Oscars: ‘Boyhood’ & ‘Birdman’

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Technical mastery elevate Boyhood and Birdman to a different level, according to Michael Rice as he looks ahead to this weekend’s Academy Awards.

I love the Oscars, I can’t help it, I just do. I am fully aware of how ridiculous they are, and how seriously these people are taking themselves, but it’s just great. That amount of star power in one room just makes me dizzy, and it’s not just the stars; it’s the directors, and the writers, and everyone else in that room connected to film.

I watch a lot of movies, and I’m invested emotionally in a lot of these people, I have an opinion on who deserves it, and this doesn’t necessarily correlate with who I want to win. Anyway, I’m going off point, rather I started off point, it’s just for some reason I always feel the need to start off defensively when engaging in a conversation about the Oscars, because my head is often bitten off about how trivial they are, and how it’s all politics, etc. I join in sometimes to be fair, and I’m good at backing up why they’re pompous, and self-congratulatory, and so on, but it’s just words filtering from my mouth with no meaning or soul, I’m just lying through the vehicle of logic, and regurgitation. I love them. So there, I said it – twice!

I’ve had to change paragraph here just to try and get to my point. My point being that I think this year’s Oscars are of the highest standards in years. This is mainly down to two films, Birdman, and Boyhood – two films that were made using radical forms that required such technical mastery from their directors that it’s hard to comprehend. These are two of the best mainstream movies made in the last decade, and are both competing for the same Best Picture prize.

I’ll start off with Boyhood, written, and directed by Richard Linklater, known for such cult classics as Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock. The film was shot over 12 years, chronicling the life of a young boy from the age of 6, to the age of 18, showing him growing up before our eyes, and doing so in a narrative that never even threatens to exceed the boundaries of plausibility, while remaining compelling. I’ve seen the movie twice, and I must say that my first viewing wasn’t matched by the second, but then again how could it be? The fact that this movie was made over 12 years is not something that immediately jumps out at you when you view this film, the transitions in time are so gradual and so smoothly done that the full effect of the movie is only felt when the end credits arrive on screen. It left a profound visceral effect on me that I can’t quite put into words, but I knew I had seen something very important. The film’s use of time and how it passes reveals in all its bluntness how short life is. My friend and I scurried away from the cinema making declarations about how we have to start making more out of life, and I vowed to kick-start a new improved chapter of my life. It was possibly a false dawn, but the sentiment has not left me since.  For a movie to have that sort of positive effect on your understanding of life is something that cannot be over-valued.

I have no clever seuge into begin my discussion of Birdman, only to say that this is a very different film, particularly distinguishable due to its use of the surreal. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), the film is about Riggan Thompson, a once huge movie star of the Birdman franchise – those days are long over, however, and he is now trying to be validated as an actor by directing and starring in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. First things first, the technical mastery here is one of a different kind, but has common ground in its extreme level of difficulty. The movie, outside of a few opening and closing shots, appears to be all one take. This creates a frantic pace that causes a visceral feeling of discomfort in the viewer, as everything seems to be immediate and happening in the now, causing the stakes to rise throughout the picture. This is aided by a story that challenges everyone involved in the creative industry, from the actors, to the media, to the critics, no one walks away from this unscathed. But what the film really captures is something that is independent of any industry or social construct, and that is the human condition. We all want to be validated, we all want to be loved, we all want to be admired, and we all have a limited time to get these things. The frantic pace of the film coincides with Thompson’s battle with time, a battle to get all of these things before he dies. All his actions, and indeed most of ours are driven by ego, and a fear of death, and until we relinquish that fear we are stifled by it.

Both pictures leave you pondering what it is to be human, and both pictures in some way capture that very essence, through unconventional and original uses of the form of filmmaking. There can only be one winner of the Best Picture Oscar, if I was pushed to pick between the two, I’d probably go with Boyhood by a nose considering the scale of the achievement, but I could feel differently tomorrow. May the best film win. I think I might wear a tuxedo just to watch this one.

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Horrible Bosses 2

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DIR: Sean Anders • WRI: Sean Anders, John Morris • PRO: Chris Bender, John Cheng, John Morris, Brett Ratner, John Rickard, Jay Stern • DOP: Julio Macat • ED: Eric Kissack • MUS: Christopher Lennertz DES: Clayton Hartley • CAST: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis

I was a big fan of the original instalment of this series, and approached this sequel with an almost equal amount of trepidation, and excitement. If I had to decide after the viewing, which feeling has now been validated, I’d have to side with the trepidation. One of the main reasons for my excitement, in hindsight, was the absolutely brilliant 22 Jump Street, which had me approaching this movie with unwarranted positivity, when considering the batting average of comedy sequels historically. However, I have been sent crashing back to earth by this lazy, yet mildly amusing sequel.

Unlike most sequels the plot has had to deviate a lot from the original, mainly due to the fact that the level of contrivance would just be unbearable, if the three main characters, Nick, Kurt and Dale, were to find themselves shockingly under three new “horrible bosses”. The story starts off with our three main characters attempting to start their own business, and in essence banish the role of bosses from their lives forever, but as you might expect things don’t exactly go to plan. Their business idea ‘Shower Buddy’ gets stolen by a wealthy investor Burt Hansen, who tricks them into investing over 500,000 dollars in a manufacturing plant. Now, hugely in debt, the three guys decide that kidnapping Hansen’s evil son Rex, is the best way of recouping their money.

As is par for the course, the film desperately scrambles to include all of the popular elements of the original, with predictable cameos coming from Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jaimie Foxx forced into the storyline. The film contains a lot of suspect humour, which could be considered at times both racist and misogynistic, and there’s no doubt that there’s a huge decline in quality when compared to the original.

In Bateman, Sudekis, and Day, however, the film  has three hugely talented comic actors, who are able to produce laughs from the sparse material they have been given. From the fresh faces in the movie, Christoph Waltz is hugely underutilised in the role as Kurt Hansen, while I hope this movie is both the beginning and end of Chris Pine’s comedic aspirations, after a try hard performance as Kurt’s son Rex.  I think fans of the original will possibly find enough laughs here to make the film worthwhile, while anyone who wasn’t a fan of the first movie will possibly be hurling objects at the screen.

Michael Rice

15A (See IFCO for details)

108 minutes

Horrible Bosses 2 is released 28th November 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 – Official Website

 

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Magic in The Moonlight

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DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Alisa Lepselter  • DES: Anne Seibel  • CAST:  Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden

Woody Allen continues a routine which he’s more or less kept up for over 40 years, which is to write and direct a movie every year. This amazingly prolific output comes with some downsides however, mainly that the movies can be hit and miss. Last year’s Blue Jasmine was certainly a hit, owing a lot to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar winning performance. Unfortunately, this year’s effort Magic in The Moonlight must go down as a miss.

The storyline of the film, set in 1928, revolves around an American family who summer in the south of France, and who have become extremely taken with a young spirit guide named Sophie, who claims to be able to read peoples futures and contact the dead. Some close relatives of the family are convinced the girl is a con artist, and hire a well-known magician to catch her out. Unable to do so, the astounded magician recruits his world famous colleague Stanley Crawford, to find her out. Crawford, as well as being a world class magician is also a debunker of mystics. He is an extremely cranky and pessimistic man, but warms to Sophie despite himself, and starts to realise that maybe  there is more to life than meets the eye.

Colin Firth is the latest delivery system for Woody’s pessimistic worldview, playing the lead role of Stanley Crawford who refuses to indulge in anything only the cruel harsh realities of life. It seems like a role that Allen would have played himself if he were younger, but Firth does his best with the material. Emma Stone is perfectly likeable and cute opposite Firth, although due to an uncharacteristically poor script, neither of the characters are drawn out well enough for us to care about them, or to believe in their romance.

Allen has made many soirees into Europe in the last 15 years, with some noticeable successes, including Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Match Point. This film will not join the ranks of the aforementioned films, but remains a watchable, and mildly amusing film, and will tick a lot of boxes for fans of Allen’s neurotic brand of romantic comedy. It just feels to me like something we’ve seen many times before.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes

Magic in The Moonlight is released 19th September 2014

Magic in The Moonlight – Official Website

 

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In Order of Disappearance

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DIR/: Hans Petter Moland  • WRI: Kim Fupz Aakeson  PRO: Stein B. Kvae DOP: Philip Øgaard ED: Jens Christian Fodstad MUS:Brian Batz, Kaspar Kaae, Kåre Vestrheim DES: Jørgen Stangebye Larsen  CAST: Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz

Wow, where to begin with this great little Norwegian movie. A movie that must be seen to be believed, it might be well described as Taken with a sense of humour. On the face of it, it’s a by-the-numbers revenge flick, but one that has a wickedly twisted sense of humour, which is a delight to behold.

The film follows Nils, a highly respected member of his local community, who runs an agricultural machinery business. Nils’ son is found dead, and upon discovering that it was not, as first thought, an overdose, but a murder organised by a local crime boss named Junior, Nils goes on a murderous revenge mission.  Junior starts to grow anxious as members of his crew start to slowly disappear, and, blaming a rival gang, he starts a war.

The film stars, and is produced by, Stellan Skarsgard, who will be very familiar to cinemagoers for his roles in Hollywood films such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Good Will Hunting. He and the rest of the cast do an excellent job, in what is most definitely an OTT film, which at times calls for some ludicrously OTT acting.

The ingredients are there for this movie to be lazily labelled Tarantinoesque, the stylized violence, the dark humour and even the Pop culture references, but there’s something very different about this movie, that I suspect has something to do with a very specific Nordic sensibility that I can’t quite put my finger on.

There’s no doubt that this movie is not for the faint hearted, but my god is it good fun. This is a movie that has something in it for almost everyone. Warning!! Be prepared to laugh at things that you probably shouldn’t laugh at.

Michael Rice

15A (See IFCO for details)

116 minutes

In Order of Disappearance is released 12th September 2014

 

 

 

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Hercules

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DIR/Brett Ratner • WRI: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos • PRO: Sarah Aubrey, Beau Flynn, Barry Levine, Brett Ratner   DOP: Dante Spinotti   ED: Mark Helfrich, Julia Wong  DES: Jean-Vincent Puzos MUS: Fernando Velázquez  CAST: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but there’s one thing for sure, this Dwayne Johnson vehicle is as cynical as it gets.

I had previously been very optimistic about the casting of Johnson in the title role, with the main reason being that he looks the part, but also because he’s proven himself an extremely charismatic lead in the past. Unfortunately, this is the worst I’ve ever seen Johnson, playing the role of Hercules without an ounce of wit or vigour, and it’s the first time he’s looked like a juiced up wrestler trying his hand at movies. His lacklustre performance is made all the more confusing by the fact that this was reportedly a passion project, leading him to turn down the lead role in the established Transformers franchise.

The storyline shamelessly cobbles together plot points from other movies, with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator proving to be a wonderful source of material. The story follows Hercules after he has completed his Legendary twelve labours.  He has since become a sword for hire, travelling Greece with a crew of highly trained warriors, each with their own special skill. The crew is hired by King Cotys to help defeat a tyrannical war Lord, and we find out through flashbacks why Hercules has been reduced to living his life as a sell sword.

I would have found it a lot easier to accept this movie for what it is, if there had been any self-awareness present. Unfortunately, there isn’t, and we in the audience are expected to take what we see at face value, which I can only take as an insult to our intelligence. I must admit that I did laugh numerous times during the film, aided and abetted by a fellow sitting to my left at the press screening. The laughs. however. came at what were clearly intended to be some of the most poignant parts of the film, comically contrived moments. Hercules is about one degree away from being a decent lampoon of the sword and sandals genre, and maybe if it had been marketed as such I could have got on board.

Here’s hoping that poor box office results will put an end to what Johnson and co. are hoping will be a long running franchise.

Michael Rice

12A (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Hercules is released on 25th July 2014

Hercules – Official Website

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Grand Central

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DIR: Rebecca Zlotowski • WRI: Gaëlle Macé, Rebecca Zlotowski • PRO:Frederic Jouve •  DOP George Lechaptois • ED: Julien Lacheray • DES: Antoine Platteau • CAST:Tahar Rahim, Léa Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet

For some reason I always go into French films with high expectations, I don’t know if this is due to the fact that I’ve enjoyed most of the French films I’ve seen, or whether I’ve been programmed to view European cinema as somewhat more sophisticated and nuanced than your typical Hollywood fair. Either way I entered the screening of Grand Central with high expectations, with my hand at the ready to give myself a cultural pat on the back for enjoying the film, and enjoy the film I did.

Grand Central is the second feature film from the French writer director Rebecca Zlotowski, and the film follows Gary, a young man with an implied dark past who takes up a job at a nuclear power plant in Rhone, where it becomes evident that danger lurks at almost every turn. Gary was told by an employment officer at the start of the film that this was the only viable opportunity for him to gain employment.

He joins a crew there, who seem to have built up a very close bond, as they put their safety in each other’s hands on a daily basis. Living in a trailer park with his supervisor Giles and veteran Toni, he soon starts up a love affair with Toni’s fiancée Carole. This relationship leads Gary to put his life in danger by continuing to work at the plant despite the fact that he has tested positive for high radiation levels, meaning he is knowingly  putting his health at risk to continue the affair.

Despite being a French language film a lot of the actors will be familiar to mainstream moviegoers.  Toni is played by Denis Menochet, who many of you will recognise as the farmer from the mesmerising opening scene of Inglorious Bastards, while Lea Seydoux, who plays Carole, is an-up-and-coming star of international cinema with film credits like Robin Hood,  and Mission Impossible 4 already under her belt.

There are many things to like about the film, but there’s no doubt that Seydoux’s performance is what stands out the most. She perfectly captures a confused young woman, who loves two different men in two completely different ways, so much so that we never judge her for her infidelity, as we realise there is no clear cut resolution. I have no doubt that her deep, sad eyes will continue to be forceful cinematic weapons for years to come.

Other aspects of the film that stand out, are some beautifully shot scenes that capture Karole and Gary’s  romance blossoming in the fields and woods surrounding the trailer park, representing the naturalness of their relationship in contrast to her relationship with Toni, who is considerably older than her.

Unfortunately the script is clunky, and some of the dialogue and sequences tend to stretch the boundaries of belief, particularly in regard to the relationship between Karole and Toni. I also feel that the film misses a big opportunity to make more of the tension that arises from the dangerous working conditions in the Nuclear plant.

Despite these flaws, all in all the film is well worth watching, particularly if you, like me, love to like French Cinema.

Michael Rice

94 mins

Grand Central is released on 18th July 2014

 

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Jersey Boys

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DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Marshall Brickman • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Graham King, Robert Lorenz • ED: Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach • DOP: Tom Stern • CAST: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lamenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken

Why is Clint Eastwood directing a musical?? As someone who is very familiar with Eastwood’s filmography as both an actor and a director, this question immediately came to mind when I heard he was directing an adaptation of hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys. Dirty Harry doing show tunes just somehow seems wrong, but after scratching the surface a little bit, it starts to make a lot more sense. Eastwood it turns out has always been infatuated with music, from studying it after leaving High School to composing the scores to some of his most famous films such as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. He also directed the Biopic of Jazz Musician Charlie Parker in the 1988 film Bird, so it’s safe to say a musical novice he is not. Unfortunately for me this newly found information only serves to augment my disappointment at this messy adaptation.

Jersey Boys chronicles the rise and fall of popular ’60s pop band The Four Seasons and their lead singer Frankie Valli. The film is shown to us in a linear chronology from the band’s original incarnation as The Four Lovers, to their development into The Four Seasons and the huge success they enjoyed throughout the ’60s, and the subsequent fallout between the members of the band.

The film is scored wonderfully by the band’s biggest hits as we are treated to almost all of their hits, including “Oh What a Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You”; believe me you’ll know most of them, and you’ll find yourself You Tubing the songs incessantly for days  after viewing the film.

Despite the strong musical numbers the film as a whole never really works. Its major downfall is that it bites off more than it can chew. It tries to cover too much ground from 1951 to 1990 leading it to fall flat in the middle and closing stages after a bright and vibrant start. The film jumps so quickly and loosely between situations and time periods that it leaves the audience member slightly confused. Numerous characters end up being very underdeveloped, the most striking of which is Frankie’s wife whose development from the love of his life to an embittered alcoholic goes wholly unexplained. The four members of the band act as narrators at different stages of the film, addressing the audience directly in an attempt to contextualise what we’re seeing on screen, but it fails to make the film in any way cohesive.

The cast is comprised mainly of unknown actors. John Lloyd Young is solid in the main role of Frankie Valli after his Tony award-winning turn in the Broadway version, with the role allowing him to show off an incredible vocal range. Other notable performances include Vincent Piazza as the troublesome band member Tommy De Vito who can never seem to break free from his roots in petty crime and the always delightful Christopher Walken as Gyp De Carlo, an emotional Mafia Boss who serves as the band’s Guardian Angel.

The film does have its moments, particularly one or two great ones involving a well-known Italian American actor who was genuinely involved with the band before he broke into acting, I won’t spoil what is a very amusing surprise. Despite this, it has to be said, the film falls in line with a disappointing run of recent films from Eastwood including J Edgar and Hereafter. Let’s hope a return to form is on the near Horizon for the great man.

Michael Rice

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
134 mins

Jersey Boys is released on 20th June 2014

Jersey Boys – Official Website

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Heaven is for Real

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DIR: Randall Wallace • WRI: Randall Wallace, Chris Parker • PRO: T.D. Jakes, Sam Mercer, Joe Roth • ED: John Wright • DOP: Dean Semler • DES: Arvinder Grewal • MUS: Nick Glennie-Smith • CAST: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Lane Styles

 

Cynics Beware!! We’re about to have an onslaught of “feel good” Christian movies. Why?? Heaven is For real has made a staggering 90 million dollars in the US Box Office from a 12-million-dollar budget. That kind of profit doesn’t go unnoticed. Heaven is for Real is a true story based on the bestselling book written by Todd Burpa, a Christian Minister from a small town in Nebraska. The film is based around the near death of Burpas’ son and the aftermath that ensues. His son is a 4 year old, named Colton, and his escape from death is attributed to the communal praying of Burpas’ congregation. Colton claims to have gone to Heaven while he was being operated on. Amazingly, Burpa believes his son as Colton is able to recall things that he couldn’t possibly have seen. His belief in his son’s story is the main source of conflict in the film. It causes friction between him and his wife and throws his own beliefs into question and also causes a lot of concern among his congregation, including his friends Jay and Nancy. As the story of Colton’s experience in Heaven starts to gain media coverage there is a feeling among the members of the Church that perhaps Minister Burpa is taking the church in the wrong direction, after which point the film attempts to resolve itself with as little complexity and nuance as possible.

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that this is an awful film. Even the film’s well known cast can’t make anything of this appalling script. The always reliable Greg Kinnear does his best in the leading role as Todd Burpa, while newcomer Conor Corrum does a competent job of being cute as his son Colton. The stellar supporting cast includes Nancy Reilly, Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church none of whom get sufficient material to develop their characters in any meaningful way. This film is so clichéd, cheesy and sentimental at every turn that one could be forgiven for mistaking it as a parody. Unfortunately though the film takes itself incredibly seriously and at no point was the audience in the cinema compelled to as much as a chuckle.

As I mentioned before, this script is very poor and as a result we don’t really believe in the actions or emotions of any of the characters due mainly to the fact that the source of conflict itself just isn’t believable. The film is so uninhibitedly pro-Christian and pro-faith in a time in Western Culture where it couldn’t be less cool, it’s almost admirable. Almost being the pivotal word here, as it doesn’t work on any level as a movie. As a piece of Christian propaganda it fails on the level of emotional manipulation because you couldn’t care less about the characters. The film’s overtly positive religious sentiment of the film has saved it from the complete critical annihilation that it deserved in the U.S. as it’s often not wise to offend the powerful Christian Lobby. I am absolutely certain that this movie will fail to replicate its U.S. success with more cynical European audiences and as I’m sure it has become clear I couldn’t honestly recommend this film to anyone without an insult being implied.

For Kinnear, Church and co. it’s hard to believe that they will look back on this project with anything other than sheepish embarrassment. Save yourself an hour and a half of dreary sentimental rubbish, don’t watch this movie.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)
99 mins

Heaven is for Real is released on 13th June 2014

Heaven is for Real – Official Website

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