to cinematographer Dion Beebe, as well as the costume, make-up and production design teams. As an adaptation of the musical, it's quite faithful although several of the musical numbers have been excised, a few roles have been changed (the notable one is the omission of the Narrator, whose role is filled by Corden) and a few of the outcomes have been altered- and some of the deaths made more palatable. The rougher edges have been taken off, but the central message is still there - fairytales are not always nicey-nicey stories, they're often cautionary tales about behaving badly or contrary to societal norms.  They're also quite barbaric (hinted at in the fate of Cinderella's Ugly Sisters who suffer the same fate as the original story). 

On the whole, a few moments of weirdness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Into The Woods. Sondheim fans will no doubt have an opinion on the veracity of the adaptation, but it's worth seeing for the stellar performances of Streep, Kendrick and Blunt and a couple of damn good musical numbers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tez

Monday, 12 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Golden Globes Winners


Last night, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) announced the winners of this year's Golden Globe Awards, for both television and film, in a ceremony hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for the third- and sadly final- time.

Here is the full list of film winners.

Best Motion Picture (Drama): Boyhood

Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy): The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Actor (Drama): Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Best Actor (Comedy or Musical): Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Actress (Drama): Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Actress (Comedy or Musical): Amy Adams (Big Eyes)

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Screenplay: Birdman

Best Original Score: The Theory Of Everything

Best Original Song: 'Glory' (Selma)

Best Foreign Language Film: Leviathan

Best Animated Feature Film: How To Train Your Dragon 2

Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award: George Clooney

I honestly don't know what they were thinking, giving Animated Feature to How To Train Your Dragon 2. I mean, it was a good film (and a decent sequel) but The Lego Movie is clearly a superior film. Birdman was widely tipped to get Best Musical or Comedy, so The Grand Budapest Hotel's win has been a bit of a surprise. Amy Adams gets a rare back-to-back Golden Globe win (having won the same award last year for her performance in American Hustle). The Best Actor (Drama) category was a tough one so it's a real hats off to Eddie Redmayne for his win. 

Awards Season Week rumbles on as there's going to be a short piece tomorrow about the various Guild Award nominations and what they might mean for Thursday's Oscars announcements.

Tez

Review: TAK3N



The Taken (now a) Trilogy, has had its ups and downs – the first film a modern action classic with tones of Death Wish and a dash of Commando. You had epic strong, gut wrenching action thriller with at its core a fathers love – a father who happens to be Bryan Mills, a ex CIA black ops agent! Handy !

The first film was a sleeper hit – that ignited what was missing from modern action – a believable hero, a plot and jeopardy.

The follow up, Taken 2 was a straight forward sequel – with some week plot ideas but all in all an enjoyable romp of a sequel – which at its core was a revenge film. Those Mills killed to get his daughter back – well there family come for blood.

Now we come to the tough job of making a third film – when realistic the second film – felt like a part 2 of a two part story, if film one was taken action, film two was the consequences of those actions Mills took. So where does the Taken story go from there ?
Well thankfully – no one is taken, and Mills doesn't have to get them back or its not tied directly to the events of the first film. Taken 3 is only linked to the other films by the characters and the name itself. Which is great start.

The film is unlike the other two set completely in Los Angeles – given this third film a fresh feel visually as the others were set in Paris and Budapest. Not a spoiler the plot revolves around Mills framed for the murder of his Ex wife once again played by Famke Janssen. This is a Taken meets the fugitive story. Not very original but if you enjoyed the original Taken you will go along with the ride.

Neeson is good in the role now owned by him, cold, professional warrior and the front folds when he's with his daughter and the grieve shines through. Forrest Whitaker here in a supporting role as the Police Inspector who is after him – he gives a quirky character that could of early just played straight. Also its great to have in this third instalment – Mills' old Ex CIA friends helping him as a team.

The good – strong performances by Neeson, Whittaker's quirky police officer, Maggie Grace as long suffering Daughter! The premise serves well as a final chapter – please be a final chapter!

The bad – the sound mix is terrible – I only hope this gets sorted in time for home release. The 12a rating – again, tired of cutting away from action and having to deal with a watered down follow up to a Cert 18 original film! The villains of this film are card board cut outs and the recasting of the step father Stuart from original actor in Taken Xander Berkeley to the miss-casting of Dougray Scott! Who yes is a good actor but here he's a plate of smoked ham!

All in all enjoyable action film – does what it says on the tin. Taken 3 – don't expect the glory of the original – expect the same level as part 2. This is what it is – another adventure with Mills a great action character and Liam Neeson doing a sterling job. It isn't as bad as the press are slating it, it is fun and gives us a final curtain bow to a great character and a trilogy to enjoy. But lets leave this alone now.

Rhys 3 out of 5

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Review: Foxcatcher (UK Cert 15)


Wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his older brother David (Mark Ruffalo) both won gold medals at the 1984 Olympics. In 1987, Mark is invited to the home of millionaire philanthropist John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), who wants Mark and David to join his private wrestling team with a view to training for the world championships and even the 1988 Olympics. Mark agrees, but David refuses as he doesn't wish to uproot his wife and young family. Mark's decision to go underneath du Pont's wing have far-reaching and ultimately tragic repercussions for the Schultz family.

Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has created a thoughful, absorbing, quiet character drama with a trio of strong central performances. 

Steve Carell's performance as du Pont is little short of breathtaking. It's a very unshowy, understated performance, unlike anything I've seen him give before. du Pont is a loner, an eccentric, a man in desperate desire for validation, he wants respect and wants to be liked. He has the money to do what he pleases and thinks people can just be bought. You can't help but sympathise with him initially, before the obsessional nature comes out. I don't necessarily buy into the homoerotic angle some reviewers have seen in the relationship between du Pont and Mark- I see it more as that between master and servant (or, more accurately, owner and property). Whilst Carell is undoubtedly a brilliant comic actor, Foxcatcher proves he's got some real dramatic acting chops too. 

Channing Tatum gives a decent performance as Mark. Physically imposing but also emotionally damaged, he finds a father figure in du Pont which causes some tension and estrangement with his brother (who was de facto father). You don't often get to see what's going on behind Mark's eyes, there's little development or exposition which is something of an issue. Mark Ruffalo is great as David, a caring and kind family man, always on the look-out for his little brother and there throughout it all, despite some less-than-brotherly behaviour from Mark. This is a performance without a shred of ego to it and he's rightfully garnered a lot of awards praise for it. 

Outside of the central trio, there are two other performances of note. Sienna Miller was unrecognisable in her role as David's wife Nancy, to the point where I only recognised her from her name in the end credits. She didn't have much to do but was a great foil to Ruffalo. Similarly, Vanessa Redgrave- a woman who could beguile by reading the phone book- has a great cameo as du Pont's domineering and disapproving mother Jean. She only has a handful of scenes, but the pivotal one where she calls wrestling 'low' is an absolute highlight. 

The real Mark Schultz went on a Twitter rant slamming certain aspects of the film recently. This is based on a true story. The operative word there being 'based'. It's not a documentary. Certain things have been changed to fulfil a dramatic need. What you do have is a strong, well-made film telling a gripping story and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Friday, 9 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: BAFTA Film Awards Nominations


Today (Friday 9th January) saw the nominations for this year's BAFTA Film Awards. Below is a selection of the nominations:

BEST FILM
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory Of Everything

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
'71
The Imitation Game
Paddington
Pride
The Theory Of Everything
Under The Skin

ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

ACTRESS
Amy Adams (Big Eyes)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Rene Russo (Nightcrawler)
Imelda Staunton (Pride)
Emma Stone (Birdman)

DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Damian Chazelle (Whiplash)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
James Marsh (The Theory Of Everything)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel got 11 nominations, with Birdman and The Theory Of Everything with 10 apiece and The Imitation Game with 9. Most of the familiar names are present and correct, but there were a few surprises- Amy Adams' nomination for Best Actress being one (although I don't think Cake has had a UK release yet), with Steve Carell's Foxcatcher performance nominated for Supporting Actor another. There's a chance that the Academy might follow suit, to free up a Best Actor slot for David Oyelowo (although Selma failed to get a single BAFTA nomination). Also intriguing is Damian Chazelle's nod for Best Director. 

The BAFTA Film Awards will be handed out on Sunday 8th February, in a ceremony hosted by the inimitable Stephen Fry. 

Next week is a busy one for Awards Season, starting with the Golden Globes on Sunday (11th). Tuesday (13th) sees the Directors' Guild Awards nominations, which will pretty much lock the Best Director Oscar category. Wednesday (14th) will see the nominations for the Razzies (if there's any justice in the world, Transformers: Age Of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will sweep the boards), whilst on Thursday (15th) this year's Oscar nominations will be announced.

Enjoy your weekend!


Tez