Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pastimes - Pt. 1

Fall Movie Preview
Until very recently, 2016 has been a poor year for film.  To be more precise, I'm speaking of movies in general release (as opposed to showing only in film festivals) that are not mere titillation, action, silliness, nor animaion (more later on this).  I would name only three that have made a positive impression on me:
1) Hell or High Water--Nominally, this is a standard cops-and-robbers story about two bank robbers and the Texas Rangers tracking them down.  What makes it special is the combination of well-drawn characters, great acting, a powerful script with humor and edge, and devastating East Texas locations that make a statement about modern poverty in white America.  Once again, Jeff Bridges makes an Oscar bid with his Ranger, something seemingly stuffed "between teeth and gums" in his lower mouth throughout; Chris Pine was just as strong as the brains of two brothers' convoluted Robin Hood-ish spree.
2)  The Free State of Jones - This one came out too early in the year; Matthew McConnaughey's ground-breaking performance (once again!) will be long forgotten, superseded possibly even by another of his roles, but I loved the way this largely-factual story turned Confederacy-lovers' false narratives of the Civil War upside down.  It was loved by neither the public nor critics, but we don't really care about that, now, do we? I recommend trying to find it if you missed it.
3) Snowden - This was a near-ideal subject for an Oliver Stone flick--lots of opportunity for his investigative journalistic-style conspiracy forays.  The film focuses on Snowden's career as a spook through flashbacks from the climactic release of his material to Guardian journalists in Hong Kong. To Stone's credit, he handled this one well, not straying from the known factual record, and concealing effectively the line where Stone's speculation begins.  An excellent performance by the title lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and by two supporting actresses, Shailene Woodley as Snowden's girlfriend and Melissa Leo as the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (I'd like to see Poitras' film at some point).

Although I am a strong supporter of privacy rights, I have not been one of those to make a hero of Snowden's whistle-blowing.  First, I didn't find much surprising about the fact the NSA can and does snoop into any and all transmissions (the one thing in the movie/Snowden's disclosures that really bothered me is the ability to turn on and use the camera of sleeping laptops); second, he clearly broke his oath of secrecy, so I don't think the US should or will offer him total amnesty, only some eventual leniency.  Finally, though, I don't think too much has changed as a result--if we didn't already know that any device that's turned on and online is fair game for the spooks, we do now, and the revised FISA regime provides very little protection for the innocent.

Enough about that and those--the good news is that the fall season will be rich in releases.  Some are guaranteed box office, and several appear to be prizeworthy.  A quick rundown of the notable release with expected dates follows.  I've classified them into four groups--the Serious Contenders, Pretenders (to serious contention), Interesting Variations (creative and different from the usual), and those that will be light enjoyment and/or big box office.  Clearly, the border between the first two categories could be blurry and I could guess wrong on some, but as it is, with 13 films I list as "contenders", I am expecting some spreading around of the Oscars (as there was in 2015), which is generally a good sign. A quick rundown, with expected release dates, follows.

Serious Contenders
10/21 American Pastoral --from the Philip Roth novel, directed by Ewan McGregor, starring McGregor, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Connelly.  Roth= HEAVY! It will not be enjoyable, it may be indispensable, but will it be watchable?
11/11 Loving - an interracial couple whose bid to marry in Virginia violated the law, the case going to the Supreme Court.  Ordinary follks oppressed by reactionary government--looks like a winning formula for Hollywood awardgivers.
11/18 Nocturnal Animals - a story-in-a-story thriller with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, directed by fashion superstar Tom Ford.  The starpower looks irresistible if the movie is any good at all.
11/18 Manchester by the Sea  - Michele Williams tearjerker with good buzz from Sundance; a possible breakthrough role for Ben Affleck's little brother Casey. If I have to.
11/25 Lion - The star of Slumdog Millionaire (Dev Patel) with a Life of Pi-kind of story and Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara in the cast.  Have to take it seriously.
12/2 La La Land  - Romance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who plays a jazz pianist.  I'm skeptical, but the buzz is persistent, and if Gosling's keyboards are real and convincing, he could have a Best Actor play.
12/9 Jackie  - Natalie Portman as Jackie Onassis.  The miracles of camera angles will make up for any height deficiency, and I expect Portman can handle the demands of the role  and earn an Oscar nom.
12/9 Burn Country - James Franco's serious role, with Melissa Leo.  A war journalist returns from Afghanistan and finds trouble in the homeland.
12/16 Collateral Beauty - Will Smith trying a serious dramatic role, with a cast full of stars.  Michael Frankel, a prolific TV and movie director, making his own bid for the big time.
12/16  (limited release) The Founder - I don't like the limited release game, and I'm not that fond of Michael Keaton, but this story of the original McDonalds, and how Ray Kroc took it over and took it worldwide, sounds very interesting to me.   One to see in early 2017.
12/25 - Gold  - Matthew McConnaughey strikes gold in the wilderness of Indonesia, gets bilked out of it.  I've seen the trailer, and it told me too much.  It should play well in the US, maybe not abroad.
12/25 Toni Erdmann -  Germany's submission for best foreign language film - serious drama of a man and his grown daughter, directed by a woman- Maren Ade.
12/25 Fences - Like Will Smith, Denzel Washington seems to have put aside his action playthings and is looking for some recognition (additional, in his case).  Story by the famed playwright August Wilson.

9/30 -  Deepwater Horizon - seems to be more about the tragedy of the platform workers than the endless cleanup which got the news.  Stars Mark Wahlberg.
10/7 - The Girl on the Train - this year's missing woman Gone Girl-type story.
11/4 Hacksaw Ridge - This was a tough call:  the true story of an American conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor for WWII exploits saving lives sounds like a winner.  The director was Mel Gibson, though, and we know how much Hollywood hates him now.
11/11  Elle - Isaelle Huppert tracking down her rapist.
10/14 The Accountant - A weird story premise, with Ben Affleck as an Asperger's genius accountant for the mob who has to take up arms.  Seems ludicrous to me (but I do love the use of the Radiohead song in the trailer).
12/9 Miss Sloane - Although I'm a fan of its star, Jessica Chastain, I'm picking this story of a woman challenging the gun lobby to be a miss.  It has been done, and gun control does not seem to be welcomed as a real issue these days.
12/21 (limited release) Patriots Day - Another Mark Wahlberg effort, investigating the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  It might work for some, but I am totally sick of crime forensic dramas.

Interesting Variations
10/7 -The Birth of a Nation -  This account of the slave revolt of 1831 in Virginia led by Nat Turner and violently repressed is like the bookend to The Free State of Jones.  It is likely to be even more controversial--in the current Black Lives Matter/Charlotte riots context, and because it will differ so markedly in perspective from the William Styron novel The Confessions of Nat Turner.  When it's released, you will be forced to endure discussion of who, exactly, is entitled to tell the story of a tribe/ethnic group/nationality, and who is not.  I'm more interested in whether the film will present the entire arc of the story--the motivations of the rebels, of the frightened, vengeful slaveowners, and of those who were neither one nor the other.  If it works, it could be another 12 Years a Slave. And, finally, note the title, an intentional disrespectful reference to the "classic"1915  KKK movie by D.W. Griffith.
10/21 Moonlight - This is to be the first of a three-part narrative about a black man living in Miami. Once again, high potential for controversy, and the serial film strategy is an unusual one (for something that's not science fiction or fantasy).
11/11 Arrival - Amy Adams plays a linguist recruited by the military for a secret mission:  translating alien communications.  I will take a chance on Adams on almost anything, so I hope it will not be a waste of my time and money.  The alien arrival thing has potential but it has also been done a bit too much, considering how low the likelihood.
12/16 Neruda - a Spanish/French production of the life of the radical Chilean poet, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. Chile's submission for Best Foreign Language consideration.
12/24 Inferno by Dante - I saw a trailer for this:  it is very unusual, with narration by Eric Roberts and veteran Italian actor Vittorio Gassman, both about Dante's creation and with some presentation of it with paintings providing visuals.  Will not be a big hit, but I will see if it if I can find it.
12/31 Strangers in a Strange Land  - 12 comedic shorts set in 12 global cities.  Interesting idea, and I like the reference to Heinlein's sci-fi classic.

Just for the Fun or Box Office of it - 
9/23- Magnificent Seven - big hype, big cast, been done too much already.  Pass.
9/30 - Miss Peregrine's home for Peculiar Children - a Tim Burton creepfest, from the young adult novel by Ransom Riggs, with a pretty big-time cast.  If my children insist on my going.
10/21 Keeping up with the Joneses - Zach Galifianakis/Jon Hamm/Isla Fisher/Gael Gadot (new WonderWoman).  A comedy about spies (or terrorists) and ordinary people in the suburbs.  I've seen the preview twice and it had me in hysterics both times--I hope they didn't use all the good stuff in the trailer.
10/28 -Inferno - Tom Hanks re-reprises his DaVinci Code role in another Dan Brown mystery thriller, directed by Ron Howard, and including the felicitous Felicity Jones.  I will watch it for the locations:  Florence, Venice, Istanbul.
11/18 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - The other movie on my teenage daughter's must-see list,  J.K. Rowling's new Harry Potter prequel.  I will not contribute directly.
12/16 - Rogue One - A pretty good idea, a Star Wars spinoff between #3 and #4 (the original), starring Miss Jones again.  Better idea than the new series, I'd say. 
12/25 Why Him? James Franco as the boyfriend unappreciated by her Dad, Bryan Cranston.  Seems pretty lightweight.
12/31   Mata Hari - David Carradine (Kung Fu series, Kill Bill series) tries his hand at directing the classic story of the WWI woman spy.  Could be interesting, more likely howlingly bad.   It's listed for 12/31, but I'm thinking its release will be held up.
1/6  F.U. Woody Allen - A black man's true story of trying and failing to get in a Woody Allen movie (it seems he never casts African Americans).  Not a 2016 release, apparently, but could have some sneaky support from Hollywood elements who are a bit peeved at Allen's snotty weirdness.

Finally, there is the strange saga of Terrence Malick, who might be both the most-loved and most-hated American auteur director.   His 2016 oeuvre has two parts:  First was The Knight of Cups, a delayed-release early-2016 flop with a big cast (including Christian Bale), which appears to be the only film this year to which perennial top cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki contributed.  It disappeared before I could ever find it.   The other part is a documentary short, Voyage of Time: Life's Journey, which appears to have some astronomical outtakes from The Tree of Life (if you've seen that movie, you'll have a good idea what I mean) and was narrated by the impeccable Cate Blanchett.  It would be a good pick for that obscure Oscar category if nominated.

P.S. If you're wondering about The Lobster--I saw it, and I have to admire the sheer weirdness of it.  Did not like it--at all.  Satire is my favorite movie genre, but that was not recognizable to me as such--maybe because I'm not a paranoid single.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

I've had an unusually large number of pageviews of this post since I published it yesterday, but no comments, so let this be the first. An omission in my listing (I'm sure it's not the only one) is the WWII movie "Allied", starring the newly-separated Brad Pitt, as well as Marion Cotillard, who is rapidly establishing herself as one of the top actresses in the world. I don't know if there is much more to be said about that war, which I would rate as perhaps the most significant event in modern human history, but the chemistry between the two seems to be at the heart of the movie. I will reserve any comment about the private lives of either, or of Angelina Jolie--they all seem to be good persons from what I can tell. I will cite Cotillard's humorous video on Funny or Die about "Forehead Titaes":