Andrew Haigh’s bittersweet British drama/romance 45 Years (B) continues the talented director’s intimate character studies into complex people, examining their public and private lives with sophisticated perception. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give outstanding late-career performances as a couple grappling with a relationship-altering revelation the week before they partake in a milestone party celebrating their marriage. Deliberately paced and quietly observed, the film ponders the “what if” of what could have happened if a loving couple had followed different parallel paths. Rampling is particularly marvelous as a woman coming to grips with demons of the past that could jeopardize legacy and the very nature of her near-half century love affair. Tiny details simmer to the surface in this slow-burn melodrama that mostly sidesteps conventions. The film is small in scale but big on ideas and will reward intellectual film-goers in search of meaningful stories.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (B) blends western epic, revenge thriller and Christ allegory to often stunning effect on a blood-drenched American frontier. Leonardo DiCaprio gives new definition to suffering for one’s art as he undergoes a cavalcade of emotional and physical scars in an extremely gory story. In the grunts and groans of passages that feel like a silent movie with music, the expressive actor doesn’t miss a beat. He is a veritable force of nature, even if this isn’t the best use of his talents. Tom Hardy is very effective as the hero’s morally challenged foil. Iñárritu’s direction borders on overlong and overindulgent, but it’s hard to argue with all the lush camera work and scenery chewing when the stakes are this high. The spare dialogue serves to frame what is ultimately a man versus nature and man versus man battle. A little of this onerous oater goes a long way; and despite the palpable effects of all the violence and vistas, it doesn’t tread that much new ground.
Quentin Tarantino’s hybrid western mystery gangster epic The Hateful Eight (B+) has all the trappings of the writer/director’s best work from outstanding ensemble acting to wicked dialogue to twisty plot conventions to pulpy action and inventive use of music. To some extent, it’s at times be too much of a retread of his most common conventions. Filmed as a Cinerama presentation in classic 70mm Panavision with gorgeous Ennio Morricine overture and an intermission, the saturated colors of this post-Civil War tale come vividly to life. Unlike his experiments with grindhouse double features, this homage to cinematic history pays off. As long as it is, it’s a film that nonetheless will reward repeat viewings. The pre-intermission proceedings appear to be too preoccupied with exposition and campfire tales before Act Two truly delivers the mixtape of Agatha Christie style mystery and vicious bloodbath that fans of the auteur will crave. Kurt Russell is impressive as a villainous vermin channeling John Wayne on a bad day, and Samuel L. Jackson steals the show as a charismatic bounty hunter with a surprising past and nearly all the film’s most iconic lines. Walton Goggins is a revelation as the sheriff of Red Rock with unlikely cunning, and Jennifer Jason Leigh unfurls a crackerjack of a performance as a duplicitous prisoner. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum are all effective in their roles. The only weak link, possibly from misdirection is Demián Bichir. Expect extreme language and violence and vintage Tarantino. It falls just short of some of his tighter and tidier work, but it’s more splendid fire in his canon.
Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino describe the “Roadshow” engagement and technology behind the film on TrailerAddict.
Over the years as latter films in the Star Wars pantheon have produced diminishing returns, there’s been a bit of a grading curve – “pretty good acting … for someone in a Star Wars film,” “fairly cool action scene … in an otherwise lackluster prequel” and the like. So it’s good news indeed that J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (A-) earns its accolades outright in terms of solid acting, layered characters, genuine high stakes, some earned comic relief and relentless action. The film achieves most of its delirious highs in the first hour as it splendidly introduces four fantastic new characters (Daisy Ridley as fierce scavenger warrior heroine Rey, John Boyega as naive reformed Stormtrooper Finn, Oscar Isaac as cocksure pilot Poe and the precious spherical astromech droid BB-8). There’s considerable descent into incomprehension (alas Abrams gets rather Lost) during the final acts with strange pop psychology that only works in spurts and some tedious retreads of some action moments already depicted in six previous films. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren makes for a so-so villain, albeit with an awesome lightsaber, and his CGI mentor is a bit of a misfire. Harrison Ford is a highlight reprising his role as everyone’s favorite rakish scoundrel Han Solo, this time showing more of his soft side along with his trademark quips. The art direction and physical production are gloriously rendered and are such a welcome return to form: sequences in the desert are lush and the first glimpse of evil TIE Fighters sleek indeed. The film works best when it functions as an archaeological dig into the myths and iconography of the original trilogy; in fact, much of the most spectacular parts of the quest – rescuing antiquities, piecing together lost maps, being chased in the desert and around sinister corners and plumbing the well of characters’ souls – resemble an Indiana Jones installment. The fresh storyline of new characters is actually the film’s novelty since Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are shamelessly underused. But it’s hard to begrudge a big studio enterprise that is this packed with thrills and adventure, good characters and surprises. It largely hits the mark and sets the stage for some great new revelations.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Sound and Image of Space, Sabers and Symphony
Since its highly anticipated release last year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has taken audiences around the world by storm and has raked in more than $2 billion at the global box office. This monumental success is thanks in large part to an incredible behind-the-scenes effort from some of the most talented audio and visual professionals in the film industry. Star Wars has had a strong relationship with Dolby ever since the first film in the franchise; and the advancements with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision have helped turn the newest chapter into a masterpiece that was nominated for five Oscars: Film Editing, Visual Effects, Original Score, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Please find below a series of videos featuring Oscar-nominated re-recording sound mixer, Andy Nelson, co-producer Ben Rosenblatt and others from the crew discussing how Dolby and Star Wars filmmakers brought the galaxy far, far away into theaters worldwide for an immersive experience.
Sights and Sounds of Space: Video focuses on the Star Wars universe and the inky black of space in contrast with the stars, planets, ships and the importance of sound with movement of ships around the audience
Sound of Symphony: Highlights the evolution of music and the impact of the score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Saber Sparks and Sonics: Video focuses on the sight and sound of the lightsaber with emphasis on Kylo Ren’s unique saber, the application of color and sonic sound
The Sound of Fandom
Millions of fans have posted videos of themselves talking about and expressing their love for The Force Awakens on social media; and now, the team at Dolby has created a playlist of more than 100 of the best videos of fans celebrating their favorite sound moments in Star Wars history. The playlist includes hundreds of fan videos:
The repeated refrain, “There’s a good story in there somewhere” is extraordinarily prescient in Jay Roach’s Trumbo (C), a rather tedious true story that finally gets compelling in its final act. Bryan Cranston plays the titular protagonist, an eccentric blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter and family man who improbably manipulated a Tinseltown underground to coax the powers that be out of their heavy-handed paranoia. Cranston shape-shifts into the role with wild abandon as a veritable Gandolfian gadfly and sly provocateur. Diane Lane gets the thankless spouse role and Dame Helen Mirren is wasted in her annual Golden Globe bait performance, in this case as a sassy socialite. Roach meanders and holds tight to too chronological a narrative, blunting the impact of the proceedings and clamping down on fruitless nuances. The tone never really gels. Some of the best bits involve actors playing real-life stars such as John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, who factor into the controversy. Ultimately far less than the sum of many interesting contributions, the film is an okay biopic that has a lot to say a little too late.
Pretty as a picture as it slow-dances into a watercolor daydream, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl (B) is a graceful historical true story often told at a beguiling distance. In 1920’s Copenhagen, the plaintive painter played by Eddie Redmayne awakens into his true gender identity with the loving support of a very open-minded artist wife, magnificently played by Alicia Vikander. Redmayne is committed to the performance and conjures great empathy with his porcelain features showcasing a full master class as both confused lad and emboldened lady; but the script and direction don’t always do the audience favors of helping get under the emotional surface. The third act fails to build successfully on the promise of the preceding plot and sticks a bit by the book, albeit impeccable costumed and gorgeously lit. It’s an important work and a daring topic, but it keeps within a museum glass what might have been a more well-rounded, frank, raw and conflict-laden human drama.
Given the film’s depiction of the joys and promises of immigrating from Ireland to New York boroughs just six decades ago, John Crowley’s Brooklyn (B) should be required viewing for a few presidential aspirants. Saoirse Ronan carries the drama on her capable shoulders and shows her character mature right before our eyes; the actress is rather magnificent in coming-of-age mode. Her central character falls head over heels for a working-class Italian suitor (a charming Emory Cohen), and the film’s primary conflict involves this burgeoning love in The States versus the promise of a different life with another man in her homeland (Domhnall Gleeson in an underdeveloped role). The plot really stacks the deck given the mounting successes of life in America, but the overall journey is enjoyable as Ronan’s character pulls considerable empathy. The art direction and costuming are authentic and lush, and what could have devolved quickly into melodrama is lifted in Crowley’s skilled hands. On both sides of the Atlantic, there are women as peers and elders who want to hold our heroine down, and her ability to be resilient and push forward is inspiring.
Check out the trailer for Brooklyn below:
It’s days of whine and poses as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen trudges along to the prolonged conclusion of Francis Lawrence’s excruciating The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (D+). For a heroine who came on the scene so strong in the original film, it really was a long slog through three more movies to drain the character of any recognizable character whatsoever. After treading water and biding time for more than an hour, the film introduces an oil spill sequence and a slime-zombie battle to rattle the narrative out of complete somnolence. The plot to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) meanders and fizzles; the inexplicable Peeta versus Gale fauxmance wobbles into utter nonsense and the whole enterprise just teeters to the finale. Aimless in direction, bleak in set design and imagination and largely existent to squeeze more money out of the franchise, this sequel is notable for career-low wooden performances from Oscar winners Lawrence, Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. For completists only, this part four is a complete bore.
The quartet of Boston Globe investigative journalists portrayed in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight (A) are often speed-dining on vending machine snack crackers and black coffee, don’t always match their socks and constantly struggle with defective ballpoint pens. But in the year 2001 as major world news was erupting and traditional newspapers were fighting for their life in the digital era, this ragtag group of reporters cracks open one of the biggest scandals in our century about child abuse in the Catholic Church. Told with verve and urgency and impeccably acted, the film is a love letter to the importance of journalism and a crackling good story. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton are standouts as they plot out the impact of taking the long game and breaking a scoop. It’s an important work and one of the year’s most vital films.
David Gordon Green’s Our Brand Is Crisis (C-) is the story of a real-life political strategist (Sandra Bullock) who gets her groove back through her work as a consultant on a contentious Bolivian election. The screenplay has a few pearls of wisdom and the story a few moments of insight, but the film’s whole sense of time and place feels vaguely artificial. Green has a very unsure way of staging critical sequences and misuses Bullock’s charms. Unlike other films in this message movie genre (Argo and Thank You For Smoking, for instance), the weight of the situation is rarely conveyed, and there’s little gravitas to the opposition to provide counterbalance to the cynicism. Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina and Anthony Mackie are rather underutilized in potentially juicy supporting parts. It’s largely a misfire.
Related article: Learn PR tips inspired by Sandra Bullock’s character on the Cookerly PR blog.
Flawed and fascinating like its titular hero, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs (A-) is a biopic film seeking a new form factor. Told in three critical flashpoints of the computer industry titan’s life – namely, his launch of the overhyped Apple Macintosh, of the failed NeXT computer and of the wildly popular iMac that ushered in a new digital renaissance – Boyle and auteur screenwriter Aaron Sorkin fashion the tale of a fabulist impresario windbag who surrounds himself with people who act as fun house mirrors and lenses into his control freak world and undeniable genius. Michael Fassbender is simply phenomenal in the demanding and often unlikable role, with Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels providing bright but thankless support as workplace foils to Jobs’ most repellant qualities. By jettisoning linear storytelling and embracing backstage patter, tone poem and near-requiem, the film is sure to confound most in its viewing audience. The movie’s distancing subject matter and petulant protagonist are near certain to be off-putting to most. Boyle rarely hits a false note and makes superb points about man and machine. Like underappreciated works of Kubrick, this austere film is likely to be better received years from now. It is telling that the movie focuses more of Jobs as artist than scientist, with his meta-theatrical launches taking place in symphony halls and his maestro metaphors falling from the lips like sweet sonnets. As film, it’s a perplexing and quixotic gallery. Given the early box office returns, it’s a fever dream most viewers will save for home viewing; but it’s absorbing for sure and nearly as odd and inventive as the man who inspired it.
Related article: Learn PR tips inspired by Kate Winslet’s character on the Cookerly PR blog.
Hey, kids! There’s a new movie you can recommend to both your dad and your mom, whether they enjoy spy stories of two-for-one BOGO deals. Steven Spielberg’s old-fashioned Cold War-set Bridge of Spies (B+) thrusts a real-life insurance lawyer played by Tom Hanks into a role negotiating the exchange of a Russian spy for two, count ’em two, captive Americans. Mark Rylance is a standout as the aging Eastern operative, and his sequences opposite Hanks are poignant and illuminating. Spielberg excels in pacing and period detail and helping the story surge into escalating stakes. The movie takes shape as more of a drama than a thriller when the most taut moment involves two men with umbrellas chasing each other down a rainy sidewalk, but the creative cadence of a Coen Brothers screenplay allows the words to stimulate intellectual adventure. Plus, Hanks is enjoyable rather than irritating in his latest Everyman role. The film is sturdy and entertaining; and while it breaks no amazing new ground, sometimes a good film by a great director is enough.