The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 29 December 2017

In Memoriam 2017


As 2017 comes to a close, we reflect on the many losses in the film and entertainment industries that we have had this year. Full obituaries were written to Sir John Hurt, Bill Paxton, Jonathan Demme, and Sir Roger Moore throughout the year. However, there were many deaths we were unable to pay tribute to at the time.

So here we pay tribute to just some of the stars- from both in front of and behind the camera- who passed this year.


Director John G. Avildsen won his first and only Oscar for his work on Rocky (1976). He returned to the franchise to Rocky V, as well as The Karate Kid and its two sequels. He also directed Jack Lemmon to an Oscar-winning performance in Save The Tiger (1973). Other films Avildsen directed include Neighbours, Lean On Me and The Power Of One. He was the subject of a 2017 documentary John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs.


Whilst best known for his TV work as time-travelling magician Catweazle and the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge, Geoffrey Bayldon also had a suprisingly full film career including roles in Dracula, 55 Days At Peking, the 1967 version of Casino Royale (as Q), To Sir With Love, Scrooge, The Slipper And The Rose, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and Ladies In Lavender.


Starting his film career with a role in The Goodbye Girl, Powers Boothe's filmography spanned five decades and took in everything from Westerns to superhero movies. On film, he appeared in Cruising, Red Dawn, Tombstone, Blue Sky, Nixon, and Frailty. He played Senator Roark in Sin City and its sequel Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, and played a member of the World Security Council (later named Gideon Malick) in Marvel's The Avengers, reprising the role in the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Other television roles include 24, Nashville and Deadwood.


Bernie Casey made his film debut in Guns Of The Magnificent Seven, before appearing in several blaxploitation films including Cleopatra Jones and Maurie. He played fraternity president  U.N. Jefferson in Revenge Of The Nerds and its sequels. He also appeared in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Spies Like Us, Another 48hrs,  Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and as Felix Leiter in the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again.


Known for his roles as flamboyant cook Lafayette Reynolds in seven seasons of True Blood and as ex-convict and gang member Shinwell Johnson in the fifth season of Elementary, Nelsan Ellis also had a diverse filmography appearing in The Help, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Secretariat, the James Brown biopic Get On Up, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and as Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniels' The Butler.


Sir Bruce Forsyth had a career spanning over eight decades, as the presenter of such TV shows as Strictly Come Dancing, Play Your Cards Right, The Generation Game, The Price Is Right, and Sunday Night At The London Palladium. He also had several film appearances, including the Gertrude Lawrence biopic Star! (as Gertrude's father) and as Swinburne, the Bookman's henchman, in Bedknobs And Broomsticks.


Sir Peter Hall was the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, director of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988- where he directed the world premieres of Amadeus, No Man's Land and Betrayal- and artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He was also a film director, directing the 1968 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (starring Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg and Judi Dench), the 1969 drama Three Into Two Won't Go and the 1973 version of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (starring Ian Holm and Vivien Merchant).


British stage and screen actor Robert Hardy will probably be best remembered for his role as vet Siegfried Farnon in the TV series All Creatures Great And Small and as an uncanny mimic of Winston Churchill (a role he played on screen many times). Aside from TV work, Hardy also appeared in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, 10 Rillington Place, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Sense And Sensibility, Mrs. Dalloway, and as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge in four Harry Potter films.


Before becoming a director, Anthony Harvey worked as an editor on such films as Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. He made his directorial debut in 1966 with Dutchman but is best known for his 1968 film The Lion In Winter starring Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins. It was nominated for seven Oscars (including Harvey for Best Director), and won three. Harvey would go on to direct several other films and TV movies, including They Might Be Giants, Players, and The Glass Menagerie.


Glenne Headly was an original member of Chicago's renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company before making her film debut in 1981 with Four Friends. She went on to appear in The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dick Tracy, and Mr. Holland's Opus. She also appeared in Timecode, Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen, and Don Jon and made appearances on TV in ER, Monk and The Night Of.


Horror maestro Tobe Hooper directed fifteen features throughout his career, including two seminal films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist. His other films include Lifeforce, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Toolbox Murders. Not content with scaring the bejeezus out of folks at the cinema, he also directed the acclaimed TV movie of Stephen King's Salem's Lot as well as episodes of Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From The Crypt and Masters Of Horror. He also directed the music video for Billy Idol's 'Dancing With Myself'.


Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau played many roles on TV, including Mission: Impossible and Space: 1999, and appeared in North By Northwest, Cleopatra, The Greatest Story Ever Told, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, Sliver, and Frankenweenie. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar three times- for his roles in Tucker: The Man And His Dream, Woody Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors and Tim Burton's Ed Wood, winning on his third nomination for his breathtaking portrayal of Bela Lugosi.


Originally paired with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis will be best remembered for his slapstick comic roles in films such as The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, The Patsy, Boeing Boeing and The Bellboy. After a fallow period in the 1970s, his career undertook a renaissance with The King Of Comedy, where he played a talk-show host who is stalked by an aspiring comic.  He later went on to appear in Mr. Saturday Night, Funny Bones, and Max Rose. Aside from acting, he also raised a lot of money for muscular dystrophy charities via annual telethons.


Whilst Mary Tyler Moore was probably best known for her television roles in The Dick Van Dyke Show and as the trailblazing Mary Richards in Mary Tyler Moore, she also had a diverse filmography, appearing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Flirting With Disaster and Cheats. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1981 for her performance as a mother who loses her son in Ordinary People. 


Jeanne Moreau is widely considered to be one of the grande dames of French cinema, the muse of the Nouvelle Vague movement, working with many acclaimed directors such as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Roger Vadim, Luc Besson, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Tony Richardson and Wim Wenders, to name but a few. Her roles in Jules et Jim, Les Amants (The Lovers) and Les Liaisons Dangereuses are iconic, and she continued to work, both in France and internationally, until recently.


Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist played journalist Mikael Blomkvist opposite Noomi Rapace in the Scandinavian version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium books (which starts with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). He also appeared in Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, Abduction, Downloading Nancy, and as the villain Viggo Tarasov in John Wick.


Whilst probably best known to Western audiences as the patriarch George Khan in East Is East, Om Puri had an illustrious career in Bollywood films since the 1970s. He won two National Awards in India for his roles in Arohan and Ardh Satya and also appeared in Maqbool, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Dhoop. He also appeared in Gandhi, Wolf, Charlie Wilson's War, West Is West, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Viceroy's House. 


Don Rickles was primarily known as a stand-up comedian and insult comic, appearing on many of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, where he good-naturedly insulted people like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. He was a serious actor as well, appearing in Casino, Kelly's Heroes, The Rat Race and Run Silent Run Deep. However, he will be best remembered for his voice work, especially as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies.


Emmanuelle Riva made history when, at the age of 85, she became the oldest Best Actress Oscar nominee for her role in Michael Haneke's Amour (also winning the Best Actress BAFTA for the same role). In a career spanning seven decades, she also appeared in Hiroshima Mon Amour, Therese Desqueyroux, and Three Colors: Blue.



George A. Romero will be fondly remembered as the father of the zombie movie, despite the word 'zombie' never actually featuring in his breakout 1968 film Night Of The Living Dead. His 1978 film Dawn Of The Dead combined a sly social commentary on the materialism of American culture with survival horror, and he would go on to make several more '...of the Dead' films throughout his career. Away from zombies, Romero also directed Season Of The Witch, The Crazies, Martin, Knightriders, Creepshow, and The Dark Half. 



As well as being an actor, Sam Shepard was an award-winning playwright, writing over 40 plays including The Unseen Hand (1969), Fool For Love (1983), A Lie Of The Mind (1985) and Simpatico (1993). He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1978 play Buried Child. On screen, he appeared in Crimes Of The Heart, Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, Swordfish, Black Horse Down, The Notebook, August: Osage County, and Out Of The Furnace. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff.


One of Harry Dean Stanton's first film roles was an uncredited Department of Corrections employee in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film The Wrong Man. From there, he appeared in over 100 films including Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather Part II, Alien, Private Benjamin, Escape From New York, Paris, Texas,  The Last Temptation Of Christ, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Inland Empire, and The Avengers.


Say the name Adam West and one role will appear in most people's mind: Batman. West played the Caped Crusader in the very popular 1960s TV series and reprised his role for the 1966 big-screen version. He appeared as heightened versions of himself in shows like Murphy Brown and The Big Bang Theory. West found a new calling in voice acting appearing in The Fairly OddParents, Chicken Little and as Mayor Adam West in over 100 episodes of Family Guy.



Others who passed away this year include:

- German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Gangs Of New York)

- British actor Keith Barron (Voyage Of The Damned, The Land That Time Forgot, Duty Free)

- British actor Trevor Baxter (Doctor Who, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, A Man For All Seasons)

- American musician and actor Chester Bennington

- Welsh actor Hywel Bennett (The Family Way, Twisted Nerve, Neverwhere)

- British actor Rodney Bewes (Billy Liar, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Jabberwocky)

- American author William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist)

- American actress Darlene Cates (What's Eating Gilbert Grape)

- American musician Chris Cornell

- French actress Danielle Darrieux (8 Women, Persepolis, 5 Fingers)

- British author Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse)

- German actress Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice, Topaz, The Invisible Dr. Mabuse)

- British actor Roy Dotrice (Nicholas And Alexandra, Amadeus, Hellboy II: The Golden Army)

- American actor Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop, Mulan, Iron Man 3, Twin Peaks)

- British actor Neil Fingleton (X-Men: First Class, Jupiter Ascending)

- American voice actress June Foray (Space Jam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cinderella)

- American actor Warren Frost (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Sister Act 2)

- American actor Stephen Furst (Animal House)

- American actor Robert Guillaume (The Lion King, Big Fish)

- British actor Tony Haygarth (Chicken Run, Dracula, A Private Function)

- American actor John Heard (Home Alone, Home Alone II: Lost In New York, Big)

- American cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld (Young Frankenstein, Diary Of A Mad Housewife)

- American actor Rance Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Nebraska)

- American actor Clifton James (Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun)

- British actor Gorden Kaye ('Allo, 'Allo!)

- American actor Sonny Landham (48hrs, Predator, Poltergeist)

- German cinematographer Walter Lassally (Zorba The Greek, Tom Jones, A Taste Of Honey)

- British actress Rosemary Leach (A Room With A View, That'll Be The Day, Whatever Happened To Harold Smith?)

- American actress and singer Rose Marie (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Psycho)

- British actor Alec McCowen (Never Say Never Again, Gangs Of New York)

- Canadian actress Heather Menzies-Urich (The Sound Of Music, Logan's Run, Hawaii)

- British costume designer John Mollo (Star Wars, Alien, Gandhi)

- Japanese actor Haruo Nakajima (Seven Samurai, Godzilla)

- British film critic Barry Norman

- American actor Michael Parks (Argo, Kill Bill, Django Unchained)

- British actor Tim Piggot-Smith (V For Vendetta, Quantum of Solace)

- British actor Peter Sallis (Last of The Summer Wine, Wallace & Gromit)

- American wrestler turned actor George 'The Animal' Steele (Ed Wood)

- Japanese film director Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded To Kill)

- Czech actor Jan Triska (Ronin, Reds, The People Vs Larry Flynt)

- American actor Jack Vincent (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino)

- British actress Deborah Watling (Doctor Who)

- British actor Heathcote Williams (The Tempest, Orlando, Little Dorrit)

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Awards Season 2018: SAG Awards Nominations


More awards shenanigans with today's announcement of the nominations for the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. These are for actors voted on by actors (so are usually a pretty good barometer for the Oscar acting awards as there's a lot of crossover between AMPAS and SAG memberships).

Below is a list of film nominations:

Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
Mudbound
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role
Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul)
Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role
Steve Carell (Battle Of The Sexes)
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape Of Water)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
Hong Chau (Downsizing)
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)

Some interesting choices here - notably Denzel Washington and Judi Dench in the Lead Role categories, and Steve Carell and Woody Harrelson in the Supporting Actor category. Carell received a Golden Globe nod for Best Actor (Musical Or Comedy) so it seems odd that he's been nominated for Supporting Actor here- Bobby Riggs is as much of a main character in Battle Of The Sexes as Billie Jean King is. This is Harrelson's first nomination of this awards season whilst his fellow supporting actor Rockwell gets his fourth. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has four nominations, whilst Lady Bird has three and The Big Sick, Get Out, I, Tonya, Mudbound, and The Shape Of Water have two each. 

Awards season takes a bit of a break over Christmas, thus providing those less inclined with a bit of respite. My next awards season post will be on 5th January which will contain the nominations for both the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) and Producers' Guild of America (PGA) awards.  

Normal service will now be resumed. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Awards Season 2018: Golden Globe Nominations


Today sees the announcement of the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The HFPA split their awards, giving certain categories for both Drama and Musical or Comedy, rather than just going for the out-and-out drama as most awards tend to do.

Below is a list of some of the nominees:


Best Picture - Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Picture - Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Ridley Scott (All The Money In The World)
Steven Spielberg (The Post)

Best Actor - Drama
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Tom Hanks (The Post)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell (Battle Of The Sexes)
Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)

Best Actress - Drama
Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game)
Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Meryl Streep (The Post)
Michelle Williams (All The Money In The World)

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul)
Helen Mirren (The Leisure Seeker)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Emma Stone (Battle Of The Sexes)

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape Of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All The Money In The World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
Hong Chau (Downsizing)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape Of Water)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Generally speaking, a lot of the names are familiar and were expected- Ronan, Robbie, Franco, Streep, McDormand- and momentum is definitely building to the Academy Award nominations in just over a month's time.

I do have to ask, though: is Get Out really a comedy? Are the producers stretching the definition to ensure the film gets nominated? It's on my watch-list (as I sadly missed it in the cinema) so I haven't seen it but the whole thing doesn't necessarily scream 'laugh riot'. I may be wrong. 

However, there are a couple of surprises, most notably the three nominations for All The Money In The World. This film has, to put it mildly, had a few production issues- with around six weeks to go before release, portions of the film were re-shot when Ridley Scott made the decision to recast the role of miserly millionaire J. Paul Getty in light of the allegations against Kevin Spacey. Christopher Plummer took the role, the reshoots were completed, and now Plummer has a Golden Globe nomination for it as well. 

The Shape Of Water leads the field with seven nominations, with The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri both on six each. 

The Golden Globes will be handed out on 7th January 2018, in a ceremony hosted by Seth Meyers. Congratulations to all nominees!

The next Awards Season post will be on Wednesday (13th December) as the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations are announced.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Awards Season 2018: Critics' Choice Movie Awards Nominations


More awards season shenanigans today with the announcement of the nominations for the 23rd Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards.

Here are a selection of their nominees:

Best Picture
The Big Sick
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Steven Spielberg (The Post)

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger)
Tom Hanks (The Post)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game)
Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape Of Water)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Patrick Stewart (Logan)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name)

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
Hong Chau (Downsizing)
Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip)
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape Of Water)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Refreshingly, the Critics' Choice Awards also recognise genre cinema, with separate categories for action movies, comedy and scifi/horror. In previous years, there have been nominations for actor/actress in an action movie but that doesn't seem to be the case this year. Although I'm massively pleased that Patrick Stewart has been recognised in the Best Supporting Actor category for Logan

As in previous years, we have several actors who have two nominations for the same role. This year, James Franco (Best Actor and Best Actor In A Comedy, Tiffany Haddish (Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress In A Comedy), Margot Robbie (Best Actress and Best Actress In A Comedy) and Saoirse Ronan (Best Actress and Best Actress In A Comedy) have that honour. 

The Shape Of Water leads the field with an impressive 14 nominations across the board. Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Lady Bird, and The Post all have 8 nominations each.

The Critics' Choice Awards will be handed out on Thursday January 11th 2018. Congratulations to all the nominees!

Next stop on the Awards Season trail will be the Golden Globes nominees announcement this coming Monday (11th December). 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Review: Battle Of The Sexes (UK Cert 12A)


Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks), from a script by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), Battle Of The Sexes tells the real-life story of the 1973 tennis match between women's champion Billie Jean King and former men's champion Bobby Riggs. 

Emma Stone is superb as Billie Jean King. King was a pioneer in womens' tennis, a fierce campaigner for equal pay and equal rights in a time when female tennis players would make around an eighth of what the male players would make. Stone captures King's passion and fire, but also explores her more vulnerable side as the film also focuses on King's personal life. Whilst married, King started a relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (King came out in the 1980s when her relationship with Barnett ended somewhat acrimoniously, and she now lives with her partner of 30 years, her former doubles partner Ilana Kloss.) Stone manages to convey King's tension of wanting to indulge her true feelings balanced against the demands of the sport (and the expectations of her family) nicely. Her relationship with Marilyn isn't sensationalised at all, and is presented very matter-of-factly. Stone truly dsappears into the role and it's a truly impressive performance. 

I will be honest, I've never really taken to Steve Carell as an actor but- after brilliant performances in Foxcatcher and The Big Short- I'm coming round to him. He is pitch-perfect as Riggs, a larger-than-life hustler and showman, a compulsive gambler whose addiction strains his marriage. In the run-up to the match, he plays on the 'male chauvinist pig' persona and doesn't train- assuming that he'll steamroller King. There's something undeniably likeable about Carell's Riggs even though the position he takes on womens' tennis is unlikeable. But, as with Stone, Carell also shows the pathos as his relationship with wife Priscilla strains. A fine performance.

The supporting performances are similarly strong: Sarah Silverman (another actress that I'm not massively fussed on) is great as the snarky Gladys Heldman, the founder of World Tennis Magazine who helped King start her own tour when she boycotted the LTA tournaments. Andrea Riseborough gives a spirited performance as Marilyn Barnett, whilst there's a great supporting turn by Austin Stowell as Larry King (Billie Jean's husband). Elisabeth Shue puts in a dignified and stoic turn as Riggs' wife Priscilla, in love with her husband but unable to cope with his gambling. Alan Cumming is great as the waspish fashion designer Ted Tinling (although some of his advice to Billie Jean re: her sexuality seems a little contrived and he has a very affected accent which is a little distracting). Bill Pullman puts in a strong turn as boorish tennis promoter Jack Kramer, butting heads with Billie Jean throughout. 

As a secondary antagonist in the story, Jessica McNamee provides a certain amount of venom as Australian tennis player Margaret Court. When Court beat King early in 1973 and became the top female player in the world, Riggs challenged her to a match- and promptly annihilated her in less than an hour. There's the suggestion also that, aside from professional rivalry, Court knew about and disapproved of King's sexuality- there's a pointed comment made about 'licentiousness and sin' in all-womens' tours (in real life, Margaret Court has been a longtime opponent to LGBT rights and made several negative statements during the recent Australian vote on same-sex marriage, so it's not entirely certain whether Beaufoy has just retrofitted Court's current position to the original time or whether she was always such a raging homophobe). 

Battle Of The Sexes is a well-balanced film and it's damn well entertaining. If you're not a tennis fan, you don't need to stay away; what I know about tennis could go on the back of a stamp but I found the humour and the drama engaging and the performances exciting. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (UK Cert 15)


Actress Gloria Grahame was a big star in the 1940s and 1950s. Appearing in such films as It's A Wonderful Life, The Big Heat, and Oklahoma! and sharing the screen with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, and Charlton Heston, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Bad And The Beautiful. Later in life, she focused more on stage work. Whilst in London in the late 1970s, she met a young actor called Peter Turner and the two quickly fell into a relationship. When Gloria became ill, she felt that she could recover in Liverpool and stayed with Peter and his parents. This amazing stranger-than-fiction true story formed the basis of Peter's memoir, Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, which has now been adapted for film. 

Directed by Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, Push) from a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, the film stars Annette Bening as Gloria and Jamie Bell as Peter. 

Bening is superb as Grahame. A fesity, flirty, firecracker of a woman, unashamed of her past and embracing her future. She isn't a Norma Desmond figure, living for past glories. She's a working actress, doing what she can. It's a livewire performance and one of Bening's best. The film uses footage from Grahame's films and publicity photos, but refreshingly they don't do the usual trick of superimposing Bening-as-Grahame in the original's place (as the film focuses on Grahame towards the end of her life, it would seem strange for them to do that).There's a beautiful poignancy to the final scenes, as Gloria bows to the inevitable, and she and Peter share a heart-rending scene on the stage of the Liverpool Playhouse. A truly wonderful central performance. 

Matching her in intensity and brio is Bell as her younger lover. A working-class lad from Liverpool, he's made his way as an actor (although with no great success). He meets Gloria in London and eventually gets swept up in her world; one that's a thousand miles away from what he's used to. I love that he's rough round the edges (but is never treated as Gloria's 'bit of rough'). Also good is that Peter never exploits Gloria's fame or reputation to further himself; he genuinely seems to love her for who she is (indeed, he seems shocked when the barman tells him that Gloria once won an Oscar). It's a strong performance by Bell who has firmly put Billy Elliot behind him- although it's lovely to see him dancing round Gloria's room at the start. 

Supporting roles are well filled, with Julie Walters as reliably brilliant as ever as Peter's mum Bella. What could have been a stereotypical Scouse ma, fretting over ever detail, is elevated by Walters' wonderfully nuanced performance. Kenneth Cranham is great as Peter's dad Joe, whilst Stephen Graham rounds out the family unit nicely as Peter's brother. Vanessa Redgrave gets a great scene as Gloria's mother whilst Frances Barber is nicely venomous as Gloria's catty sister Joy, who casually lays out over dinner that Gloria's fourth husband was her stepson from her second marriage (which caused a real-life scandal in the 1960s).

The script is fairly solid although there are several instances that are mentioned that it would have been nice to see dramatised- the shopping trip to get Gloria's 'ruby red slippers', or seeing Gloria in the Turners' kitchen making a bacon butty, for example. Also, the script is non-linear- it starts with Gloria's collapse in Leicester as she prepares to go on stage in The Glass Menagerie and then bounces around both time and location- from London to Los Angeles, New York to Liverpool- to tell the story of Gloria and Peter's relationship. In itself this isn't necessarily an issue but sometimes the bridging between flashbacks is a bit clunky- opening a door in the present to find you're in the past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool should appeal to fans of classic cinema as it tells a compelling and (I'm assuming) not widely known story. A fine ensemble cast give some of the strongest performances I've seen on film this year. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Review: Justice League (UK Cert 12A)


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.

After the death of Superman, the world seems to be a place without hope. When an alien threat arrives and places the planet in danger, Bruce Wayne (with the help of Diana Prince) decides to track down others with superpowers to help fight against this new foe. 

Predictably, general critical response to Justice League has been middling to poor. At the time of writing, it currently stands with a 41% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (although, tellingly, an audience rating of 84%). Film is an artform, not a science. It's not something that often deals with facts (other than those concrete verifiables like box office receipts, cast and crew, any awards hype, and so on). It thrives on opinion. And that's all that film criticism is: it's someone's opinion. Art is ultimately subjective and the opinions of those of the viewing public- who pay to put their bums on seats and watch the film- are as valid as those of the professional critics.  

My opinion is this: I thought Justice League was a lot better than I feared it would be. 

So what's good? Well, the cast are pretty strong (although Affleck doesn't seem as comfortable here; more on that later). Of the new characters, it's Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash who comes off the best. Socially awkward, quite geeky, he takes to this brave new world of heroes like an enthusiastic puppy. He also gets a lot of the humour. He gets a particularly good scene opposite Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg where they attempt to bond over digging up Superman's coffin. Fisher is decent as Cyborg, although the character feels less developed than the others. Jason Momoa is an imposing, charismatic presence as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and also gets a nice scene where he unwittingly gets a bit too close to the lasso of Hestia. 

Henry Cavill is as strong as he always has been in the role of Clark Kent/Superman. He obviously doesn't make an appearance until just after halfway through and his frenzied fight against the League is pretty impressive. Luckily, there's a deus ex machina to stop him from pummelling them into the dirt (and it isn't as ridiculous as the 'Martha' moment in Batman V Superman). Gal Gadot is assured and powerful as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She's a de facto leader to the group and the film lifts whenever she's on screen. 

As for the supporting cast, generally strong although with such a large cast, some do get shortchanged. Amy Adams doesn't get much to do as Lois but she's good (although they've inexplicably cut the rather tender scene shown in the trailer where Clark mentions the ring). I did want to see more of J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, although he did get a particularly good one-liner which I enjoyed. Jeremy Irons is still wonderful as Alfred whilst there's a nice cameo by Billy Crudup as Henry Allen (Barry's father). 

The slow-mo effects on The Flash are amusing (imagine the 'Time In A Bottle' sequence from X-Men: Days Of Future Past or the 'Sweet Dreams' bit in X-Men: Apocalypse and you're on the right track). Danny Elfman's score is powerful and positive and has a few nice little Easter Eggs for those who care to listen. The scene of Superman's resurrection is probably the best sequence in the film. Also, the lighting seems to have improved; there's not a lot of gloomy darkness and I could actually see what was going on most of the time. 

That's not to say the film is perfect. It's far from it. The script is uneven and occasionally very info-dumpy; it does have to properly introduce three new characters who the audience have only ever really seen in passing, but it all feels a bit clunky (especially Aquaman's little tete-a-tete with Mera). It would perhaps have made more sense to have had at least the Aquaman and Flash solo movies prior to the release of Justice League (to cut down on this). And just an FYI- London doesn't have city blocks!

Also tonally, the film is a bit of a mess- Joss Whedon's and Zack Snyder's directorial styles are very different and you can tell what's been added and what's been reshot (the farrago over Superman's CGI upper lip notwithstanding). It's why Ben Affleck feels a little less comfortable in the role than he did in Batman V Superman. There he was the tortured, brooding Batman; here, he's cracking wise. There's also an over-reliance on slow-mo (understandable when you're talking about The Flash, but it soon becomes wearying). 

However, my main complaint against the film is the villain, Steppenwolf. The CGI on him is massively shoddy (he looks like a mid-2000s Playstation character) and the motivation he's given is paper-thin. Plus, the curse of the DCEU strikes again with a massive CGI blow-out final battle which is difficult to keep track of. Bizarrely, it also feels like there's very little at stake: the human consequences of the alien invasion are pinned onto one Russian family who are barricaded into their home as the Parademons swarm. There's no jeopardy.

So yes, the film has its issues. Given the circumstances of Snyder having to withdraw due to a dreadful family tragedy then Warner Bros hiring Whedon to finish/reshoot the film, it was always going to have issues. But it's nowhere near as bad as some reviewers would have you believe. It is a superhero movie. It's two hours of- dare I say it?- fun. Not as good as Wonder Woman, but head-and-shoulders above both Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Awards Season 2018: Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations


With today's announcement of the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations, Awards Season 2018 is now underway. As they used to say on one of my favourite TV shows as a child (Knightmare), 'the only way is forward; there is no turning back.'

As you will probably know by now, the Film Independent Spirit Awards recognise films made wholly or partly outside the traditional studio system (although there is becoming an increasingly wide overlap between these and the more 'mainstream' awards). 

Below is a selection of nominations:


Best Feature
Call Me By Your Name
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Rider

Best Director
Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
Jonas Carpignano (A Ciambra)
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie (Good Time)
Chloe Zhao (The Rider)

Best Male Lead
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Robert Pattinson (Good Time)

Best Female Lead
Salma Hayek (Beatriz At Dinner)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Shinobu Terajima (Oh Lucy!)
Regina Williams (Life & Nothing More)

Best Supporting Male
Nnamdi Asomugha (Crown Heights)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Barry Keoghan (The Killing Of A Sacred Deer)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Benny Safdie (Good Time)

Best Supporting Female
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime)
Taliah Webster (Good Time)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Call Me By Your Name leads the field with six nominations, with Get Out and Good Time each with five. 

The Film Independent Spirit Awards will be handed out at a ceremony hosted by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney on Saturday 3rd March 2018 (one of the last award shows before the Academy Awards). 

The next major announcement for awards season will be on 30th November with the Critics' Choice movie award nominations.

Tez

Monday, 20 November 2017

For Your Consideration: Possible Contenders For Awards Season 2018


It's that time of year again, folks.

Yes, awards season is imminently upon us again. The annual hoopla of self-indulgent congratulations that spans the winter months will soon begin. This year, awards season is extended by a week so will culminate with the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday 4th March 2018. This is to avoid any clashes with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. So you can blame/thank the IOC for this.

If you like this sort of thing, welcome and strap yourself in for a lot (and I do mean a lot) of awards coverage. If you don't, then... apologies but keep your head down and it'll be over quicker than you think.

So, as is now usual, I've had a furtle through the major film festivals of the year and here are a few films you may well see mentioned a lot over the next couple of months. 



Martin McDonagh's latest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, so that could well feature. Frances McDormand has been greatly praised for her performance as a grieving mother demanding answers over the death of her daughter, so she could well get a Best Actress nod. There could be also be Best Supporting Actor nominations for Woody Harrelson, who plays the town sheriff, and Sam Rockwell as the town deputy. 



Sofia Coppola took the Best Director prize at Cannes for The Beguiled, a Southern gothic drama starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell. When a wounded Union soldier arrives at Miss Martha Farnsworth's Seminary For Young Ladies, the staff and students all take an interest in this man. Taking him in so he can recover from his injuries, soon the women begin to compete for the soldier's favour, which sets the scene for tragedy. Potential Best Picture and Best Director nods; given a very wide open field for acting nominations this year, I'd be surprised if any of the cast get nominated (although Kidman and Dunst are the most likely candidates if they do). 



Guillermo del Toro's dark fairytale The Shape Of Water won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, so it could feature highly as well. Set in the 1960s, Elisa, a mute young woman (Sally Hawkins) who works in a high-security government laboratory, finds a secret classified experiment and the two of them start to fall in love. Hawkins has had a lot of praise for her role, so she could be nominated for Best Actress, whilst Octavia Spencer could get a third Best Supporting Actress nod for her role as Elisa's co-worker. 



Mudbound, a period drama directed by Dee Rees, could feature too. It's the story of two Second World War veterans who return to work on a farm in rural Mississippi and have to adjust to life back home. Already praised for its ensemble cast and the supporting performance by an unrecognisable Mary J. Blige, this could do very well during awards season.



Luca Guadagnino's luscious 1980s coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name has been praised highly, so it may well feature. Timothee Chalamet could well be up for Best Actor for his central role as the precocious Elio, whilst there could be Supporting Actor nods for Armie Hammer (as Elio's paramour Oliver) and Michael Stuhlbarg (as Elio's father).  



Dunkirk may finally be the film that gets Christopher Nolan a Best Director nod from the Academy. It's a technically accomplished film, so it should get a raft of technical awards (editing, cinematography, sound). It may well get a Best Picture nod as well. In terms of any acting awards, the only actor who really stands out is Mark Rylance, so there's a potential Best Supporting Actor nod for him there, but I think it's unlikely. 



Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game could see Jessica Chastain get a Best Actress nod for her central role as Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker games for a decade before being arrested by the FBI. There could also be a Supporting Actor nod for Idris Elba who plays Molly's lawyer Charlie Jaffey.



Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks. Meryl Streep. A biopic of the journalists from the New York Times and the Washington Post who declassified 'The Pentagon Papers' (relating to the Vietnam War) which showed that the Johnson Administration systematically lied about the war- not just to the public, but to Congress as well. The Post has pretty much got Oscar-bait written all the way through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Streep may well get her 21st Oscar nod as Kay Graham (the first female newspaper publisher) whilst Hanks could well get nominated for his role as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. 



Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whose work is admired within the Academy, so his latest film- Phantom Thread- might get some attention this awards season, not least because it is reputed to be Daniel Day-Lewis' last film before he retires from acting. He may well get a Best Actor nod for his central role as a dressmaker who falls for a younger woman. Anderson may get a Best Director nod and the film could be up for Best Picture. 




Another director whose work is popular with members of the Academy is Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska). His latest film Downsizing is a satire about a man who realises he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself- it would help save the planet and they could afford a better quality of life at the same time. Payne could get a Best Director nod, whilst Matt Damon could get recognised in the Best Actor category.



Saoirse Ronan could well get another Best Actress nod for her role in Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Ronan plays Christine McPherson (nicknamed Lady Bird), a young woman who goes to live in Northern California for a year. Laurie Metcalf has also been getting good reviews for her role as Christine's mum so a Best Supporting Actress nod might not be out of the question either. 



Battle Of The Sexes should feature heavily. A biopic about the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, it's directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (previous Best Director nominees for Little Miss Sunshine), written by Simon Beaufoy (who won an Oscar for the screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire) and stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs respectively. This year's Best Actress winner for La La Land, Stone could see another Best Actress nomination, whilst Carell could get a Best Actor nod. 



This year has seen big-screen remakes of two previous Oscar contenders, so it may not be a surprise to see either Beauty And The Beast and/or Murder On The Orient Express mentioned. The 1991 version of Beauty And The Beast was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, whilst it won two Oscars (both for its music). I can see it getting technical awards- the costume and production design are sublime. As for Murder On The Orient Express, it'll be hoping to replicate the success of the 1974 original with a slew of nods, which included Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay. 




Biopics are basically awards catnip, so I expect to see at least some of the following films recognised.

- I, Tonya: A potential Best Actress nod for Margot Robbie as infamous ice-skater Tonya Harding, with a possible Best Supporting Actress nomination for Alison Janney as her overbearing mother

- The Greatest Showman: A second Best Actor nod could be in the offing for Hugh Jackman as circus impresario P.T. Barnum

- Victoria & Abdul: Judi Dench may get a Best Actress nomination for her role as the elderly Queen Victoria in Stephen Frears' respectful biopic.

- Darkest Hour: Gary Oldman seems likely to get a second Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Winston Churchill.

- Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool: Annette Bening may be recognised for her lead role as Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame and there may be supporting nods for Jamie Bell (as Grahame's lover Peter) and Julie Walters (as Peter's mum)


The timetable for the major awards in 2018 is as follows:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
Nominations announced: 21st November 2017
Awards ceremony: 3rd March 2018

Critics' Choice Awards
Nominations announced: 6th December 2017
Awards ceremony: 11th January 2018 

Golden Globes
Nominations announced: 11th December 2017
Awards ceremony: 7th January 2018 (hosted by Seth Meyers)

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards
Nominations announced: 13th December 2017
Awards ceremony: 21st January 2017

Writers' Guild Of America (WGA) Award
Nominations announced: 4th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 11th February 2018

Producers' Guild Of America (PGA) Award
Nominations announced: 5th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 20th January 2018

BAFTA Film Awards
Nominations announced: 9th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 18th February 2018

Directors' Guild Of America (DGA) Award
Nominations announced: 11th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 3rd February 2018

Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
Nominations announced: 22nd January 2018
Awards ceremony: 3rd March 2018

Academy Awards (Oscars)
Nominations announced: 23rd January 2018
Awards ceremony: 4th March 2018 (hosted by Jimmy Kimmel)


It all kicks off tomorrow- as is tradition- with the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations. So, get your spreadsheets ready (or is that just me?) and let's get on with it!