Tag Archives: films

Denzel Washington Hits A New High With Fences

fences_teaser-posterWhen the discussion arises about the best actors who are working, nine times out of 10 the name Denzel Washington will be brought up. He has been loved ever since he came into American families homes on the series St. Elsewhere as Dr. Philip Chandler. His Star only continued to climb as he made the transition into films. St. Elsewhere ran from 1982-1988 and before the series ended Washington already had been nominated for his first Oscar and a year after the series ended he would have his first win. I could ramble on and on about Denzel and his place on the Mount Rushmore of acting, but I’m going to solely focus on his latest film in which he stars and directs.

Fences is adapted from the play which debuted in 1983 and won the7uoir0twclbi Pulitzer and Tony award in 1987. It is the story of time, place, and culture I have no experience or much knowledge about. Set in the 1950’s it is about a working class African American man and his life while raising a family and dealing with lost chances in his life. Denzel plays Troy Manson, a hard-working husband, and father who has only one mission in his life and that is to provide everything his family needs to survive and to make their way in the world. A former convict and Negro league baseball player, Troy has experienced first hand all that racial injustice can give to one man, and he is determined not to let that happen to his family, especially his son Cory. Cory is a high school student who has dreams of playing college football. Troy doesn’t want any part of Cory associated with sports because he feels his race will hold him back from being able to be successful. Because of this, he is afraid he will miss out on getting the education and skills he needs to get through and be a good man. Cory, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to feel some small sense of love from his father, and to make him proud. Showing love is something Troy doesn’t feel is necessary and that giving him what he needs physically is where his responsibility ends.

fences-f-01ne-galleryThere is a unique relationship between Troy and every character in the film from his wife to his disabled brother to his best friend Bono, wonderfully played by Stephen Henderson. Troy is a man who is slightly disgruntled at the world and wants it to be different but sees only the futility in trying to make that change even in himself.

There have been plans for years to adapt the play Fences into a feature film, in fact, the script for this project was written over ten years ago by the original author August Wilson even though he passed away in 2005. Fences is without question one of Denzel’s biggest passion projects he’s ever had, and it shows. From the perfect delivery of every line of dialogue to the feelings towards each character that the viewer feels. Each performance is pitch perfect on all fronts, and while Denzel is front and center on and off screen, it’s Viola Davis who breathes life into the picture. Viola has been an active force in film and now TV for quite some time now, but Fences is going to cement her place amongst Hollywoods elite. Look for Davis to receive her third Oscar nomination as well as collect her first win.

While it took so long for this film to get made, it needed Denzel Washington and this cast at this time to make it great. The complexity of the character needed Washington at 62 years old not 45; it was a perfect storm that brought this film out. While he may be more than worthy of a third Academy Award for his acting in Fences, it’s only because of the powerhouse performance of Casey Affleck that is keeping him from winning. Don’t count him out of the best director race either. Awards buzz aside this should be the film mentioned when talking about Washington and Davis deep into their careers.

La La Land Dances Its Way Into Award Season

rs_634x634-160713082755-600-lalaland-cm-71316Hollywood has a long history with nostalgia; you could even make a case that the whole film industry is based on nostalgia. We love to be taken back to different times and places; we watch certain movies so they can bring back old feelings we want. Some filmmakers passion projects are rooted deep in nostalgia; Woody Allen has made an entire career on his love of the past.

Young rising writer/director Damien Chazelle has released his newest film, and it is full of his love of old Hollywood and more. Chazelle shows his love for the lavish classic musical that were staples every year during the golden age of movies. Of course, this is not the first time that a film has drawn in an era of movies that is long since the past. In 2011 everyone swept away with The Artist, a modern day silent film like those of the days before recorded sound on film. In hindsight, The Artist feels more like a gimmick film now than a genuinely great movie, and many of its awards were doled out because it tugged at the nostalgia muscle of many in tinsel town.

La La Land is the story of Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian la-la-land-2-800x480played by Ryan Gosling, who are two young people trying to make it in the cutthroat world of L.A. and show business. They meet and soon find each other irresistible and try making their dreams come true while at the same time falling in love. Mia is desperate to be an actress and fulfill her childhood dreams While Sebastian wants nothing more than to own a jazz nightclub and preserve the feelings he feels towards the classic and traditional jazz music he loves. As Mia and Sebastian work towards their goals, they feel themselves begin to separate from each other and soon difficult choices need to be made. Their love is undeniable but is it as strong as it needs to be for them to breakthrough?

La La Land begins with a well choreographed lavish dance number on the freeways of Los Angeles with everyone leaving their vehicles dancing in the middle of gridlocked traffic. The vast number that makes the opening of the film left me a little uncertain as to what style and flow the movie would have because the previews of the film were more set up to show the visual beauty rather than the way any story would be told. Mia is then introduced first, and a small glimpse into her life is shown before we are shown Sebastian’s world. I have to say it took me a good 30 minutes before the story started to flow, but once it did, it pulled you in so deeply and yet gently that you are 100% immersed in their lives.

The film does not follow the typical musical blueprints of the old Gene Kelly or Danny Kaye style films from 70 or 80 years ago, but it is a love letter to that way of storytelling none the less. While music is the life force flowing through the film, it helps move the story along as well as the lives of Mia and Sebastian as opposed to being the only purpose of the film. We become enthralled with the relationship they both share and where it will lead. Sebastian is in love with the jazz music of the 1920’s and 30’s and is afraid the whole style of jazz is dying, and when he is united with an old musician friend, he isn’t a fan of his new style of jazz. His friend tells him that while he is afraid that jazz will die out, he refuses to change with the times and advance it so that people of a newer younger generation can appreciate it as a whole. This reflects the film itself and the state that musical films are in right now. When musicals are made they do seem to be old love letters to the musicals of old, there doesn’t appear to be anything new that would bring old and new together. Chazelle has made his attempt at bringing that out with his version of a new musical in films. He has in essence challenged others to make musicals more prevalent again, but at the same time to give them a new look and feel that will draw everyone back.

La La Land is one of the heavy favorites going into award season and it is for a good reason. Part of the reason that it is garnering so much attention is that it is a return to musicals, and it stirs up the nostalgia of all the awards committees, but in this turn of the musical, Chazelle has made it new and given it a life of its own. Chazelle has established himself as a new and exciting voice in filmmaking in a very short amount of time and gave movie fans quite a bit to be excited about.

 

Manchester By The Sea Will Affect Every Emotion You Can Imagine

manchester-by-the-sea-quad-posterNow and then a film comes along that lingers in the mind of the viewer long after it is over leaving a feeling or impression that just can’t be easily lost. In the case of movies like this, rarely is it a happy, feel-good movie. The stories that leave such lasting impressions touch us in an uncomfortable way and shake us deep down. It has been quite some time since I have had these feelings and emotions after leaving a theater but, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea has left me with feelings and emotions that won’t soon be shaken.

Manchester By The Sea is the story of Lee Chandler who is a quiet 58544f3aae63a-imagehandyman in the Quincy area of Boston who appears to be more or less just existing on a daily basis. Lee is informed that his brother Joe has died and Lee has to come back home to Manchester and settle things for his brother and be with his 16-year-old nephew. While making all the arraignments and settling the estate, Lee is informed that he is now the legal guardian of his nephew, Pat. Lee is completely unprepared to handle this responsibility and the more time Lee spends in Manchester, the more he is reminded of why he is ill equipped handle this responsibility. Lee is constantly haunted by past mistakes and a life he has tried so hard to forget and erase from his mind.

As I sit here trying to express my thoughts and views of Manchester, I find the right words incredibly hard to find. It is hard to put the depth of emotions that the film brings out, into words. Lonergan manages to capture humanity at its most difficult while proving that not everyone gains closure no matter how desperately they want and need it. His brilliant and articulate script are matched only by his visual way of telling Lee’s tragic and intense story. The mixture of flashbacks is used so expertly, that with every new scene we are made to understand Lee more and more. Casey Affleck’s performance is moving and captivating on a level that most actors only wish they had the ability to reach. With every word and glance and the gaze of his eyes, you can almost feel what he does in the pit of his stomach.

1122_manchester-hedgesThere is no doubt why this film is going to be on the tips of everyone’s tongue during the upcoming awards season. As for the film’s star, Casey Affleck, he has cemented himself amongst the greatest working actors and is poised to walk away with just about every award possible for him. This is the role that will define him as an actor, and he should be proud to have this as the feather in his cap.

This picture is not one of a tragedy that turns into hopefulness leaving us crying with joy and relief for the characters. This story is one that is real and raw and may make you look at someone and see things differently. Not everyone gets over tragedy. Not everyone heals and moves on; sometimes people just exist, and they are damaged and broken.

Manchester By The Sea may have you leave the theater asking why manchester-by-the-sea-1someone would choose to tell such a depressing and sad story. This would be a valid thought, but sometimes we need to experience sad and tragic art so that those producing the art and those viewing it can expunge the feelings we all have deep inside us.

Don’t look for Manchester By The Sea to give you a boost but don’t think that experiencing the depths of emotions not often tapped into can’t also make you feel alive.

50 Years Of Woody Allen 1980-1989

woody-allenContinuing my look at 50 years of Woody Allen making films puts us in the decade of the 1980’s. The decade of money and power and a desperate need to distance itself from the 70’s. Woody looked to build off the success he achieved in the decade previously. The 80’s did not start off so kind to him though with his release of Stardust Memories which many fans and critics took as a slight towards them. It turned out to be the first time one his films would receive heavy scrutiny on that scale. It would take several years to pass before Stardust Memories would get appreciated for what it was. Despite starting the decade rather harshly, he would soon find his stride once again.

5.  Radio Days (1987)img_0769

Radio Days is as close to an autobiographical film as Woody Allen has ever made. Set in the early 1940’s a tight-knit family in Brooklyn all live in one small home where each of their lives revolves around their favorite radio stars. Using all his old stories of the stars of the time, he at the same time tells the story of each member of his family. Radio Days features some of the classic Woody humor and portrays this family in a way that most everyone can see pieces of their family in them. Check out my retrospective here

4.  The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985)img_0770

In the 1930′ a young woman named Cecilia who is very dissatisfied with her life and stuck in an abusive relationship, finds solace and escape in the movies. She sees one particular film over and over until the movie’s star, perfectly played by Jeff Daniels, steps off the screen into the theater right into her life. The fourth collaboration between Allen and Mia Farrow in what would prove to be one of the best teams in movie history, until it all went wrong. A beautiful, heartfelt romantic fantasy film that is so enjoyable it leaves you with a smile.

3.  Broadway Danny Rose (1984)img_0771

A comedic series of events lands a low-level talent agent to be mistaken by a gangster as the lover of a woman he is trying to help. One of the most eccentric characters Farrow played in her series of films with Allen, she pulls it off beautifully. Semi narrated by a group of nightclub entertainers who sit around reminiscing about Danny Rose and his hilarious antics that made him so memorable.

2.  Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)img_0773

Two stories simultaneously told even though they never overlap. One is comical in nature, and the other is dramatic and even rather sinister. Martin Landau plays a doctor whose mistress is threatening to expose their affair to his wife if he doesn’t leave with her. He begins to think there is only one way to make the situation go away and that is to kill her. In the other story, a documentary filmmaker reluctantly agrees to make a film about his wife’s brother whom he doesn’t particularly like or respect. While making the film, he meets a producer whom he begins developing deep feelings for while he and his wife navigate through their loveless marriage.

  1.  Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)img_0774

Critically his most successful film of the decade, Hannah And Her Sisters won 3 Academy Awards for the screenplay, supporting actress for Diane Weist (her first of two she won with Woody) and best supporting actor for Michael Caine. Hannah And Her Sisters is the story of three very different sisters and how they navigate their lives and how they are each affected differently by the same people. Expertly acted and wonderfully written, Hannah is one of Woody’s finest films in his whole catalog. It is the perfect blend of comedy and drama yet still full of heart and depth; it was truly his highlight of the decade

The 88th Annual Academy Award Predictions

imageThe biggest night of the year for Hollywood is upon us. Everyone from casual fans to big time movie buffs, have opinions on the Oscars, whether it is predictions or having disdain for the awards themselves. As much as I love the Oscars, I also understand those who despise the entire essence of the show.

This has turned out to be one of my favorite years for all the nominated films in all of the categories, despite the controversy surrounding, there are many, many wonderful films deserving of awards. Here are my predictions for tonight’s big show.

 

88th Academy Awards Ceremony
February 28, 2016
Host: Chris Rock

 

Best Cinematographyimage

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Mad: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

 

 

Best Animated Feature Filmimage

Anomalisa

O Menino e o Mundo

Inside Out

Shaun The Sheep Movie

Omoide no Mânî

 

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplayimage

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

 

 

 

Best Original Screenplayimage

Bridge Of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

 

Best Director  Full Commentary Here image

Adam McKay (The Big Short)

George Miller (Mad Max:Fury Road)

Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

 

 

Best Supporting Actress  Full Commentary Here image

Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

Rooney Mara (Carol)

Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

 

Best Supporting Actor  Full Commentary Here image

Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)

Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

 

Best Leading Actress  Full Commentary Here image

Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Brie Larson (Room)

Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn)

 

Best Leading Actor  Full Commentary Here image

Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Matt Damon (The Martian)

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

 

Best Picture  Full Commentary Here image

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Bridge Of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

The Anticipation Is Over For Star Wars Fans. The Force Awakens Is Here

imageNot since the release of the first of the 3 prequels has there been a more anticipated movie release in history. I think it would be safe to say that the release of The Force Awakens is more anticipated than any other Star Wars film yet. Fans are eager to wash the bad taste out of their mouth that the prequels unfortunately left. When the news broke that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm Ltd to Walt Disney Studios the first question everyone wanted answered was, “would this bring any new Star Wars films”? It didn’t take long at all for them to get their answer. Yes, they would. It was quickly announced that there would be a concluding trilogy to take place after Return Of The Jedi. JJ Abrams was given the keys to the kingdom when he was asked to write and direct Episode VII. He promised a return to what everyone loved about the originals and to make the movie the fans deserved. Without any George Lucas involvement and a true fan at the helm, fans had a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

It didn’t take long for the story to come together as well as the cast. Despite constant media attention from the original announcement things were kept relatively secret. Pictures slowly leaked and characters’ names but not much else would be known. The more footage and photos made their way online the more the anticipation built. For the last couple months eagerness was palpable. This is the most exciting weekend in any Star Wars fan’s lifetime. So many questions bubble forth. Would Abrams deliver? Would it be what we hoped for from the prequels? Would it have the authentic feel we missed? To all these questions the answer is a resounding YES!!

I should clarify, this is not the greatest movie in the series. There is NO DOUBT that they are headed in the right direction. It is clearly washing away any uneasy feelings that the prequels left lingering. There is no sign of ego in this film as there were when Lucas made the last 3. Lucas wanted to experiment and lost his drive and vision when he created the earliest Anakin years. He slightly redeemed himself with Revenge Of The Sith, but that shouldn’t give him a pass on almost destroying the entire franchise, including his terrible reproductions of the original three.

The Force Awakens picks up some 30 years after the end of Jedi. The imagerebellion had lost its power and the empire has reemerged and are now known as the first order. The rebellion is now known as the resistance. The stories of Luke and Han and Leia are legendary and at the same time believed to be myths. When a storm trooper begins to have an attack of conscience and helps a resistance pilot escape from captivity it sends him on a journey he was hoping to separate himself from. When Finn and the rescued pilot Poe crash on the planet of Jakuu they are soon separated and Finn is unexpectedly teamed up with an orphan scavenger named Rey. When Rey discovers a droid named BB-8 who is carrying vital information as to the location of Luke Skywalker, who has long since gone into hiding after his attempt to train a new breed of Jedi goes terribly wrong when a student quickly is drawn to the dark side.

The journey to bring the map of Luke’s location into the hands of the resistance has many familiar faces when Han Solo is reunited with his ship, the legendary Millennium Falcon and a young crew of Rey and Finn, who soon learn that the stories of the rebellion are not just stories but that they are truth.

imageThe first order is in pursuit of the same map for fear that if it falls into the hands of the resistance they may find the power they need to once again take down the evil overlooking government. Kylo Ren is the pupil of Supreme Leader Snoke and hopes to walk in the footsteps of Darth Vader and to succeed. Where he could not. Kylo Ren has the inexperience of youth and an almost uncontrollable temper standing in his way.

The Force Awakens follows very closely the blueprint that A New Hope laid out 38 years ago. This is not due to a lack of originality, but because this is the best way to set up the films that will follow. This allows you to get to form an attachment to the newest characters.

New comers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega clearly steal the film with their performances which is not easy when sharing the screen with the iconic Han and Leia and Chewy. Seeing as how it’s been 32 years since Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were in character form there is some definite rust in their performances. Ford brings his classic dry humor and nerd herder presence, while Fisher shows it has been some time since she had to do any acting more than guest appearances or cameos as she is clearly the most out of sync actor on the screen.

When all is said and done, fans of Star Wars can rest easy that the franchise is back in capable hands. Don’t expect this film to be the greatest movie you have seen, but that it is the first step in what will be a great new path laid in the name of Star Wars.

Trailer Trash: Paddington

Beloved children’s books have always been a big draw in Hollywood, from The Wizard Of Oz to Mary Poppins to Where The Wild Things Are. The latest in this long line to come to life is, Paddington Bear. The book and cartoon favorite, will hit theaters this November in a live action movie. The teaser trailer was released yesterday and definitely has fans’ interest peaked.