Tag Archives: Leonardo DiCaprio

2016 Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win & Who Should

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I don’t have the time to do a detailed post for the Oscars this year, but it wouldn’t feel right without throwing some predictions out there. Here are my predictions (ie, guesses) on how I think each category will turn out, and which nominees I feel are most deserving.

Best Picture

Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

Will win: This is a really tough one to pick as it has been such a tight race. It will go down to The Revenant, Spotlight and The Big Short, and my guess is that Spotlight will edge out the others to take home the biggest prize.

Should win: If it were up to me I’d go with either The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road. In any case it’s been a terrific year for cinema and I think all of the Best Picture nominees — with the exception of Brooklyn — are all deserving.

Best Director

Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Will win: Another tough one. Usually Best Director also gets Best Film, though it’s not as set in stone as it used to be. I initially went with McCarthy, but after some thought I’ve decided to pick Iñárritu.

Should win: Iñárritu or Miller are the most deserving in my opinion.

Best Actor

Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Will win: Leo. It’s his time.

Should win: There’s been some backlash against Leo lately but I still think he delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. The Academy has given away awards for far less relevant reasons, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get it this time.

Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Will win: Brie Larson. She’s been the favourite for a while, though Charlotte Rampling is a dark horse.

Should win: Brie Larson or Charlotte Rampling. Both magnificent performances. I thought Larson’s was more emotionally affecting, though that’s partly due to the subject matter.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Will win: Sylvester Stallone. All the momentum is on his side, and if he misses out it will be a bit like when Michael Keaton missed out on Best Actor last year.

Should win: Mark Rylance. I’ve said it since I watched Bridge of Spies. He was absolutely brilliant in that film.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Will win: Alicia Vikander. The least suspenseful award. She appears to have it in the bag.

Should win: Vikander was great in The Danish Girl, but let’s face it, she was the lead actress, not a supporting actress. And I actually think she was better in Ex Machina. The deserving winner here is really Rooney Mara, though she should have been in the Best Actress category too.

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

Will win: Spotlight. Would be surprised if someone else won — though maybe the voters get swayed by all the OscarsSoWhite# backlash and end up voting for Compton.

Should win: Ex Machina. The most creative and intelligent script of the year,

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room

Will win: The Big Short.

Should win: Hard one to pick. I probably would go with The Martian.

Production Design

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I feel like this film will take out at least one of the technical awards.

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road or The Martian

Costume Design

Nominees: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant

Will win: Carol. Kind of like a consolation prize for missing out on being nominated for Best Picture.

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m not that into costumes from period pieces. At least I can remember the costumes in Fury Road.

Make-up & Hairstyling

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, The Revenant

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road. Immortan Joe!

Cinematography

Nominees: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario

Will win: The Revenant.

Should win: The Revenant or Sicario.

Film Editing

Nominees: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Revenant. Just because.

Should win: The Big Short. Loved the edits in this.

Sound Editing

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Revenant.

Should win: Sicario.

Sound Mixing

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Martian. It has to win something.

Should win: I really don’t know what this award is all about, to be honest.

Visual Effects

Nominees: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I mean, it’s Star Wars.

Should win: The Revenant. Absolutely seamless stuff. Ex Machina is probably equally deserving considering the budget.

Animated Feature

Nominees: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There

Will win: Inside Out. This shouldn’t be controversial.

Should win: I haven’t seen Anomalisa (which is apparently really good), so on that basis I have to go with Inside Out.

Animated Short

Nominees: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay’s Super Team, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow

Will win: Sanjay’s Super Team. Pure speculation.

Should win: No idea.

Documentary Feature

Nominees: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Will win: Amy, though Cartel Land has a strong chance.

Should win: Amy. One of the best docos I’ve seen in years.

Documentary Short

Nominees: Body Team 12, Chau Beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom

Will win: The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. Another wild guess.

Should win: No idea whatsoever.

Live Action Short

Nominees: Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay, Shok, Stutterer

Will win: Day One.

Should win: No idea.

Best Foreign Film

Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War

Will win: Son of Saul, it’s the one everyone’s talking about.

Should win: No idea.

Original Score

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: Probably Star Wars.

Should win: Probably either Star Wars or Carol.

Original Song

Nominees: Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey), Manta Ray (Racing Extinction), Simple Song #3 (Youth), Writing’s on the Wall (Spectre), Til It Happens To You (Hunting Ground)

Will win: Til It Happens To You. Lady Gaga is performing this song immediately before this award is announced, and she’s being introduced by US Vice President Joe Biden. So it’s hard to imagine this song not winning.

Should win: No idea

The Revenant (2015)

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I wasn’t as big of a fan of Birdman, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, as most other people, as sublime an example of filmmaking as it is. Nor was I rooting for its director, Alejandro G Iñárritu, to win Best Director, not because he wasn’t deserving, but because I was rooting for Boyhood‘s Richard Linklater. This year, however, with just a couple of weeks before the Oscars, I’m seriously leaning towards rooting for both the director and his movie, The Revenant, without a doubt one of the most remarkably executed, jaw-droppingly beautiful and suffocatingly intense films of the year.

The film is loosely based on the story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was among a group of military hunters attacked by Native Americans in the wilderness. There is another major event that happens after this which I’m not going to share for the sake of those who haven’t seen the trailer. Yes, it’s in the trailer, but I was one of those people who saw the trailer after the movie and thought it gave away too much, spoiling a lot of big plot points.

Anyway, The Revenant is as harrowing of a movie experience as you can imagine. Centred around themes of survival, revenge and redemption, the film is highlighted by its brutal, visceral violence, juxtaposed against the harsh and unforgiving, but undeniably majestic beauty of the Lousiana Purchase landscape.

I was blown away. Part of it is Iñárritu’s spectacular visual style, filled with long takes and sweeping, constantly moving shots. The scenes are so fluid, so perfectly choreographed, the camera angles so unique — it’s the type of thing I thought was only possible in animation or video games, never in live-action feature films. I’m sure there are plenty of special effects, but it’s all done so seamlessly that the visual experience comes across as terrifyingly real. With the possible exception of his friend and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, I don’t think anyone else could have done it with as much flair as Iñárritu.

Despite a 156-minute running time, which may be too long for some, there is never a dull moment. The film is always moving along, the story always progressing. As a fetishist for watching personal hardships in the wild (one of my favourite movies is Into the Wild, and I also really liked Reese Witherspoon’s Wild from a year ago), I loved the torturous solitary survival scenes. I don’t exactly know why — maybe it’s the man vs wild dynamic or the exhilaration from seeing the ultimate will to survive, or perhaps I just have problems.

The quieter moments have the effect of amping up the several major action set pieces in the film, which are among the most amazing I’ve seen this year alongside Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything is presumably choreographed but looks and feels raw and realistic, making the experience so much more tense than the modern CGI-dominated superhero action we’re accustomed to these days.

I read about the horror stories in making this film, how nearly everything was shot in natural light, an astounding feat in itself. I’m sure it was as freezing as it looked on screen, and Leo, who just picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actor, absolutely deserves his first Oscar for his portrayal of Glass. With not much dialogue to deliver, it’s a much more subtle performance than what he delivered in The Wolf of Wall Street, but boy did he go through hell to get the job done. His dedication and professionalism notwithstanding the success he has already achieved is impressive.

Likewise, kudos to the rest of the super cast, which includes Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson. Hardy, in particular, gives a marvellous performance that’s much more nuanced than it would have been in lesser hands, and I’m pretty certain an Oscar nomination is heading his way (though I’d still say Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies is the favourite.

If there is something to nitpick, it would probably be that it is sometimes a little difficult to decipher what some of the characters are saying because of the way they spoke back then, coupled with the mumbling and the twang. That said, this is the type of film you can watch and figure out without understanding a single word of the dialogue.

When all the elements are put together, it’s hard for me to deny that The Revenant is anything but a modern masterpiece. The combination of Iñárritu’s visual style, strong script and masterful pacing, combined with the simple yet intense plot and fabulous performances, results in a unique journey that ranks right at the top of my 2015 cinematic experiences.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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I had no idea The Wolf of Wall Street was a comedy until it won the Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category at the recent Golden Globes. Leo DiCaprio plus Martin Scorcese usually equal serious, violent, gritty flicks like The Departed or Gangs of New York, but this time, they’ve teamed up to give us one of the funniest movies of the year, an epic black comedy with a bite that goes right down to the bone. Oh, and it’s a supposed true story based on a memoir of the same name.

It’s 1987. Leo plays Jordan Belfort, a handsome, charismatic and ambitious young man with a natural gift for sales. Give him anything and he will sell it. After taking a few life lessons on Wall Street from his boss, played by Matthew McConaughey (in a small but hilarious and memorable role), Belfort grabs a few mates and branches out to start his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, which is more or less a scam — but one that will make them loads and loads and loads of money.

The Wolf of Wall Street is without a doubt a polarizing film. It has earned the dubious distinction of the motion picture with the most “F bombs” in cinematic history, topping the list with 569 times (or 3.18 times per minute!). It is also full of debauchery and morally corrupt behaviour, including but not limited to fraud, alcohol abuse, drug-taking, extra-marital relations, mass orgies, beating off in public and tossing midgets around for office amusement. I can understand why a lot of people have been turned off this film and accuse it of glamourising the excess it depicts and painting douchebags like Belfort as heroes while completely ignoring the pain and suffering of his victims. On the other hand, the cast and crew of the film will argue otherwise, saying that it is a cautionary tale about excess. It’s a valid debate, and at the end of the day, it is up to the individual viewer to decide what the message of the movie is — for them.

For me, the underlying message is not a big deal. The Wolf of Wall Street is just a really really funny movie that I enjoyed immensely. The film’s comedic tone is pitch black; seeped in satire. The pace is frenetic and the dialogue is edgy and razor sharp — and more often than not incredibly and unapologetically politically incorrect. I’m sure some critics have already labelled it misogynistic. But importantly, it does not come across as mean-spirited. It’s just a bunch of smug, self-righteous dickheads who think they are smarter than everyone else boasting about their success through excess. They’re certainly not likable but they’re also not so unlikable that you find their antics unfunny. It comes as no surprise why so many people back in the late 80s and early 90s wanted to work for them and be like them.

Much of the credit goes to Scorsese’s masterful direction and the witty screenplay adaptation from Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos). Excess in itself is not funny. Debauchery in itself is not funny. F bombs in themselves are not funny. Doing stupid things after getting drunk and getting high in itself is not funny. That’s why I thought Project X was one of the worst movies ever made, Get Him to the Greek was really bad, and The Hangover was overrated. But put it in the hands of Scorsese and Winter and get talented actors like Leo to act it out, and all of a sudden it becomes freaking hilarious.  They key, I think, is that the characters are not in on the jokes. They are dead serious about the stupid things they do and do it with such bravado and conviction — which is why we, the audience, can find the humour in it.

Granted, you probably need to be in the right mood for a lot of the jokes (the scene where the discuss hiring midgets for office amusement is a prime example), though if you are, you might get stomach cramps from laughing so hard. That sequence where Leo and Jonah Hill take these precious banned prescription drugs to get high is, in my opinion, an all-time classic.

Leo won Best Actor — Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and is one of the favourites to capture his first Oscar next month. I’m not sure if he will win with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave blowing everyone’s socks off, including mine, but if he does it will be a deserving victory. Leo has had some wonderful performances in the past, though I don’t think anyone ever expected his comedic chops to be this strong. Here he was utterly convincing as the Wolf of Wall Street, a narcissistic smooth talker and salesman, a little naive when he had to be at the beginning, electrifying when giving motivational speeches to excited crowds, and downright pitiful when he hit rock bottom — and he did it all with a stoic straight face. I was particularly impressed with the passion, energy and extent to which he was willing to go to embarrass himself, which is completely at odds with the heartthrob Leo we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I’ve said many times that I don’t care much for Jonah Hill or Matthew McConaughey, but even I can’t deny that both guys were awesome in this. The rest of Leo’s founding partners in his scam, including The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal, were also solid, as was Kyle Chandler as the smuggish FBI agent determined to bring the Wolf down. Like everyone else, my eyebrows were raised when the smoking Margot Robbie came on screen as Leo’s future second wife — little did I know she’s yet another Aussie from Neighbours! Anyway, she’s got a great future ahead of her. And I haven’t even mentioned a bunch of other big names, such as Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau and Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an acquired taste. At 3 hours it is of course too long, but not by as much as you might think. There’s too much golden material for this to be a  2-hour film, but I think a 15-20 trim could have been beneficial as the film becomes more serious and less funny as it nears its conclusion. There were times when I almost felt like I should dislike the film on principle because of all the nasty people doing nasty things in it. The story is messy (though I think by design), dirty and just plain wrong on so many levels, and it makes you guilty for laughing at some of the jokes. But in the end, I loved it. I think it’s one of the best movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby (2013) (2D)

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I was kinda afraid of watching Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (it’s not just The Great Gatsby, it’s “Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby“!) because of all the hype surrounding it, especially in Australia. Described as a lavish production with A-list actors such as Leo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, the film is said to be an ambitious adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written.

I am ashamed to say I have never read Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece, but I thought it would provide a fresher experience of the film version. It probably did, because the film was much better than I expected, though it did leave me wondering why it was such a great story, suggesting perhaps Luhrmann spent too much time on all the eye candy and razzle dazzle and not enough on the heart of the tale.

Set in Long Island in 1922, The Great Gatsby is told in retrospect from a sanitarium by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who befriends the titular Jay Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire who loves to throw lavish parties. The story, however, is really about the relationship between Gatsby and his long lost love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Nick’s cousin. The problem is, Daisy is married to wealthy heir Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

This is a Baz Luhrmann film, so I got what I expected in terms of flashiness — vibrant colours, stunning costumes, spectacular sets and beautiful cinematography. So if you’re after a visual spectacle, The Great Gatsby certainly delivers. I saw the film in 2D, though I doubt you’d get a more immersive experience if you shelled out the extra bucks for 3D.

On the other hand, The Great Gatsby is a melodrama — and a fairly interesting one with a lot of layers — but I don’t feel as though Luhrmann really captured the complexity or its heart of the source material. I mean, there must be a good reason why the story has resonated for nearly 9 decades, but I didn’t sense anything special while watching the film.

The performances were great across the board. Leo is Leo and he captures the enigmatic Gatsby wonderfully with the right amount of charm, and later, pain and vulnerability, though the standout for me was probably Edgerton’s Buchanan. At first I didn’t think he would be right for the role, but he surprised me — again. Is there any doubt now that he is Australia’s most underrated export?

In the end, I was probably more appreciative of The Great Gatsby than I thought I would be. I’ve never been a huge fan of Luhrmann’s style, which regularly struck me as more style over substance — and while The Great Gatsby probably falls into that category as well, there was more substance than I had anticipated, powered by some excellent performances. It’s a big, extravagant production that I enjoyed, but when you strip away all the glitz and glamour it felt like just another story. And surely the story of The Great Gatsby, widely regarded as one of the greatest American novels ever written, is more than that.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I did love the soundtrack.

Post-Oscars Movie Blitz: Django Unchained (2012)

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Artwork courtesy of Hubert Widjaya. See below for our discussion on the film.

If you like Quentin Tarantino films, then chances are you’ll love Django Unchained. To me, this film is in his top five all-time. Personally, I’d rank it above both the Kill Bill films and Inglourious Basterds, and I already think those films are freaking awesome.

Tarantino films are a unique experience you just can’t get with any other director out there at the moment. His subjects are imaginative and bold. His characters are captivating. His worlds are seductive. His humour is black and wacky. His violence is ridiculously over-the-top. And his dialogue is simply the best. Sure, his movies can sometimes make no sense and come across as self-indulgent, but you can always be sure that a Tarantino film is never boring.

Django Unchained is Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti western genre. The titular character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx (apparently Will Smith was Tarantino’s first choice) is a negro slave from the antebellum era who becomes a bounty hunter under the guidance of Christoph Waltz (who won his second Oscar for best supporting actor in his second Tarantino film). The dynamic duo go in search of Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and when they track her down, devise a plan to rescue her from a vile slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, no Tarantino film is really complete without Samuel L Jackson, who plays Leo’s loyal senior house slave.

In essence, Django Unchained is a fantasy hero film about a wronged black man who goes on a killing rampage against nasty white guys. There are parts that defy logic and reason, but who cares when you’re having so much fun?

The performances are ridiculous. Jamie Foxx is spectacular as the man who will stop at nothing to get his wife back. Christoph Waltz just beat Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones at the Oscars, so you know he’s good. But damn, it’s a travesty that Leo was not at least nominated for the best supporting actor category this year. It’s one of his best performances ever, and if you gave me a choice between Leo and Christoph I’d probably pick Leo. He was just that good. Heartthrobs just can’t get a fair shake with the Academy.

As expected, the release of Django Unchained polarized viewers for its controversial subject matter and content. Spike Lee, before even seeing the film, declared it disrespectful to his ancestors for making light of slavery. Some complained about the crazy violence, even though most of it was applied in a comical kind of way. But what twisted the most panties was the excessive use of the “N” word. Now I don’t claim to be a historian, but I assume that’s the way they spoke back in those days. (That said, knowing how much Tarantino loves to use that word, I have a feeling that much of it probably was gratuitous.)

Whatever. Django Unchained was hands down one of the most entertaining films of the year. A little overlong as usual at 165 minutes, but all things considered still a near masterpiece.

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Original poster

Conversation with HW:

HW: G’day fellow film geek! In the pantheon of Quentin’s work how did you like his latest mind-blowing mash-up?

PJM: I loved it. It’s not quite at the level of his all-time greats like Pulp Fiction but it’s up there. Just for the fun factor I’d rank it above Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill. That’s how much I enjoyed it. What about you?

HW: In terms of discomfort, i.e. controversy factor, easily number one as it deals with slavery without flinching. Fun factor wise its equal to Inglourious Basterds. It has EASILY by far and away the best Tarantino film performance though in Leo. If not for him playing a racist southerner, he’d be a lock for Oscar nom and win…best villain since the Joker (Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).

PJM: Absolutely. Leo was phenomenal. I actually thought everyone was great, except for Tarantino himself, of course. He still can’t act. I still reckon he made the film just so he and Samuel L Jackson can say the “N” word to their hearts’ content.

HW: Waltz was charming, and Foxx solid but Leo STEALS every scene he’s in…the best dialogue, the best accent and all delivered with a killer southern accent…my other fave Leo role actually uses another accent too — Blood Diamond.

PJM: That’s the thing with Tarantino — he’s like no other filmmaker out there. He excites me more than any director out there right now (cinematically speaking, of course…)

HW: Funny too…hes banking on, and is usually safe, in assuming that 90% oh viewers don’t know the films he’s ripping off…although there is a definite skill in mashing up genres.

PJM: What would you give it out of 5?

HW: If it weren’t for an absolutely pointless conclusion after the conclusion, I’d give it 9 out of 10…the super tense, brilliant, Samuel L Jackson stealing dinner setup, which ends with [spoilers!] would have brilliant conclusion…would have been a tighter film, with no fat…his second act of [spoilers!] adds nothing, and weakens the film.

PJM: I agree it was a little overlong and had some unnecessary fat to trim, much like Tarantino’s body in this film. I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 anyway. This is just the kind of film you don’t see anymore and who better than Tarantino to give it to us. I loved the dialogue, the performances, the action and the humour. Classic Tarantino.

HW: I’d say thats about right.

Battle of the Biopics: The Iron Lady (2011) vs J Edgar (2011)

I’ve been thinking of ways to hasten the catching up of my movie reviews, but at the same time it didn’t feel fair to put some of the higher profile films in a four-film blitz. So I came up with a compromise. A head-to-head between two of the biggest biopics of 2011, Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady and Leonardo DiCaprio’s J Edgar. Ladies first.

The Iron Lady (2011)

The Iron Lady was a little slow, not terribly exciting, and a little selective in the events it wanted to depict, but it does boast a powerhouse performance from Meryl Streep and tells the story of one of the most intriguing political figures ever.

I admit, I didn’t know much about Thatcher other than her pointy face, crooked teeth and trademark voice, and The Iron Lady helped illuminate her life to some extent.

The story is told through flashbacks, from 2008, where Thatcher is battling dementia, and relives some of the most pivotal moments of her astonishing political career. You don’t have to understand politics or British politics to get this film (though it will help) because it’s essentially about how an ordinary woman overcame the odds to rise to the top of the UK’s political ladder.

Thatcher is painted as a complex person: highly ambitious, relentless, cutthroat, and ultimately quite tragic. I know a lot of people kicked up a stink about the film because they hate Thatcher’s guts and think she butchered the country, but I get that she’s the protagonist of the movie, not the villain, so she had to at least have some redeeming qualities or have the ability to make people feel sorry for her.

Much of the film’s effectiveness comes from Streep’s performance. I don’t know enough about Thatcher or have seen enough video clips of her to know how close Streep is, but by most accounts it was a fantastic impersonation (similar to what people said about Philip Seymour Hoffman when he won for Capote). But was it worthy of the Oscar (again)? I’m not 100% sure.

The Iron Lady was an unusually short 105 minutes (for a movie of this kind), but it actually felt longer than 2 hours. It’s an intriguing biopic but will unlikely break into any “top biopic” lists any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

J Edgar (2011)

Clint. Leo. Armie (Hammer, that is). What’s there not to look forward to in J Edgar, the biopic about J Edgar Hoover, the most legendary FBI director of all time? While there are no cross-dressing scenes (apparently this was just an “unconfirmed” rumor), Eastwood makes it 100% clear in his film that Hoover (DiCaprio) was not only gay but for many years pined after his longtime assistant Clyde Tolson (Hammer).

Like The Iron Lady, this film is also told in flashback format. It begins as an aging Hoover tells his life story to Ed Westwick from Gossip Girl. The story follows a young Hoover working for A Mitchell Palmer in the US Justice Department in 1919, later rising to become the head of the FBI before introducing many of the most monumental improvements in crime solving techniques – in particular, criminal science.

While the film covers the most significant events and cases in Hoover’s life, such as the capture of John Dillinger and the Lindbergh kidnapping, the heart of the movie undoubtedly lies with Hoover’s sexuality and his tumultuous relationship with Tolson. It’s not quite Brokeback Mountain but I found it to be rather moving at times. It was hard to root for Hoover at times because he was deeply flawed and could be a colossal prick, but the love he felt for Tolson, at least for me, felt genuine and heartbreaking.

Even though he looked nothing like Hoover and was obviously a lot taller, Leo’s performance was, as expected, awesome. As was Armie Hammer’s. What I didn’t realize before watching the film was that it also starred Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, Hoover’s loyal secretary who stuck with him for a zillion years, and Judi Dench, who played Hoover’s somewhat frightening mother.

Look, when you have Clint Eastwood at the helm, you know you’re going to get some quality cinema. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call him, on a film-by-film basis, the best director around today, so naturally I am a little biased when it comes to his movies.

My problem with J Edgar for me was that the story lacked cohesion at times and certain plot points were covered with too much subtlety, to the extent where it became confusing and unclear. The biggest complaint, which you might have guessed, is the make-up. I couldn’t quite understand, with the advancements in modern technology and make-up techniques, how they managed to make both Leo and Armie look so bloody freaky and unnatural. They weren’t even that old (60s?) but looked like Guy Pearce in Prometheus.

Anyway, apart from that, I have to say I quite liked J Edgar. It’s not one of Clint’s best films, but it’s among his better ones. In any case, I liked it more than The Iron Lady.

4 stars out of 5

Winner, J Edgar

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Spoiler Free!

Inception blew my mind.  It really did.  Christopher Nolan (writer, director, producer ) is a genius.

I tried my very best to avoid reading any reviews or anything associated with the film before watching it and I would recommend anyone else who hasn’t seen it to do the same.  Nevertheless, in the last few days all I’ve been hearing is how fantastic and unbelievable this film is and how I’ve got to watch it.

It sure seems like everybody’s been watching Inception, or at least trying to.  Word of mouth about the film must be spreading fast.  My first attempt, a 4:10pm session was completely sold out, so we bought tickets for the 5pm session.  That one was eventually sold out too.  Not a single seat left.  And when we left the cinema, people were already lining up for the next session.

To be honest, I wouldn’t know how to explain the plot of the film without giving anything away even if I wanted to.  So I’ll just skip straight to the critique.

Inception is mind bogglingly brilliant.  It’s one of the most original, interesting and entertaining films I’ve seen.  Ever. It’s the type of film that not just requires, but demands multiple viewings just to get your head around it all.  I’m not sure that’s even possible with so many layers and interpretations to sort through.  I paid careful attention the whole way through but there were times when I just had to accept what they were saying and what was happening and just go with the flow.  I plan to watch it again soon.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads a super cast including Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger and even Michael Caine.  Each role is weighty, signficant and important, and the performances were simply picture perfect.

Christopher Nolan has done such an incredible job with this film.  Having just studied screenwriting it frightens me how terrific the screenplay is.  For such a complicated, difficult storyline the general aspects of the film were surprisingly easy to follow and understand.  There is just so much confidence in his direction.  Even the special effects were amazing — at no time did I think I was watching CGI.  This is a master filmmaker who knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it at the height of his powers.

Best film of the year.

5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

I've already used the poster with Leo's mug in another post, so I decided to go with this one, which I actually like a lot more

[Note: I was supposed to read the book first, but I couldn’t wait.  Reading the book now.]

Shutter Island.  Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, award-winning author of Mystic River.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner for The Departed (and director of such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas). Cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, and one of my favourites, Jackie Earle Haley.  Been looking forward to seeing it since I first heard about the production in 2008. Expectations: sky high.

So how was it?

Very good, but ultimately not the masterpiece I had been waiting for.

The story follows DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall summoned to Shutter Island in 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient at Ashcliffe, a mental hospital for the criminally insane.  A ripper of a premise, and you don’t even have to wait to see the island to know you’re in for a eerie, frighteningly atmospheric time.

Shutter Island is a wild, fantastic ride.  It’s one of those mysteries where you have to question everything that happens.  Naturally, in a mental hospital, you’d have to.  Why are people acting so strangely?  What secrets are being kept at Shutter Island?  Who can be trusted?  Just what the crap is going on?

You get that a lot when watching Shutter Island.  Scorsese has intentionally created a very disjointed, fragmented film that keeps the audience as confused as Teddy Daniels.  Flashbacks, dreams and visions come and go.  Words and actions consistently don’t make much sense.  Clues and red herrings are mixed in everywhere.  It was weird.  I even started questioning my own sanity by the end of the movie!

So no doubt, it’s a good film, but it was a bit too over the place for my liking.  I was intrigued but also increasingly frustrated as the movie progressed, and I never got into it emotionally like I thought I would.  And the ending, while well-executed, was not totally unexpected.  That said, I did like the last scene, especially the haunting final words.

Can’t complain about the performances though.  Leo is still awesome, Ruffalo is great, Gandhi is solid, and Rorshach (the new Freddy Krueger!) is still terrific as always.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Book or Movie First?

Shutter Island is about to start at the movies soon.  I also happen to have the novel (by Dennis Lehane) on which it is based at home.

Except in very rare situations, I usually find the book to be superior to the film version.  A friend told me to watch the movie first, because then when you read the book, you can take your time to properly digest it.  And because the book will be more in-depth, it’s like adding to the movie experience.

On the other hand, watching the film first could lock up certain images in your mind (whether it be the way a character looks, talks or acts), which could be detrimental to the reading experience.  In other words, it limits the ability of your imagination to envisage the scenesor characters in your mind (eg, like seeing DiCaprio’s face all the time!  Argh!).

Just to take a few recent examples.  I read The Road first before seeing the film, whereas I saw Revolutionary Road first before reading the book.  Did it really affect either experience?  Not really.  Each had a different feel to it.

So what should I do?  Read the book first or watch the movie first?

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

 

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

 

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

 

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

 

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!