Joker – A Review

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Todd Philips directs Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Much has been written and said about how this movie is the definitive Joker performance that snatches that mantel away from Heath Ledger, who posthumously won an Oscar as supporting actor in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. There has been a lot of pre-release buzz about how this movie could trigger violence due to the incel manifesto. Is this genuinely a grim yet refreshing take on the comic-book genre or is it simply much ado about nothing?

Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck a professional clown who suffers from pseudobulbar syndrome, this causes him to laugh out loud at inappropriate moments. But that is not all that makes him feel a little bit “off”. We are introduced to him at his weekly counselling sessions with a social worker, there is mention that he spent some time in the mental institution but that is not expanded upon. He gets picked on by bullies and lives with his mother. If all of this seems cliched its because it is. Philips and writer Scott Silver deploy every known trope to suggest that Fleck is nothing more than a loser. Instead of feeling sorry for the guy you are left fielding empty provocations. There are gaping plot holes which add up to nothing. His clown-league Randall played by Glen Flesher(Billions) hands him a gun and calls him “his guy” but rats him out to the boss. Joaquin Phoenix is coming hard for that Oscar – and Philips and Cinematographer Lawrence Sher keep zooming in on an emaciated Phoenix every chance they get highlighting the weight loss. Add to that the odd waltz/jazz dancing which isn’t a character trait we have been introduced to in what is supposedly an Origin story.

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Gotham is always meant to be grim and crime infested but the Gotham of Joker is simply filthy, the graffiti is meant to evoke the grim and gritty underbelly of Gotham, but it fails to do so. The sense of gloom and despair is so oppressively shoved down the audiences throat that you are left essentially unmoved by the plight of the “clowns of Gotham” a Thomas Wayne reference that echoes the “basket of deplorables” from the 2016 presidential race. The Subway scene is constructed masterfully but all it does is act as an inflection point for a mass riot – the killing of 3 young wall street guys is termed to be the start of “Kill the rich” craze. There isn’t enough build up to warrant such a giant leap in the narrative.

I also found it particularly problematic how the women of colour are used as vessels for channelling Fleck’s mental illness, first it is the social worker, then the pretty neighbour and her daughter, then at the end the lady doing the mental health assessment. Some might say that it presents an unvarnished look at the mental illness and that it is revolutionary in its depiction or a guy going through a mental breakdown. That would be superficial in my opinion, the writers, the director and the actor do not delve into the psyche and only rely on the narrative crutches of economic anxiety, political unrest and societal breakdown to the point that it becomes psychosis-porn. Robert Di Nero is criminally underutilized given that Taxi Driver is a clear inspiration. Speaking of homages and Inspirations there are several including Nolan’s The Dark Knight with the joker leaving the mask in the bin and the scene where he is being taken in the back of a police car. And the scene with Di Nero harkens back to Network

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Joaquin Phoenix is an amazing actor but he is done a greater disservice here that Casey Affleck did with his mockumentary I’m Still Here. The performance has some high points but is rendered empty, reductive and derivative. By attempting to do an Origin Story for what is essentially a villain and arguably batman’s nemesis the movie would have been more successful trying to make The Joker truly scary and fearsome, unstable yet unpredictable and wholly evil. Instead you are left baffled wondering how this guy is capable of raining down chaos on Gotham. Skip this and give The Dark Knight a rewatch atleast Ledger’s Joker is delightfully frightening!

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Batman V Superman : Dawn of Justice – A Review

Zack Snyder directs Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the DC-Warner tent pole which sets up the Justice League. I haven’t been shy of my dislike of Zack Snyder as a director and with the multitude of bad reviews I didn’t have great expectations going in.

 

We are given a quick flashback into Bruce Wayne’s past. And a quick second into the funeral of Bruce’s parents Snyder commits hara-kiri that will have fanboys frothing at the mouth. Bruce is swarmed by the bats as he falls into a hole in the ground and the bats seemingly lift him up and that is how he assumes the identity of Batman. Ben Afflect is the middle aged Batman based on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and he is a weary, tired middle-aged Bat very different from the Batman played by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Affleck is quickly thrust into the destruction of Metropolis as General Zod and Superman engage in a death match. All through the movie that is something off about the scale of things, Metropolis and Gotham towers over everything and dwarfs both Superman and Batman. Even the car Ben Affleck is driving through metropolis seems to be mis-proportioned – it seems too small compared to the surroundings. I don’t know if other viewers experienced this but it just made the “Heroes” look puny.

Superman is deified as a god after he saved Earth from General Zod and his alien army. When he is not saving children from burning building or stranded women from tops of flooded towns Superman spends his time rescuing his girlfriend Lois Lane, either while she is being held hostage in the African Desert or while she is pushed from atop LexCorp. The film’s villainous mastermind is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Reprising his Mark Zuckerberg performance Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor, an evil genius with enormous wealth at his disposal. His sociopathic behaviour verges on psychotic. He pits Batman against Superman but like General Zod in Man of Steel here too his motivation is unresolved and his hatred of both the superheroes seems misplaced. He also tries to convince the senate to give him permission to bring the Kryptonite found in the indian ocean into the US so that he can weaponize it. Snyder, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer seem to be juggling too many balls with the story telling and each of them more unresolved than the other. In anticipation of the forthcoming Justice League movie we are introduced to The Flash, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. The latter plays a bigger part in the movie than Lois Lane does.

There are many flaws in this movie and they primarily concern Snyder’s lack of ability as a director. He makes poor choices both story wise and visually. Story wise there is no coherent reason for Batman to so pissed with Superman. The Superman’s misplaced sense of justice when he accuses Batman of abuse of power is akin to a pot calling a kettle black. The DC warner universe setup the batman character nicely at the end of Nolan’s trilogy. There were a few canons set which seem to not matter to Snyder. The Nolan Batman specifically said “No Guns” but Snyder’s batman is more violent than the criminals he seems to be rounding up. Basing this on Miller’s dark knight where batman comes out of retirement more brutal and more unstable there seems to be no explanation given to the retirement part. Also Jeremy Irons as Alfred is a hard sell. He seems to be Alfred and Lucius Fox both rolled into one and I prefer the grandfatherly Michael Caine over Irons.  Visually Snyder focuses on the wrong points of interest. He is more keen on product placement than a coherent story telling. How else would you explain the Olay Shampoo bottle that gets a zoom in when Lois is taking a bath after being rescued from the African ambush? Eisenberg’s whiney lunatic approach to playing Lex Luthor is a poor decision from both the actor and the director. All his manipulations of events that bring Batman and Superman face to face seem a bit too farfetched. Also the final face off between Batman and Superman and Batman’s bulky suit seem to be a pretty odd choice. It makes an already bulky Affleck look even chunkier also we are never really in the clear if his suit is actually kryptonite infused or not. Also the conclusion of the Batman Vs Superman fight to finish had me snorting – like seriously that is why they stop fighting? Because both their moms are called Martha!

But then there are some bright spots in the movie too. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince is smoking hot. In the hands of a good director the Wonder Woman origin story should be interesting. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman is perfection. The man maketh the suit look good. The knightmare scene while confusing and ultimately insignificant in the course of this movie shows promise of what the Justice League multiverse holds. Hans Zimmer’s music is great in spots and jarring and overbearing in others. He seems to not be able to find the fine balance that he did with Nolan.

Overall it is not as bad as people are making it out to be. Yes it is overlong and entirely unresolved in terms of its main villain’s motivation. Ben Affleck needs to work on his Batman persona but isn’t entirely horrible. Gal Gadot is exciting as Wonder Woman and I cannot wait to see Jason Momoa as Aquaman but I would have preferred TV’s Grant Gustin as Flash than Ezra Miller because as much as I like Miller as an actor I don’t want a moody broody millennial Barry Allen. But in my humble opinion Snyder is the wrong horse to bet on to take on Disney and Marvel’s Avenger Multiverse. Give Nolan all the money he wants and the creative freedom he needs and green light his Howard Hughes biopic and let him take on the Justice League. Snyder will keep getting in the way of the story and the franchise will suffer unless you want to place Olay Shampoo in the Aquaman origins story.

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Scoff all you want at the irrelevance of the Oscars or any number of award ceremonies the fact remains that the Oscars are a big deal – studios spend millions of their hard earned money on “for your consideration” adverts in trade magazine in hopes that one of theirs will win the coveted golden man and they will get to use “academy award winner actor/director” in their playbill for all eternity. An “academy award winner/nominee” tag breeds instant credibility and lends weight to how interested a casual viewer would be in deciding on which movie to spend their money on.

Oscars often is an incredible platform for the culmination of a long career being honoured with a standing ovation or the start of a great one when an ingénue stumbles her way up the stairs to collect the gold piping the veterans to the finishing line. It is also one big party with plenty of pageantry and for all these reasons and more I for one always eagerly anticipate the Oscars each year even in the year that was less than spectacular movie-wise.

Last year I had an incredible 21/22 prediction of the Oscar race which would have made me a rich man if I was the betting sorts. But this year I am not so sure of putting my money because the list of nominees is a strange one and I have a feeling that a number of the deserving winners are going to be passed up I favour of those that are more closely aligned with the overall taste of the general academy members demographic  Old-White-Male.

Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

Laura Dern in “Wild”

Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Who should/Will win: This one is a vice-like lock – it is Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. It takes an incredible amount of commitment to be associated to a project for 12 years with no real payoff in sight. Patricia Arquette as the mother in this family drama about growing up is incredible in her strength, her vulnerability and her normalness. She is every mother everywhere going through everyday struggles. It takes special talent to portray a real everyday woman on screen and she does it better than anyone else. Her not winning would be a real shame because dedicated as I am to worshiping Meryl Streep (and she was incredible in Into the Woods) I want Arquette to win over Streep.

Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Who should/Will win: J.K. Simmons as the jazz teacher from hell in the incredibly taut Whiplash is a clear winner here. You will shudder at the thought of the atrocities he makes the young Milles Teller go through. The only possible upset could be in the form of Robert Duvall who the academy might want to pay their dues to before it is too late. But my money is on Simmons.

Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

This is a strange one – generally there is a strong Pixar presence and despite the presence of Big Hero 6 I find it hard to believe it could realistically win the award. I loved HTTYD the first one and that was robbed of an award that went to Toy Story 3 the second one while solid didn’t have the heart that the first one did. And when Pixar and DreamWorks cannot be picked a clear winner it is usually one of the foreign studios who sneaks a win. I would still like to see HTTYD2 win as a consolation for the first feature snub.

Cinematography

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman

“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope

“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

It is a crying shame that Hoyte Van Hoytema who manned the camera for Nolan’s Interstellar does not find a mention here. For all its faults Interstellar was visually the most incredible movie this year and he deserved not only a nomination but also a win for the incredible visuals.

Who should win: Robert Yeoman – for the incredible whimsy and energy he infused on screen to complement the story by Wes Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He has shot each of the Anderson movie with the exception of Fantastic Mr Fox and their partnership has been incredible.

Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman for those beautifully crafted shots that intertwined the different spaces back and front of the stage in the claustrophobic space of the theatre. Lubezki managed to fill the screen with dynamic visuals without ever crowding the space. And with the love that the academy seems to be having for Birdman I am pretty sure Lubezki will be going for Gold number 2 a year after he won for Gravity.

 

 

Visual Effects

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Who Should/Will Win: Interstellar – there shouldn’t even be any discussion about this. To take what is essentially a life’s work in theoretical physics based on the concepts of worm hole, time travel and singularity among other scientific concepts and to turn it into petabytes of data based on 4-whiteboard-long equations and to turn that into stunning visuals is an incredible achievement that cannot be ignored.

Documentary Feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Who Should/Will Win: I loved Finding Vivian Maier and found it to be incredibly moving but in CitizenFour we have something incredible – one man’s courageous/traitorous action to expose a nation’s overreach in the name of national security and the an incredible tale showing the importance of the fourth estate of democracy – that of Journalism. CitizenFour should in all likelihood but who knows if the bureaucracy can strong arm a notoriously spineless academy.

Foreign Language Film

“Ida” Poland

“Leviathan” Russia

“Tangerines” Estonia

“Timbuktu” Mauritania

“Wild Tales” Argentina

With many acts of anti-Semitism happening around the world and the fact that it also got nominated for best cinematography bodes really well for Ida – a story of a young nun about to take her vows who discovers a terrible family secret. But I have also heard fantastic things about Leviathan as well. But seeing as how America feels politically about Russia I am willing to bet that Ida from Poland will take home the gold.

 

 

Sound Editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

“Interstellar” Richard King

“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing

“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Now up until this year these categories used to baffle me – what the hell is the difference – then upon doing some basic research I found an apt analogy sound editing is analogous to picking the right ingredients for the dish while sound mixing is the actual cooking bit. It is particularly important with most movies being released in multiple formats including IMAX where the immersive sound requirement need the cooking to be done at a different pressure. So with that being clarified what we are looking for is the movie that had the best sonic ingredients and the one that presented the best dish.

Sound Editing: Interstellar should but American Sniper most like will.

Sound Mixing: Whiplash should but Birdman most likely will.

 Original Score

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat

“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat

“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer

“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon

“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Of all the times that Zimmer should have won he wasn’t even nominated and to think that he got nominated for Interstellar is some sort of an internal academy joke. His background score for the inter-galactic adventure was the second worst thing about the movie only to be topped by Matthew McConaughey.

Who Should Win: Johann Johannsson for Theory of everything.

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat probably for The Imitation Game.

Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”

Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

“Glory” from “Selma”

Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”

Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

After Happy and Let it go from last year this year is an abysmal showing of songs that are not necessarily that memorable. Academy might want to pay homage to a fading music legend in the form Glen Campbell or probably recognize the civil rights drama Selma which has been shut out from so many other major categories.

Film Editing

“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

“Boyhood” Sandra Adair

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling

“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg

“Whiplash” Tom Cross

I would be happy for either Whiplash or Boyhood to win this – one for a tautly edited movie that does not relent the pace until the very last minute and delivers one hell of story and the other for seamlessly editing 12 years’ worth of footage without the need for subtitling which year we are in. my money though is on Boyhood.

Adapted Screenplay

“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall

“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore

“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

After being shut out the best director category it is only justified that Damien Chazelle should win for Whiplash. Or even Anthony McCarten for the brilliantly uplifting The Theory of Everything.  But I have a Feeling Graham Moore’s sub-par adaptation will take home the little shiny man.

Original Screenplay

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

With the exception of Foxcatcher we have 4 exceptionally original and entertaining screenplays 2 of which are my absolute favourites. It would be a true crowning for Richard Linklater who has given us such modern masterpieces as The Before Trilogy and the most recent Boyhood. To take everyday existence and to elevate to the level of art is what cinematic excellence should be about. Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is also absolutely brilliant in its intensity and the honesty with which the characters are written. There is no redeeming quality to be found in Gilroy’s Lou Bloom and I would love an upset win for Nightcrawler but it is unlikely to happen. More likely that Iñárritu and his team will pip Linklater to the post.

Now the playbill-worthy awards

Director

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson

“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

I love Miller’s previous works but swap him out for Theory of Everything’s Marsh or Whiplash’s Chazelle and I would be a happier man. But life isn’t fair and Linklater will probably not win but Iñárritu will. Linklater’s achievement cannot find any parallels – for a director to invest 12 years of his life and to get the same commitment from his actors to tell a simple tale of a boy coming of age is courageous to say the least. In comparison Inarritu’s masterful telling of a struggle of an actor trying to silence the demons in his head and master his craft while not entirely original is still a glorious triumph. I would like Linklater to win for all the times that he wasn’t even nominated for his Before series but I wouldn’t be too upset if Iñárritu won. But I do miss Fincher not being nominated for Gone Girl.

Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

For me it is a two-horse race between the Academy favourite Michael Keaton who fits the bill of Old-White-Male perfectly but what Eddie Redmayne achieves in Theory of Everything is incredible. Portraying living legend Stephen Hawking Redmayne manages to infuse the humour that is trademark Hawking – he does not just act like hawking he becomes hawking , gait, humour and the shrinking body and everything.

Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

In what is possibly the weakest assemblage of performances by a lead this category inspires very little confidence. Felicity Jones was brilliant as Hawking’s long-suffering wife but in a way her performance isn’t showy enough – it is subtle and it is perfect but Academy generally does not go for that sort of thing. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl was brilliant but I don’t think it is meaty enough for her to score a win. I think this one will go to Julianne Moore as she plays an academician going through Alzheimer’s. Moore is always brilliant in everything she does and here backed with an emotional story it is a sure fire lock for the best actress nod.

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan,Producers

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers

“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers

“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers

“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

It is again a two horse race for me – both quality pictures just different in their scope. Inarritu’s birdman is the more Academy friendly of the two subjects as it deals with the world of blockbuster movies, actors, theatre and the pursuit of honing their craft and with a tight screenplay and cracking performances it is a worthy contender. Then there is the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater which is the critics and fan darling and the one everyone wants to win but who knows how the academy decides. There are reports that there are voices within the academy that fails to see art in what boyhood achieves as it is very realistic and very normal – the fact that it took 12 years to make and it flips the concept of epic and generational film on its head it art enough. It would be a very brave move from the academy and a validation of its relevance if Boyhood does indeed win. There is an outside chance that Harvey Weinstein sneaks in surprise with The Imitation Games which is not a bad movie by any regards but not worthy of a win. Come 22nd February and we will see.

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture Boyhood Birdman
Best Director Richard Linklater Alejandro Iñárritu
Best Actor Eddie Redmayne Michael Keaton
Best Actress Felicity Jones Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor J K Simmons J K Simmons
Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette Patricia Arquette
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Iñárritu – Birdman
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Damian Chazelle -Whiplash Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature Film How to train your dragon – 2 How to train your dragon – 2
Best Foreign Language Film Leviathan Ida
Best Documentary – Feature CitizenFour CitizenFour
Best Documentary – Short Subject Joanna Joanna
Best Live Action Short Film Parvaneh Parvaneh
Best Animated Short Film The Feast The Feast
Best Original Score Johann Johansson Johann Johansson
Best Original Song Glory – Selma Glory – Selma
Best Sound Editing Interstellar American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing Whiplash Birdman
Best Production Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Cinematography Hoyte Van Hoytema ( not nominated)
Robert Yeoman
Emanuel Lubezki
Best Makeup and Hairstyling The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing Sandra Adair – Boyhood Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Best Visual Effects Interstellar Interstellar

Let me know what you think about my picks and if you agree or disagree and what are your predictions for Film industries big night! Bring on the Oscars 2015!!!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.

Interstellar – A Spoiler free Review

A Christopher Nolan movie is an event movie – it deserves tonnes of press and an even greater amount of hype and excitement as Nolan rarely disappoints. The man who single handedly revived the super-hero genre, the one who dabbled in magic and memory loss and dared peer inside our dreams is revered among cinephiles and for good reason. And when this man sets off on an inter-galactic voyage you simply strap in and join him for the ride on the biggest screen possible. To say I am a Nolan devotee would be a gross understatement. I have devoured every tidbit of information that came out while Nolan worked away on his space sojourn and Interstellar was the number 1 most anticipated movie for me for this year. I was back in 2010 when I was waiting with bated breath for Inception to unfold and for it to silence all Nolan critics and it did in spectacular fashion. Would Interstellar be able to continue Nolan’s winning streak or will the law of averages finally catch up with this auteur. Read on to find out more – there are no spoilers in this review

The story starts in the near future where science is all but forgotten, the school teach students that the Moon landing was a hoax perpetrated to bankrupt the Soviet Union and trained astronauts are left to plough the field for crop. This is the caretaker generation, struggling through dust clouds and crop blights to survive while staring extinction in the face. Through curiously encoded messages Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey and Murph played by Mackenzie Foy end up at NORAD a clandestine NASA mission run by the Nolan-regular Michael Caine playing Professor Brand. He asks Cooper – the best pilot they ever had- to join the mission along with his daughter Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Romily played by David Gyassi and Doyle played by Wes Bentley. The mission is to follow 3 of the 12 previous astronauts who left our galaxy to travel through a mysterious wormhole to look for other planets which could be used to sustain human life.  No more story-wise, lest I risk the spoiling of the surprises that are in-store.

Nolan is a master of visuals. His association with Wally Pfisher was what elevated his movies to the next level. With Hoyte Van Hoytema donning the cinematographer’s hat I had a feeling we won’t be let down because he filmed the wonderful Her last year and made the future very accessible and believable. The visuals Van Hoytema creates of the inter-galactic voyage are stunning in their grandeur but as one wired article evidences they are also based on a very real scientific equations which Kip Thorne the theoretical physicist from Caltech collaborated on with the team behind interstellar. The wormhole, the blackhole, and the Endurance spacecraft passing alongside Saturn are all stunning in their detail and scale. Where the visuals however are let down are with the background score. Hans Zimmer who has provided very complementary scores for previous Nolan movies plays it too heavy handedly this time around. The loud klaxon based soundtrack takes away from the scene and makes it almost unbearable. A Clint Mansel or Alexandre Desplat score would have served Nolan better giving it the Kubrickian feel of using the classical compositions. With the thunderous riffs and booming drums of Zimmer the crescendos come quick and fast but there is no payoff visually or story wise .

Nolan had me scratching my head when he announced that Matthew McConaughey would be the lead actor in Interstellar and my worst fears have come to fruition. Every time Cooper opens his mouth to speak out comes the stoner cowboy drawl that will dull anyone to sleep. Half the time his words are illegible and the other half just unbearable. He is unbelievable as someone who understands and can hold a conversation about quantum physics and he puts in no efforts to the contrary either.  Anne Hathaway is still stuck being Fantine from Les Miserables and cannot seem to turn the tears out. If we had a whiny bio-physicist and a stoned out southerner to rely on to save the fate of humanity our chances look grim. Thats where the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain comes in – she is the only one that manages to come across as someone with a sane mind but her interaction with her brother played by Casey Affleck make little sense. But my biggest grief is with David Gyassi who plays fellow astronaut Romily who waits on board Endurance when Coop, Amelia and Doyle go to the planet of the Tsunami waves. He ages 22 years when they get back on the spacecraft and I for one instance thought he was just hamming it to tease Coop and Amelia on the passage of time but he wasn’t and he had really aged and he acts really weird too, walks with a slouch and sounds defeated. The whole effect is jarring and not entirely believable.

For a movie that is nearly 3 hours long there are key scenes which feel rushed and unresolved. The initiation of Cooper into the Save-the-humanity program, the travel to the different planets to find the data, the climax which holds the key to the human survival seem hurried and rough. If more time was spent on these, more technical aspects of what is essentially a sci-fi adventure it would have felt like the Nolan movie I have come to expect. Instead we spend an inordinately long time setting up the doomsday scenario in the first half with the dustbowl and the father daughter bond that will be Cooper’s driving force. Also once onboard the time spent whining about personal issues is almost juvenile and for Nolan standards unpardonable. Instead of Cooper and Amelia talking I would much prefer a lively chat between TRAS and CASE the two robots who are nods to HAL9000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

There is little doubt that this movie is not all that it could have been. A majority of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Matthew McConaughey who I hope Nolan never collaborates with ever again. But this is still a Nolan movie it is big on Ideas and huge on visual impact. For a director who dares to take such huge risks and break away from the formulaic big-budget franchise movies it deserves a watch. It won’t redefine the sci-fi genre in the way that 2001 did. But like Inception it is an idea that needs to be explored and discussed and it makes the most complicated science easily accessible and it makes you think. And I want Nolan to break the bank on this one so he can get back to the long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic.

Dhoom : 3 – A Review

Vijay Krishna Acharya directs Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra and Katrina Kaif in the threequel to the Dhoom franchise innovatively titled Dhoom: 3. He does not so much as direct them as he shows them snippets of various Hollywood movies and musicals and asks them to imitate those.

Yashraj productions hasn’t been known to turn in quality cinema in many a decades now – but it still manages to make mildly entertaining fare which the Indian audiences and the Indian diaspora abroad lap up with enthusiasm . But with Dhoom 3 there seems to have been no effort made to make even a half intelligent somewhat original entertainment caper.

The story starts off with a Illusionist like setup in a dim theatre aptly titled “The Great Indian Circus” with an aging Jackie Shroff putting up a show for the evil bank guys in shiny suits. Mr. Anderson (our knowledge of western surnames is limited to Mr. Anderson) isn’t impressed and orders for the theatre to be shut down so that he can auction it. Jackie Shroff does what every responsible father does – kills himself in front of his son Sahir, who we are introduced to as the Oliver Twist kid who dresses like Hugo in 1990s Chicago.

Cut out of dream sequence and Aamir wakes up in a loft overlooking the John Hancockbuilding and looking mighty short in front of the imposing Chicago skyline (in my opinion the best in the world). Cut to The Dark Knight-esque bank robbery (of the same post office building) with a very serious looking Aamir walking down the building with the harness that is there one moment and missing the other. The chase goes from The Dark Knight with the underground chase to Aamir being cornered in the parking lot and coming out ala The Dark Knight Rises (the introduction of “The Bat”) and the dumbfounded cops of Chicago mouthing the same lines as those from Gotham’s finest “you are not going to believe this”.

We can’t sustain this Hollywood inspired nonsense for too long we need to go Rohit Shetty on the audiences so cut to Amma Nagar where Uday Chopra is being held captive by a gunda in a shiny suit (see a trend?). Abhishek Bachchan enters riding a Rickshaw through a wall and drives it all over the roofs of the slum just like Bond does through Turkey in Skyfall.  And the chase through the narrow lanes of the slums is also very Mombasa inspired from Inception.

What happens then in Chicago where Jai is called in as the most famous Indian cop to solve the second robbery of the Western Chicago bank and the only clue being a “Joker Calling Card” and a scribbling in Hindi.  What follows is a series of unimportant moments with the introduction of Katrina Kaif who serves no purpose in the entirety of the movie. And I am person with a very pro-Katrina bias and all through the movie she was nothing but awkward. The dance steps she was given were more suited to a person of a shorter frame and she was made to stand awkwardly to compensate for the height difference between her and Aamir. Entirely forgettable is what she was.  The much touted 5-cr song Malang is nothing but a mish-mash of different Cirque Du Soleil routines from their various shows.

how very RENT like!

The big reveal is again Nolan inspired and is almost predictable if you have been following the various Nolan references that are so on the nose that you almost see a Prestige coming.  There is a war-of-the-khan as it was that rages on between two rabid fan-bases the Aamir fan boys and the SRK fan boys. Those in the Aamir camp would be happy to note that this khan does a more convincing job of playing an Autistic/Asperger symptom showing prodigal genius than SRK.

Aamir shuttles between looking constipated when the director’s orders must’ve been to look serious and mean and between a cheerful childlike persona which he does capture very well.  Another positive is the child artist who plays Aamir as the young Sahir – now there is one child artist who does not make me cringe and that is saying quite a lot! I hope the young start gets more roles as he is really good.

The music is forgettable, the sets are recycled, the camera work while slick serves is quite indistinguishable. Aamir’s Tap dancing is so shoddy it shouldn’t be allowed to be screened to public. At one point I felt like patting Aamir’s head as one would to a precocious child ( because hitting a child is not allowed) when he goes “ look I can act serious and stuff” , “look I can tap dance”, “look at my big muscles” alright child go away enough is enough is enough.

I went in expecting to hate the movie and on that front it didn’t disappoint. It is a generic recycled unintelligent mess with more plot holes than I cared to count.  Katrina is wasted and not even given enough screen time to sit and look pretty. Uday Chopra is Uday Chopra, and Abhishek Bachchan is one note. Aamir is part impressive (a very small part where he plays the autistic persona) and part annoying and grating where he plays Sahir. Watch at your own peril!