Thursday, February 28, 2013

Steven Spielberg to Head Cannes Film Festival Jury

Three days after losing the Best Director Oscar for Lincoln to Ang Lee (for Life of Pi), it has been reported that Steven Spielberg will head the film jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, running from May 15th-26th.  The famed filmmaker has been to Cannes before-- Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull screened out of competition in 2008, as did E.T. and The Color Purple; he shared the Screenplay prize for his 1974 film The Sugarland Express.

“It is an honour and a privilege to preside over the jury of a festival that proves, again and again, that cinema is the language of the world"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Comes Next?

The post-Oscar nomination effort can in many ways seem even more taxing than the one that got you to the Dolby Theater in the first place.  Which begs the question, of which of the twenty acting nominees, who appears ripe to come back the soonest?  Of this years slate, only Jessica Chastain returned as a nominee from 2011.  Which actor may be back next year?

Serena with Bradley Cooper.
Bradley Cooper earned first first Oscar nomination for career-elevating work in Silver Linings Playbook, and has a lot coming out soon.  First, he'll show up in this springs The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling, then he's re-teaming with his Playbook co-star Jennifer Lawrence in the Depression-era drama Serena, directed by Suzanne Bier (In a Better World) as well as in the Untitled David O. Russell/Abscam film, returning the to the Wolfpack in the third iteration of The Hangover, and is committed to Cameron Crowe's latest- an Untitled work co-starring Emma Stone.   Hugh Jackman is following up his first Oscar nomination with an art film called The Wolverine, as well as co-starring with Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in the crime thriller Prisoners.  He will follow that with a cameo in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and might, just might, have a baity role if his P.T. Barnum biopic ever sees the light of day in The Greatest Showman on Earth.   Joaquin Phoenix will follow-up The Master by reuniting with his Two Lovers director James Gray in Lowlife, co-starring Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner.  He will follow that with the enticing sounding Spike Jonze film Her, co-starring Rooney Mara, Amy Adams and Samantha Morton, and is attached to Paul Thomas Anderson's latest Inherent Vice due in 2014.   Denzel Washington will next be seen in the crime thriller 2 Guns opposite Mark Wahlberg.   Meanwhile, Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis hasn't attached himself to anything just as yet, and don't be surprised if the notoriously picky actor takes his time-- he only made one film in between his last Oscar victory (2007's There Will Be Blood) and Lincoln, and that was the misfire musical Nine (2009); that being said, is there much doubt that Day-Lewis may be able to catch up to Katherine Hepburn's record 4 competitive Leading Actor trophies....

Naomi Watts as Diana.
Jessica Chastain, whose appeared in nearly fifty thousand movies in the past few years will have a healthy, if somewhat muted 2013 showing if only by her standards.  She already follow-up her work in Zero Dark Thirty with the box office hit Mama, and will next appear in the two-part drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which deconstructs a relationship from both his and her perspective-- James McAvoy co-stars; she's all attached to Liv Ullmann's remake of Miss Julie, due in 2014.    The oldest Leading Actress nominee of all time, Emmanuelle Riva will next be seen in A Greek Type of Problem, while the youngest, Quzenzhane Wallis will try and prove she's no one trick pony with Twelve Years a Slave, Steve McQueen's latest with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch and recently became attached to play that title role in the Will Smith-produced remake of Annie, begging the question...can you sing?   Naomi Watts has a healthy 2013 slate, including the Sundance hit Two Mothers, the drama Sunlight, Jr., as well as the potentially very baity Diana, where the actress will play late Princess of Wales.  She's also attached to the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde and Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert, but neither have confirmed start dates as you now.   Winner Jennifer Lawrence continues her prodigious young career while anchoring two huge franchises: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will come out this November; while X-Men: Days of Future Past will open summer of 2014.  In the midst of movie star roles, she will continue ground genre work with smaller scaled drama like Serena, co-starring Bradley Cooper, as well as re-teaming with Silver Linings director David O. Russell in his latest, untitled/Abscam film and another film written by Argo scribe Chris Terrio.

A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Argo nominee and all around curmudgeon Alan Arkin can be seen now in Stand Up Guys opposite Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, co-stars in the action comedy In Security as well as this springs magician comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, he's also currently filming Grudge Match alongside co-nominee Robert De Niro, who himself has a long list of films coming our way, including the delayed comedy The Big Wedding, the thriller Killing Season opposite John Travolta, the crime thriller Motel, the Luc Besson-helmed thriller Malavita opposite Michelle Pfieffer and co-nominee Tommy Lee Jones, as well as the Bucket List-sounding comedy Last Vegas.   Philip Seymour Hoffman will join the cast of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opposite Jennifer Lawrence as well as headlining Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man alongside Robin Wright and Rachel MacAdams.   Lincoln nominee Tommy Lee Jones will co-star in the aforementioned Malavita as well as starring and directing the drama The Homesman with Meryl Streep.  Surprise winner Christoph Waltz will star in Terry Gilliam's next headtrip, The Zero Theorem along with Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw and Tilda Swinton, as well as provide his vocals for the animated feature Epic.

Amy Adams in Man of Steel
Nominee Amy Adams has tons of stuff coming our way.  She'll next be seen in Man of Steel, the Zack Synder reboot of the Superman saga as Lois Lane, the drama Lullaby with Garrett Hedlund, a supporting role in Spike Jonze's Her opposite her Master co-star Joaquin Phoenix, as well as reuniting with her Fighter director David O. Russell in his Untitled Abscam feature.    Sally Field will reprise her role as Aunt May in the next Spider-man film, but has nothing slated for 2013 as of yet, while Helen Hunt will be a part of the ensemble cast of Decoding Annie Parker, as well as co-starring in Relative Insanity.    Surprise nominee Jacki Weaver will co-star in Stoker with Nicole Kidman, which opens in limited release this week and currently filming Parkland opposite Zac Efron.   Les Miserables winner Anne Hathaway appears to be taking a break post Oscar-win with only a cameo in Joseph Gordon Levitt's directorial debut, Don Juan's Addiction and the sequel the 2011 animated film Rio slated as of now, of course that long gestating Judy Garland biopic, if it every actually gets made, could very well Oscar number two.

Just as hard for actors to follow up Oscar-nominated work, the case can be made that directors have even more difficult decision to be made, and nominees Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin, as well as champion Ang Lee haven't committed to anything as of yet.  David O. Russell isn't waiting as his Abscam project starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Louis C.K. is due later this year, about a 1970s FBI sting operation.    And Steven Spielberg will follow the Oscar success of Lincoln with what's sure to be bonafide AMPAS catnip with Robopocalypse. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Hangover

So of course Argo would prevail in the end, winning three Academy Awards-- Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.  It's a film that over anything else that celebrates Hollywood, a movie where movies save the day, and whatever you say about the film artistically or it's awards campaign, in the grand scheme of themes it will be remembered, for being what it is--- a fine film, nothing more, nothing less.  In the twenty-four hours since the biggest party in Hollywood has come to its circuitous end, what's the takeaway from the 85th Academy Awards.  A tonally and bizarrely all over the place affair, lushly overproduced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Oscar-winners a decade ago for Chicago) had a theme, an Oscar first in celebrating music or musicals or something or other.  It got lost early on in the bizarre and overly long monologue from first time host Seth MacFarlane, which tried to mock the next day reactions shot by already positing him as the "Worst Oscar Host Ever!" In truth, he was neither terribly good nor atrociously bad, despite the hideous reviews.  And the master of ceremonies at Hollywood's biggest night is an unenviable one at that-- everyone gets nasty reviews; it's a pretty awful job come to think of it.  It's only after time is past, and newer, lesser hosts come out of the wood works when prior shows are given a better shake.  Think about that-- the general consensus of recent triumphs with Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman or Steve Martin were never praised in the moment, but merely in the wake of later crimes in the forms of people like James Franco, Anne Hathaway and David Letterman.  MacFarlane, known for his crudeness exemplified in box office hits like Ted and cartoons like Family Guy and American Dad, had the odious position this year.  In an unsettled show, and in truth the Oscars have difficultly getting all the gears working right every year (it's an overlong, massive beast of a show-- ungainly even) MacFarlane can be accused of being crass, sexist, racist and misanthropic, but he also came across neutered, reigned in by the Oscar machine at the same time.

And while certain parts were bad from the start-- a musical celebration of female nudity on screen, a sock puppet reanactment of Flight, the worst part was how nothing felt remotely connected at all.  It should be a celebration in the past years achievement in film, and 2012 was a massive one at that-- the material was ripe...look at the smaller-scaled magic that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did at the Golden Globes?  Instead there was frat boy humor (sold on the sad desperation for the younger male demo that the Academy Awards will never get...something AMPAS needs to sharply get over) mixed with old time song and dance; all of which made strange bedfellows.  Surely, it was sweet, if odd, to see Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum cutting it up and MacFarlane doing a two-step with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe, but you had Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Argo, Django Unchained, etc. all in one place; was the diversion really necessary?  There was one finely pointed joke (one of the few last night) when MacFarlane addressed Argo, a film about the classified CIA mission, one of such secrecy that even the films director wasn't known-- a nice dig at director Ben Affleck's notorious Best Director snub.  It wasn't class-less or awful, since everyone knew he would still have bragging rights come at the finality of the 3-hour-plus show. 

The rampant sexism that permeated throughout the show appears it's consistent target, and something important to address.  For all those referencing and sexualizing was at the very least, awkward.  Belittling Jessica Chastain's role in Zero Dark Thirty as a node of how woman, "can't let anything go," or digging at George Clooney by suggesting that 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis will some to be young for him was lowly and at the very least, examples of bad and lazy writing, but for all that, it was the musical performances of Adele, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Hudson and Shirley Bassey (as part of lame 50 years of Bond package) were the real highlights.  MacFarlane's humor likely derailed for the most part because his particular persona is well honed in broad satire, and his jokes read like real digs from an outsider, versus the cuddly good nature that was felt from insiders like Jackman or Fey and Poehler.  The moral of the story remains that hosting the Oscars is probably the worst job in show business, and much of Oscar 2013 would have lagged despite MacFarlane, like all of the mugging and ungracious commercial time spent honoring Chicago, complete with a commemorative performance of "All That Jazz" and an reunion of stars Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah.  A shout out to movie musicals isn't a bad idea in theory, but by hewing only to Chicago, Dreamgirls and this years nominee Les Miserables (which was a high point, for me at least) limits the strength of the genre itself-- expand it, why not-- you have decades of choices to make it work on Hollywood's biggest night.

One thing that couldn't be expected was the relative blandness of the speeches, most of which were just a litmus of thank yous and shout outs to the expected parties, something of which is a given more and more of as the long parade of televised awards shows becomes noticeably a bit dull when the Oscar conclude the season each year.  Still, there was a few moments where the producers made some tacky twitches.  When the Life of Pi team accepted their Best Visual Effects award, they were promptly played off (to the tacky screeches of Jaws score) when mentioning the ensuing striff among the Visual Effects community and the recent bankruptcy of Rhythms and Hues, the effects house that did the extraordinary Pi work.  It was one of the few genuinely important statements in the show, one rudely cut off.  Sure, it's a below the line tech prize, and sure the beast of the Oscars run long every year, but cut off someone foaming at the mouth about nonsense in the warbling of thank yous, not in a sermon of substance. 

The acting winners weren't overly engaging either as Christoph Waltz surprised for Django Unchained, winning a mere three years after his last win-- for a similarly performed, Tarantino filmAnne Hathaway, winning despite a vehement season plagued by lots of nasty online bickering-- she firmly deserved in the prize in my book, but her false humility does tend to bomb onstage-- someone should tell her, it is OK to really, really want it as long as your talent backs it up.  In her case, it does.  The leading actor winners were in fine form as Jennifer Lawrence tripped on her way to accepting for Silver Linings Playbook, giving the actress not just a cute story to tell for the rest of her life, but promptly giving naysayers and Emmanuelle Riva supporters a hearty blow with her natural and refreshing joie de vivre.  Daniel Day-Lewis, on the other hand, winning the ever expected prize for Lincoln, was funnier and looser than ever before-- joking with "needs no introduction" presenter Meryl Streep about how he tried out as Margaret Thatcher.  Still, there's no real surprises or insights, or particularly emotion in the festivities-- I half expected Hathaway to at the very least shed a few tears. 

But the Oscars are more than ever, after 85 years, a machine in its self, and once more, the show opens itself up for criticism and hateful, cringe-inducing comments year after year.  It's one of the things that once digested, usually quell for entertainment, and why so many obsessives will continue to write, talk about and in spite of themselves, go back for more.  And while there was some noticeable errors in judgement this year-- Michelle Obama reading the Best Picture winner from the White House reeked, just as MacFarlane's Sound of Music reference in introducing Christopher Plummer was an unexpected pleasure, the Oscars will live and fight another day.

85th Academy Award Winners

DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino
DOCUMENTARY: Searching for Sugar Man
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda
COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina- Jacqueline Durran
FILM EDITING: Argo- William Goldenberg
ORIGINAL SCORE: Life of Pi- Michael Danna
ORIGINAL SONG: "Skyfall," Skyfall
SOUND MIXING: Les Miserables
SOUND EDITING: (tie) Zero Dark Thirty; Skyfall

HOW DID I DO: I scored 18 out of 24 categories missing Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Animated Feature, Documentary Short and Sound Editing.  I was, perhaps, a bit stubborn on my own biases for at least of a few of these, but soak in for a decent showing considering the competitiveness of this manic year.  No one, for sure, could see a tie coming in Sound Editing, and there was a more generous supply of spreading the wealth than I first envisioned as eight of the nine Best Picture nominees took home prizes (the lone standout is unfortunately one of best films of the year in Beasts of the Southern Wild.)


Sunday, February 24, 2013

One Day More: Final Oscar Predictions!

Here we go; the time is now.

Will win: Argo
Always atop the Oscar frontrunner ladder, Argo became the defacto winner with its combination of PGA, DGA, SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe, WGA, Ace Eddie victories.  It prevailed despite a Best Director nomination becoming the scrappy underdog in which the Academy truly relishes.  Nothing else stands much of a chance.

BEST DIRECTOR- Ang Lee, Life of Pi
With Best Picture spoken for without a Best Director slot this very strange year has an odd conundrum in what to do with the now secondary Directors slot; a formidable one at that mind you.  My gut says Ang Lee takes it away because Life of Pi is a pure through and through directorial achievement from a filmmaker that everyone out and out admires.  I can't quite imagine a scenario where Spielberg wins without a Best Picture honor, but smell the threat of David O. Russell.  Plus, Lee might get overdue sympathy in light of the Brokeback Mountain upset in 2005.

BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

BEST ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
A gut pick and one that's perhaps spurred on at least partially by my own biases, as I reckon if the members of the Academy actually sit down and watch all five performances, they shall agree it's handily the best.  The BAFTA win is not insignificant, but I agree that by all measure Jennifer Lawrence should be the logical pick.  However, she is mighty young and at the ripe age of 22 will, and most shall agree, have another go at it.  Riva, whose 86th birthday is the day of the ceremony, I feel, will honored.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
The hardest acting category and one of the most irritating as all five all previous winner (an Academy first.)  I'm going with the SAG pick on the thinking that the sourpuss Jones will prevail as a way to share the wealth for Lincoln.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

A tricky one, consider both Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained are legitimate threats.  However, Zero Dark is a problem child on account of the torture sequences, and I feel Django likely didn't register all too well with the Academy.  Since Amour seems nearly a given as Foreign Film, and has 5 nominations to its credit, I feel the love will transfer to screenplay, a place where Director nominee Haneke can fully win an Oscar.

A bit painful as Tony Kushner's work on Lincoln is letter perfect, but the Best Picture winner should prevail here as well.

Brave is following closely.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Searching for Sugar Man
The juggernaut this year, and likely winner, especially since Documentary, for the first time, is open to all members of the Academy to vote on this year.

Foreign Film is never a lock, considering it's voted on committee by members who must watch all five nominated films, but Amour, a Best Picture nominee, is the safe bet.

A tight race, and one (like many this year) where there's a case to be made for all five.  I'm choosing Lincoln because it seems the one tech prize that it has a chance in, and as a spread the wealth prize for the film that was likely second place in Best Picture.

Tough call between the rich CGI splendor of Pi and the hope of Roger Deakins, the artist/poet finally winning an Oscar after ten tries with SkyfallPi should prevail.

A case where the most means best, and Jacqueline Durran's work on Anna Karenina personifies both splendidly.

Typically matched with Best Picture and William Goldenberg's tight cutting is partially why Argo is so successfully to begin with.

With the short films, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.  However, this is the first year that voting is allotted to all members of the Academy and that might make them easier to predict.  Paperman, from Disney is likely the mostly viewed Animated Short, Open Hearts, the most likely to elicit tears, and Curfew, the most logic...may not be sound!

One where anything can happen...I think Michael Danna's internationally-infused score will prevail.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "Skyfall," Skyfall

The sound mixing of Les Miserables has had it's campaign nearly soaked up for months because the live singing was such a huge component of the film itself.  Musicals tends to do well here.

The MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) gave Pi the most prizes...logic lies there....not confident!

A chance to spread the wealth for Les Miserables against a field of Hitchcock (which can't possibly win?!?) and The Hobbit, which will likely lose due to a been-there/done-that feel.


Independent Spirit Awards

FEATURE: Silver Linings Playbook
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
ACTOR: John Hawkes, The Sessions
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Helen Hunt, The Sessions
JOHN CASSAVETTES AWARD (Best Film Under $500,000): Middle of Nowhere
FIRST FEATURE: Perks of Being a Wallflower
SCREENPLAY: Safety Not Guaranteed- Derek Connolly
DOCUMENTARY: The Invisible War
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Beasts of the Southern Wild- Ben Richardson

"Win on Saturday, lose on Sunday," the expression must remain from the Independent Spirit Awards which has had a stubborn and sometimes spotty history as the Oscar's also ran eternal bridesmaid.  And while many can quibble the mere idea that Silver Linings Playbook, a film fully distributed by a mini-major motion picture studio came about to the major winner at a budget reportedly higher than the $20 million cap, there goes the dirt apart of this society....all of which has a bit of blood upon them.  Whatever the summation, not a bad line-up.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cesar Awards

The French version of the Academy Awards felt Amour, going all It Happened One Night on them topping everything.

DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke, Amour
ACTOR: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
ACTRESS: Emmanelle Riva, Amour
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Guillaume de Tonquedec, What's in a Name
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Valerie Benguigui, What's in a Name
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Amour- Michael Haneke
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Rust & Bone- Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain
NEWCOMER (Female): Izia Higelin, Mauvaise Fille
NEWCOMER (Male): Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust & Bone
ORIGINAL SCORE: Rust & Bone- Alexandre Desplat
SOUND: Cloclo
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Farewell, My Queen
COSTUMES: Farewell, My Queen

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saturn Award Nominations

Honoring the best in genre filmmaking, here are the nominees for the 39th Annual Saturn Awards:
The Hobbit leads with 9 nominations

Cloud Atlas
The Hunger Games
Marvel's The Avengers

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Ruby Sparks
Snow White & the Huntsman

The Cabin in the Woods
The Impossible
Seven Psychopaths
The Woman in Black
Zero Dark Thirty

The Bourne Legacy
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Taken 2

Killer Joe
The Paperboy
Robot & Frank
Safety Not Guaranteed
Seeking a Friend For the End of the World

Anna Karenina
Chicken with Plums
The Fairy
My Way


William Friedkin, Killer Joe
Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Rian Johnson, Looper
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises
Joss Whedon, Marvel's The Avengers 

Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises
Daniel Craig, Skyfall
Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper
Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
Clark Gregg, Marvel's The Avengers
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises
Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Judi Dench, Skyfall
Gina Gershon, Killer Joe
Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Charlize Theron, Snow White & the Huntsman

CJ Adams, The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Daniel Huttlestone, Les Miserables
Chloe Grace Moretz, Dark Shadows
Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild     

The Cabin in the Woods
Django Unchained
Killer Joe
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers
Seven Psychopaths

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
Dark Shadows
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Life of Pi

The Bourne Legacy
Cloud Atlas
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers    

Anna Karenina
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Snow White & the Huntsman

Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Impossible
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
John Carter
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers
Snow White & the Huntsman                           

85 Years of Oscar

Chile, 1988: Under the fifteen-year rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet the political climate is harsh and often dangerous.  Due to immense international pressure a public vote is set up as to whether he will continue his reign over the country.  The decision was set on a simple vote, either YES or NO.  YES would keep the status quo in a country under siege by corruption, censorship and grand inequality and NO would lead to the founding of a newly instated democracy for the country for Chile.  For this measure, each camp is allotted fifteen minutes of television airtime every night in the twenty-seven days leading up to the landmark election in an effort to present their case before the public vote.   Director Pablo Larraín chronicles these tenuous days leading up the election with the rousing and electric No, currently an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film, and the third part of trilogy of films the director has made about the Pinochet regime, following Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010), Larraín has crafted a crisply sharp movie of unmatchable intelligence and enterprise, a moving and delicate piece, driven by a grace and immediacy of an important chapter in a nations history.

To the credit of the filmmakers and the entire team apart of this extraordinary feature, No never plays like a hard pill to swallow piece of filmmaking that goes down like medicine.  Instead, it's a funny, often darkly subversive, nifty bit of historical fiction, shot with a fly on the wall perspective of a living reality.  The first sequence is a telling one.  Young ace advertiser, René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), whose sort of a shaggier version of Don Draper from Mad Men, is pitching his latest product.  It's the latest campaign for a soda, and the nervy execution of his angle is so acutely informed by the nature of good salesmanship that at first, we the audience seem unaware of what this is all about at all-- he turns his pitch into the selling of something greater than sugary fizz.  René is soon interrupted by José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), an old acquaintance and prime proponent for the NO; José wants him to shepherd the television spots in an effort to bring his ace adman skills to the movement.  Whatever internal moral conflicts that rest inside René, who we later learn was once an expatriate of Chile from a left-wring upbringing, he is hesitant to join forces with the NO camp because he, like many Chilean youths, believe the whole system is rigged anyway.  Through arm-twisting and a particular set of violence set upon his estranged activist wife Veronica (Antonia Zegers), René finally relents.  To thicken the narrative push of the story thematically, René's boss Lucha Guzman (Alfredo Castro), whose vehemently on the YES camp is heading their advertising campaign.

The internal bits of No, at least in the nervy first half, take some time getting used to, as a great many characters (many of whom based upon real people, some like René composite studies) enter the fray, and the relationships tend to blur a few times in a confusing way.  Adding to this is the unusual way in which Larraín films No, nearly as a nervy post modern documentary.  Shot on the video, using the U-matic 3:4 aspect ratio, which was commonly used on television in Chile in the late 1980s, No seamlessly blends archival footage, recreations and new footage in an all together alert and mesmerizing way, coming that which is almost akin to cinema verité.  What's striking, almost immediately is not just how fresh the film looks by reverting back to the crappy visual aesthetic of the past, but how relevant and how sharply deft the screenplay is.  No was written by Pedro Peirano based on un-produced play by Antonio Skarmeta.  Even as we are figuring and sorting everything out and putting a frame of reference on the characters and the events (most of which were absolutely foreign to myself), there's a grounding sense of control and an ease from the filmmakers that gently coincides as the film builds up in tension.

René has a radical strategy in transforming the NO campaign.  Rather than illustrating and utilizing their fifteen minutes of air time on the oppressive and sad truths of the last fifteen years, how about emphasizing the optimism and wonder of what the future could look like if one votes NO.  And so he sets about filming grandly happy scenic footage of happy, smiley individuals, picnicking in the park, dancing, singing and laughing.  He even gets a catchy jingle written for the spots-- something jumpy as opposed to the histrionics something like a ballad or an anthem might convey.  It goes without saying there's great reticence when he reveals his first previews, as many members of the NO campaign struggle with such saccharine treatment given the hardships that this election was brought upon.  However, and this is the insightful and resonant thing about No-- René understands inherently that it's not so much about the facts or the right or the wrong when pushing an agenda or a cause, it's in how it's sold.  In a reaching theme not so dissimilar than a central conflict in the Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, sometimes in how a position is sold can make all the difference.  And just as Lincoln sold the 13th Amendment as a necessary response to the brutality of the Civil War, the NO camp sells the concept of happiness as the anecdote to the disenfranchised.  And as in politics and advertising, the lines between right and wrong, morality and immorality between queasily blurry, no matter if one believes they have right on their side.  The conflict of conscience begins to take hold of René, and Bernal in a great performance of effortless control and subtle vulnerability makes that achingly clear as his own private world is put in jeopardy as his name becomes more and more closely associated to the NO campaign.

No, in it's efforts doesn't sugarcoat the events of history in the slightest, even as it sheds light on a significant slice of international history with a grandiosity and scope of great entertainment.  For there's the odious beast of political games that rear its ugly head in the form of violence and dirty tricks.  The film works nearly as well as a social satire as it does a humanistic drama.  Further competitiveness is tested between René and Lucho, as Lucho's tactics grow uglier and bring out graver consequences for the safety of the entire team, all of whom slowly becoming closer targets to further hostility.  The film may be considered a largely one-sided affair, and the film has received a few negative comments from various members claiming neglect to other sides of the story-- all of which can be seen as true and natural for a film showing one glimpse of huge event-- however Casto provides an excellent and superbly complicated performance, one that's unnerving in its maliciousness and surprising in its warmth.  Like everything else in No, it all equates to something different, something special and a stirring testament to power and scope that filmmakers should always hope to achieve.  A

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Roman Coppola, currently an Oscar nominee for co-writing the original screenplay of the sublime Moonrise Kingdom with collaborator Wes Anderson, marks his sophomore solo project as writer/director with A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.  Elaborately art directed and set in some sort of cinematic rumination of the 1970s with an perilously ironic squint, the film centering around a self indulgent playboy, played by Charlie Sheen in a riff on this turbulent persona, feels more like a home movie lark.  Coppola cobbles together family and friends, using his mythical movie making namesake for an eclectic vintage Los Angeles tale that for all its showboating and novelty adds up to a mindless and shallow endeavor, a silly and forgetful vanity project.  And even those inclined or curious on the latest opportunity for career rehabilitation for Sheen may well be turned off, not because the actor isn't trying despite its lunatic nods of self-parody, but because the film that surrounds his off-putting character is far too alien and dreary to get plugged into.   And no amount of heavily dressed up, albeit laudable production values can forsake the fact that Charles Swan is a merely a 1970s infused pastiche, an idiosyncratic oddity all dressed up with no place to go.

The film opens on a black stage where our self-entitled title character is met for a full dissection of the inter-workings of his brain.  Out of this unadulterated id, comes a fluid animated segment of the topless cartoon women that make up Charles' subconscious-- it's the wittiest segment of the entire film.  We learn through this, not just the expected Sheen-ian trait of womanizing and self-absorption, but that he's recently broken up with his latest girlfriend-- the beautiful, if slight vacant Ivana (Katheryn Winnick.)  Displeased upon finding pictures of her strewn about in a drawer of past conquests, Ivana leaves in a huff, making a shambles of his swinging hermetic existence.  Reaching a tailspin, Charles knows little else to do but set off in his Cadillac (dressed in the mental ward ready gear of robe and signature shades), carries through with a petty and childish revenge act and promptly crashes his car into a swimming pool.  He enters the hospital with the threat (or tease) of a heart ailment, which prompts an endless stream of daydreams, flashbacks and hallucinations.  A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III uses this as a platform to dig into the underbelly of self-entitlement, hoping to shed light not just on his particular breed of piggish behavior, but to ultimately find redemption from it as well.  It's a little like All That Jazz-lite minus the humor, insight or catharsis.

It's not so much in that Charles Swan III by design is such an unlikable cad that's so troubling, it's the argument that Coppola persists so in that there's a life beyond the frivolity of girls and substance abuse in his favor.  He presents the argument thoroughly, as in doting characters obsessed with him, but hardly follows through with any substantive qualities.  While in the hospital, Charles is doted and given the whole tough love treatment by his followers: his hippie sister and novelist Isabelle (Patricia Arquette), best pal and misanthropic comedian Kirby (Jason Schwartzman, a Coppola himself) and sad sack business manager Saul (Bill Murray.)  And while a great bulk of the film takes place in Charles' muddled dreamland, where in which even himself seems to loathe himself. little is expressed or greatly felt.  Charles is still a thin archetypal lothario only slightly more emphasized by the larger than life character/caricature that's playing him.  Sheen, for his credit, seems a good sport with the events, but gives off the same breezy nonchalance that made him a popular sitcom star rather than giving much effort to trump up any sort of soul for his rich man child loser.  Throughout the film he professes his true love and unmitigated rage for Ivana, but there's nary a sliver of rooting reaction to their story, nor particularly his personal journey to self improvement.

Coppola shoots his lithe and brief eight-six minute Glimpse with a creative flair, of which can be diagnosed through his gene pool as well as his frequent collaborations with Anderson, and while little here bares much of a pop or an emotional connection, the staging is from time to time witty and nimbly constructed.  Even throughout the lame hallucinations, which include Charles' reawakening as an Astaire-like song and dance man while at his funeral, a sexist cowboy fantasy where scantily clad natives come to attack, or the seemingly desperate imagining of the Ball Busters Club, a secret female contingent (headed by Ivana) that again pounce on scummy cads like Charles and Kirby, there's a small gust of visual panache.  One wishes the dialogue had been punchier and more skillfully acute at zeroing in on this particular breed of narcissism.  As is were left with a bare bone, nearly meaningless exercise of vanity at its most vapid.  In the end, Charles gets loaded, commits needless acts of vandalism and trespassing and is branded a hero and all around sweet son of a bitch by his family and friends.  And thus ends Roman Coppola's family vacation.  D+  

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