Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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Connie has been reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970 (47 years) and routinely covers the Chicago International Film Festival (14 years), SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, and others, sharing detailed looks in advance at upcoming entertainment. She has taught a class on film and is the author of the book “Training the Teacher As A Champion; From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, published by the Merry Blacksmith Press of Rhode Island.

Bill Nighy in “Living,” a Nominee for Two Oscars

Bill Nighy is perhaps best-known to international audiences for his memorable performance as washed-up pop singer Billy Mack in Love Actually (2003), which won him a BAFTA for best supporting actor. He has also appeared in the “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” films and has won numerous acting awards in a long career that goes back to the 1970s.

This year, Bill Nighy has been nominated for Best Actor in his film “Living” and he will have to compete against newcomer Austin Bishop (“Elvis”), Irish actor Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inishirin”), Brendab Fraser (“The Whale”), and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun.”

“Living” is a loose adaptation/remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” (aka “To Live“), a post-World War II drama about a Tokyo bureaucrat who goes on a similar journey after a terminal diagnosis of gastric cancer. Here, the Japanese setting has been traded for fifties London and Bill Nighy as Mr. Williams is the head of one of the many departments and bureaucracies that governments form. So often, the workers in such bureaucracies, become bogged down in it all. The screenplay’s term is “the sheer grind of it all.” The screenplay here was written by Kazuo Ishigero, based on the original Ikira Kurosawa work “Ikiru,” and is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Nighy has been giving us convincing portraits of men whose chief desire (as with Mr. Williams) was to “be a gentleman” for years, but he also has run the gamut from zombies to alcoholic singers. It is perhaps ironic that Nighy in this role has been dubbed “Mr. Zombie” by the only female staffer, Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret, because he has, in fact, often been cast as a zombie.

In this particular film, however, it is the shock of his terminal diagnosis that reveals to the aging bureaucrat just how he has lost the joy of living. You just know that, in the time that he has left, he will attempt to regain his lust for life. As he says, “I remember what it was like to be alive like that.” As Miss Harris (Margaret, portrayed by Aimee Lou Wood) describes zombies, “they’re sort of dead, but not dead.” Margaret has quite a few nick names for her co-workers, including, “the hoverer” and “the confused chimney,” most of which have to do with the shuffling of papers by her co-workers, without any real progress.

Stacks of paperwork in each employees in/out basket show that they are busy, but what they seem to be busiest doing is giving regular Londoners the run-around—especially a group of neighborhood women who are dead set on getting a new playground. Alex Sharp as new employee Mr. Wakeling is ultimately someone who absorbs the life lesson that Williams, in his final weeks, attempts to share. He begins trying to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  The boss who will succeed Mr. Williams, however, Mr Middleton (Adrian Rawlins) remains set in cement and, while talking a good game about progress, completely misses the point of the lesson that Mr. Williams’ last few months of life were meant to illuminate.

Another theme handled very delicately deals with the difficulty of a parent in communicating with the younger generation. When Williams learns of his approaching death, he wants to confide in his son, Michael (Barney Fishwick). He even practices what he will say in the hall mirror. Still, he cannot breach the gulf between them; Michael is just as tongue-tied and helpless at really communicating with his father, as Michael’s wife browbeats him about talking to his dad concerning his platonic friendship with Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret Harris. In the fifties setting, an old man befriending a much younger colleague who is female is simply not done. Everyone assumes the worst, and the son and daughter-in-law want to put a halt to gossip. The film very accurately reflects how times have changed since the fifties in society. Nighy, at 73, certainly has the necessary lengthy career to have seen these changes.

The film, directed by Oliver Hermanus, is elegantly old-fashioned.  I mean that in all the best ways. The score, by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch swells with the full orchestration of olden days in this 1 hour and 42 minute movie.  The cinematography by Jamie Ramsay is spot-on and all of the supporting players are excellent in their parts. It should be noted that the script is also Oscar nominated as Best Adapted Screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro. There’s a definite feeling of a beginning, a middle, and an end and we even get a life lesson that we all should take to heart. To me, the other film that seems old-fashioned in this good way is “A Man Called Otto” with Tom Hanks. I don’t agree that there is a “merging” of films like “A Fistful of Dollars” from  their Japanese source.

I found it interesting reading that Ishiguro had wanted to script a remake of the Akira Kurosawa film for years and was only able to pitch it to Bill Nighy (whom he always viewed as the actor to play the role of Mr. Williams) when he and his wife ended up sharing a cab with Nighy after a party. Nighy had never seen “Ikiru,” but once Nighy watched it, he enthusiastically signed on to the project. He now approaches the pinnacle of an acting career—a possible Oscar win.

The front-runner to win the Oscar for Best Actor is “The Whale’s” Brendan Fraser. The five-minute ovation at Cannes and his come-back story, not to mention his superb acting, will be hard to beat, but the confined sets for “The Whale” and the depressing subject matter might give other veteran actors a chance. Colin Farrell, for instance, has also gone many years without a vehicle worthy of his talent. Only “Elvis’” Austin Bishop is a break-through performance. Which of the three veteran nominees—-Nighy, Farrell, or Fraser—is likely to take home the statuette in March? We’ll all have to watch to find out. (And, of course, to make sure that nobody gets clocked unnecessarily during the broadcast.) The fifth and final nominee, Paul Mescal in “Aftersun,” barely has a shot.

Here’s an interesting quote from Bill Nighy about awards, in general, uttered in 2007 when the Golden Globes honored him: “I used to think that prizes were demeaning and divisive until I got one, and now they seem sort of meaningful and real.”

 

 

 

“Vengeance” Hits Amazon: Enjoy

“Vengeance,” the B.J. Novak debut directorial debut with Ashton Kutcher as a cast member, is now available on Amazon Prime.

It is one of my favorite films of 2022, and I highly recommend it. It was way better than “Bullet Train,” which we saw the next night.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Oscar Nominees Are Announced for March 7th, 2023 Awards Ceremony

Oscar Nominees

Best Picture

“All Quiet on the Western Front”

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

“Elvis”

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

“The Fabelmans”

“Tár”

“Top Gun: Maverick”

“Triangle of Sadness”

“Women Talking”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Angela Bassett, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Hong Chau, “The Whale”

Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Jamie Lee Curtis, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Stephanie Hsu, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actor in a Supporting Role

Colin Farrell on the Red Carpet at the 50th Chicago Film Festival.

Brendan Gleeson, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway”

Judd Hirsch, “The Fabelmans”

Barry Keoghan, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actor in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett 

Austin Butler, “Elvis”

Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”

Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”

Bill Nighy, “Living”

Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett, “Tár”

Ana de Armas, “Blonde”

Andrea Riseborough, “To Leslie”

Michelle Williams, “The Fabelmans”

Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Director

Martin McDonagh, “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Steven Spielberg, “The Fabelmans”

Todd Field, “Tár”

Ruben Ostlund, “Triangle of Sadness”

In the “Best Picture” category, I have seen 7 of 10. By the time of the March 7th broadcast, I will have seen 8, minimum. It is always difficult to see all of the films if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area. It is especially difficult if the film is an international offering and has poor distribution. No predictions or comments until I complete my viewing of the nominated films prior to the March 7th awards ceremony.

Actress in a Supporting Role – I’ve seen all of these nominated performances. I did not enjoy the “Everything, Everywhere All At Once” film, so I’m not blown away by the nomination of 2 actresses from that film. I did appreciate the film more after reading that, basically, a very few people put this film together. I do acknowledge that the lead role would be quite demanding. I will make some predictions closer to March 7th.

Actor in a Supporting Role: I’ve seen all of these performances. My initial thoughts on the nominees here is that Judd Hirsch, although good in his role in “The Fabelmanns,” is barely in the film. “The Causeway” film was underwhelming (a Jennifer Lawrence indie film) although Brian Tyree Henry was good in a small film. I can see where Hirsch might get the vote for his long career, but, for me, Brendan Gleeson was the best of these 5.

Actor in a Leading Role:  I’ve only seen 3 of the 5 nominees. This was partially because two of the films did not have as wide a release, and partially because of my own health issues. I still need to see Paul Mescal and Bill Nighy before commenting. With the three I have seen, I am torn. I appreciate the acting tour de force that Brendan Fraser gave us in an overall depressing film that was almost like a stage play in having taken place on one set. I’ve watched “Elvis” three times, but I have always felt that Colin Farrell deserved more recognition for his work and Austin Butler is a newcomer. I met Colin Farrell in Chicago at the premiere of the Liv Ullman-directed film “Miss Julie.”

Actress in a Leading Role:  I’ve seen all of the nominees. I actually like Andrea Riseborough’s performance in “To Leslie” the best of these nominees. She was great opposite Marc Maron! I am puzzled as to why the lead in “Till” didn’t make the cut. One also wonders about the Jennifer Lawrence role in “Causeway” and the diss of Viola Davis in “The Woman King.”

Best Director:  I’ve seen all the nominees except “Triangle of Sadness” director Ruben Ostlund. I’m a longtime fan of Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “In Bruges”). Everyone is a longtime fan of Steven Spielberg, which may work against him, since he has won previously. “Tar” was a great performance from Cate Blanchett, but it was not a great movie for the audience. Likewise, unless “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” begins a sweep—which will happen without me being onboard—I would vote for either McDonagh or Spielberg.

More predictions and commentary to come. These, for me, are the Big Categories, and, of nominess, I’ve seen 28 of 35 of the Big Ones. While this is only 80%, I had the kind of 2022 that makes it amazing I saw that many!

Critics’ Choice Awards Given on January 15, 2023

Critics’ Choice Awards 2023: WINNERS

 FILM

BEST PICTURE

Avatar: The Way of Water

Babylon

The Banshees of Inisherin

Elvis

Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

RRR

Tár

Top Gun: Maverick

Women Talking

BEST ACTOR

Austin Butler – Elvis

Tom Cruise – Top Gun: Maverick

Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin

Brendan Fraser – The Whale – WINNER

Paul Mescal – Aftersun

Bill Nighy – Living

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – Tár – WINNER

Viola Davis – The Woman King

Danielle Deadwyler – Till

Margot Robbie – Babylon

Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans

Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Paul Dano – The Fabelmans

Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin

Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans

Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin

Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – WINNER

Jessie Buckley – Women Talking

Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin

Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Janelle Monáe – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

Frankie Corio – Aftersun

Jalyn Hall – Till

Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans – WINNER

Bella Ramsey – Catherine Called Birdy

Banks Repeta – Armageddon Time

Sadie Sink – The Whale

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

The Banshees of Inisherin

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – WINNER

The Woman King

Women Talking

BEST DIRECTOR

James Cameron – Avatar: The Way of Water

Damien Chazelle – Babylon

Todd Field – Tár

Baz Luhrmann – Elvis

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin

Sarah Polley – Women Talking

Gina Prince-Bythewood – The Woman King

S. S. Rajamouli – RRR

Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Todd Field – Tár

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin

Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner – The Fabelmans

Charlotte Wells – Aftersun

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Samuel D. Hunter – The Whale

Kazuo Ishiguro – Living

Rian Johnson – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Rebecca Lenkiewicz – She Said

Sarah Polley – Women Talking – WINNER

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Russell Carpenter – Avatar: The Way of Water

Roger Deakins – Empire of Light

Florian Hoffmeister – Tár

Janusz Kaminski – The Fabelmans

 Maverick – WINNER Miranda Claudion – Top Gun Maverick

Linus Sandgren – Babylon

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Hannah Beachler, Lisa K. Sessions – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Rick Carter, Karen O’Hara – The Fabelmans

Dylan Cole, Ben Procter, Vanessa Cole – Avatar: The Way of Water

Jason Kisvarday, Kelsi Ephraim – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy, Bev Dunn – Elvis

Florencia Martin, Anthony Carlino – Babylon – WINNER

BEST EDITING

Tom Cross – Babylon

Eddie Hamilton – Top Gun: Maverick

Stephen Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua, James Cameron – Avatar: The Way of Water

Paul Rogers – Everything Everywhere All at Once – WINNER

Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond – Elvis

Monika Willi – Tár

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – WINNER

Jenny Eagan – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Shirley Kurata – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Catherine Martin – Elvis

Gersha Phillips – The Woman King

Mary Zophres – Babylon

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

Babylon

The Batman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Elvis – WINNER

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Whale

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Avatar: The Way of Water – WINNER

The Batman

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Everything Everywhere All at Once

RRR

Top Gun: Maverick

BEST COMEDY

The Banshees of Inisherin

Bros

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Triangle of Sadness

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – WINNER

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Turning Red

Wendell & Wild

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

All Quiet on the Western Front

Argentina, 1985

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Close

Decision to Leave

RRR – WINNER

BEST SONG

Carolina – Where the Crawdads Sing

Ciao Papa – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Hold My Hand – Top Gun: Maverick

Lift Me Up – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Naatu Naatu – RRR – WINNER

New Body Rhumba – White Noise

BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Michael Giacchino – The Batman

Hildur Guðnadóttir – Tár – WINNER

Hildur Guðnadóttir – Women Talking

Justin Hurwitz – Babylon

John Williams – The Fabelmans

 TELEVISION

BEST DRAMA SERIES

Andor (Disney+)

Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

The Crown (Netflix)

Euphoria (HBO)

The Good Fight (Paramount+)

House of the Dragon (HBO)

Severance (Apple TV+)

Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Jeff Bridges – The Old Man (FX)

Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)

Diego Luna – Andor (Disney+)

Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

Adam Scott – Severance (Apple TV+)

Antony Starr – The Boys (Prime Video)

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Christine Baranski – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Sharon Horgan – Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

Laura Linney – Ozark (Netflix)

Mandy Moore – This Is Us (NBC)

Kelly Reilly – Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

Zendaya – Euphoria (HBO) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Andre Braugher – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Ismael Cruz Córdova – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video)

Michael Emerson – Evil (Paramount+)

Giancarlo Esposito – Better Call Saul (AMC) – WINNER

John Lithgow – The Old Man (FX)

Matt Smith – House of the Dragon (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Milly Alcock – House of the Dragon (HBO)

Carol Burnett – Better Call Saul (AMC)

Jennifer Coolidge – The White Lotus (HBO) – WINNER

Julia Garner – Ozark (Netflix)

Audra McDonald – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Rhea Seehorn – Better Call Saul (AMC)

BEST COMEDY SERIES

Abbott Elementary (ABC) – WINNER

Barry (HBO)

The Bear (FX)

Better Things (FX)

Ghosts (CBS)

Hacks (HBO Max)

Reboot (Hulu)

Reservation Dogs (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Matt Berry – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

Bill Hader – Barry (HBO)

Keegan-Michael Key – Reboot (Hulu)

Steve Martin – Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

Jeremy Allen White – The Bear (FX) – WINNER

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai – Reservation Dogs (FX)

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Christina Applegate – Dead to Me (Netflix)

Quinta Brunson – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Kaley Cuoco – The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)

Renée Elise Goldsberry – Girls5eva (Peacock)

Devery Jacobs – Reservation Dogs (FX)

Jean Smart – Hacks (HBO Max)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Brandon Scott Jones – Ghosts (CBS)

Leslie Jordan – Call Me Kat (Fox)

James Marsden – Dead to Me (Netflix)

Chris Perfetti – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Tyler James Williams – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Henry Winkler – Barry (HBO) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Paulina Alexis – Reservation Dogs (FX)

Ayo Edebiri – The Bear (FX)

Marcia Gay Harden – Uncoupled (Netflix)

Janelle James – Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Annie Potts – Young Sheldon (CBS)

Sheryl Lee Ralph – Abbott Elementary (ABC) – WINNER

BEST LIMITED SERIES

The Dropout (Hulu) – WINNER

Gaslit (Starz)

The Girl from Plainville (Hulu)

The Offer (Paramount+)

Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Station Eleven (HBO Max)

This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+)

Under the Banner of Heaven (FX)

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Fresh (Hulu)

Prey (Hulu)

Ray Donovan: The Movie (Showtime)

The Survivor (HBO)

Three Months (Paramount+)

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel) – WINNER

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Ben Foster – The Survivor (HBO)

Andrew Garfield – Under the Banner of Heaven (FX)

Samuel L. Jackson – The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Daniel Radcliffe – Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel) – WINNER

Sebastian Stan – Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Ben Whishaw – This is Going to Hurt (AMC+)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Julia Garner – Inventing Anna (Netflix)

Lily James – Pam & Tommy (Hulu)

Amber Midthunder – Prey (Hulu)

Julia Roberts – Gaslit (Starz)

Michelle Pfeiffer – The First Lady (Showtime)

Amanda Seyfried – The Dropout (Hulu) – WINNER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Murray Bartlett – Welcome to Chippendales (Hulu)

Domhnall Gleeson – The Patient (FX)

Matthew Goode – The Offer (Paramount+)

Paul Walter Hauser – Black Bird (Apple TV+) – WINNER

Ray Liotta – Black Bird (Apple TV+)

Shea Whigham – Gaslit (Starz)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Claire Danes – Fleishman Is in Trouble (FX)

Dominique Fishback – The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Betty Gilpin – Gaslit (Starz)

Melanie Lynskey – Candy (Hulu)

Niecy Nash-Betts – Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix) – WINNER

Juno Temple – The Offer (Paramount+)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERIES

1899 (Netflix)

Borgen (Netflix)

Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Netflix)

Garcia! (HBO Max)

The Kingdom Exodus (MUBI)

Kleo (Netflix)

My Brilliant Friend (HBO)

Pachinko (Apple TV+) – WINNER

Tehran (Apple TV+)

BEST ANIMATED SERIES

Bluey (Disney+)

Bob’s Burgers (Fox)

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (Adult Swim)

Harley Quinn (HBO Max) – WINNER

Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)

Undone (Prime Video)

BEST TALK SHOW

The Amber Ruffin Show (Peacock)

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)

The Kelly Clarkson Show (NBC)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – WINNER

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)

Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen (Bravo)

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL

Fortune Feimster: Good Fortune (Netflix)

Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (HBO)

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual (Netflix)

Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth (HBO)

Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Netflix) – WINNER

Would It Kill You to Laugh? Starring Kate Berlant & John Early (Peacock)

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Tom Hanks is Otto in “A Man Called Otto”

 

The comic possibilities of a suicidal suspect who keeps failing at offing himself were plumbed by Burt Reynolds 45 years ago in “The End.” The reasons why Burt’s many attempts at suicide failed were not identical to Tom Hanks’ in “A Man Called Otto” based on the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” and the 2015 Oscar-nominated Swedish hit by Hannes Holm (which was based on the book of the same name by Fredrik Backman.) But the engine driving the film was the same in both films.

The cranky old man schtick has also been well plumbed by actors like Clint Eastwood portraying Walt Kowalski in the 2008 film “Gran Torino.” The grouchy man who is mad at the world role is played, this time, by America’s favorite Everyman, Tom Hanks. It’s a good thing, because the plot is obvious from a mile away (we’ve seen this film before). However, with Tom Hanks as the lead, it’s possible to shrug off the sugary overload and enjoy the (relatively) happy ending. Plus, Tom adopts a stray cat, always a crowd pleaser.  [Based on remarks Hanks made on a late-night talk show, the cat was a pretty independent critter that would barely look Tom’s way and never on cue.]

The younger version of Tom Hanks is played by Truman Hanks, Tom’s real-life son. This is also something that has been done before, as with the recent pairing of Dustin and Jake Hoffman starring opposite Sissy Spacek and her daughter Schuyler Fisk in “Sam and Kate.”To hear the elder Hanks tell it, his son Truman has been learning the entertainment business from the ground up, starting with camera and electrical work. Truman does not resemble Tom as much as his older son, Colin,  but Truman was the right age for the part (if a little chubby by Dad’s standards).  The flashbacks, establishing young Otto’s somewhat awkward social presence, are fine, with Rachel Keller portraying young Sonya, the love of Otto’s life.

Little by little we learn that Otto and Sonya were in a bus accident; their unborn child died.  Sonya went on to teach school and  to urge her husband to continue to invest in life, although the loss of their child was a bitter blow. Even more deeply felt was Otto’s loss of Sonya to cancer at 63 years of age. He now visits her daily in the cemetery and chats graveside.

With Colin Hanks at the Chicago Film Festival.

From Sonya’s death on, Otto is the Town Grouch. He makes daily “rounds” to make sure no one is driving the wrong way on the “not a through street” entrance to their Midwestern housing  development.  He supervises the trash recycling area. After new neighbors move in across the street, he is asked to loan Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)  and Marisol (Mariana Trevino) everything from a ladder to an Allen wrench. “Idiot” is the most common perjorative that Otto uses when someone near him cannot parallel park or is driving the wrong way in the neighborhood. But the cracks in the crabby façade are growing bigger and broader with the entrance into the neighborhood of the vivacious pregnant Marisol, her husband Tommy and their two little girls. The two little girls in the new family (Christiana Montoya as Luna and Alessandra Perez as Abbie) are a sure sign that Otto will thaw from his previous role as Mr. Grumpy Pants.

Along the way, there are at least three failed suicide attempts by Hanks, which, again,  reminded me of that long-ago Burt Reynolds blackly comic vehicle “The End” (co-starring Sally Field and Dom DeLuise). It also reminded me of a very unpopular comedy routine that George Carlin launched on an unsuspecting audience in Chicago near the end of his life. [The audience began exiting in droves; they did not find suicide the least bit funny.]

There’s nothing off-key about Tom Hanks’ performance in this very predictable bitter sweet story. The music (Thomas Newman) is unremarkable and the fact that Tom Hanks could read the phone book and still entertain us is not news. I wondered why Hanks chose this particular story, and then I saw that Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks) was Executive Producer and read that she was quite taken with the project after seeing the Swedish film.

I don’t object to a “happy” ending or a nicely-packaged movie about a Scrooge-like character who will, in the course of the movie’s 2 hour  40 minute length, grow much warmer and fuzzier. The supporting performances are adequate;with the exception of Mariana Trevino as the irrepressible Marisol, the other characters are not overly memorable.

It was a nice family movie with some good messages about living life and nurturing community. German director Marc Foster’s offering is not likely to surprise, but the fleeting references to Hanks’ suicidal tendencies will not drive patrons from the theater. Comedian Mike Birbiglia is wasted as a Dye & Merica real estate agent. The movie opened wide on Friday the 13th (Jan.).

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Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” Defines Excess in Hollywood

“Babylon” is Damien Chazelle’s salute to the movies, following on the heels of Sam Mendes’  similar homage to film  in “Empire of Light.”

I’ve never met Sam Mendes, although I admire his work. But I have met Damian Chazelle, when he came to Chicago for the premiere of “La La Land” at the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2016. Damien Chazelle is a genuine, personable, interesting young man. He has again partnered with longtime collaborator Justin Hurwitz, (who also did the music for “La La Land” and “Whiplash”). The  score was very reminiscent of the music from “La La Land.”

The film attempts to depict what Hollywood might have been like back when the silent movie era was giving way to talkies. It is both an homage to those chaotic times, beginning in 1926, and a criticism of the excesses of Hollywood. The opening 20 minutes, depicting an elephant being transported to an orgy-like party hosted by someone seemingly based on Fatty Arbuckle, goes a long way towards showing those excesses. It’s way over-the-top. You could say that about the entire film.

One of the things that amazes about this $80 million-dollar stroll down memory lane, is the cast. In addition to Brad Pitt as the male lead and Margot Robbie as the female lead,  there are bit parts for a myriad of actors, both known and unknown. Who were these masked men (and women)?

Flea has a part. Eric Roberts—who I interviewed on my WeeklyWilson podcast during the pandemic—plays Margot Robbie’s father. Lukas Haas who played  the small boy in “Witness” when he was nine years old in the seventies, plays George, Brad Pitt’s best friend.  Tobey Maguire, listed as an executive producer, has a truly hero-destroying role as a gangster. Spike Jonze plays Otto. Michael Dukakis has an uncredited part as a soldier. Anna Chazelle has an uncredited part as Bobbie Hart. Kaia Gerber, look-alike daughter of Cindy Crawford, has a bit part as a starlet.  Jovan Adepo plays jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer. Jean Smart (“Hacks”) plays a composite character based on columnists like Hedda Hopper/Louella Parsons, Elinor O’Toole. Max Minghella (“The Handmaid’s Tale’s Nick Blaine) plays Irving Thalberg. Comedian/actor Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) plays Don Wallach, Ethan Suplee  (“Remember the Titans” 2000) plays Wilson and spends most of his time onscreen spitting grossly, Manny Liotta plays a  P.A. (Production Assistant). This is a very partial list of the surprisingly elaborate cast list. (Hard to stage an orgy without a crowd, I guess.)

But the lead as Manny Torres is relative unknown Mexican actor Diego Calva, who comes to the screen in a major part as a relative unknown to U.S. audiences. Calva played a drug lord on Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico” but, if you missed that, you missed him. He came to his star-making part in much the same way as the fictional Manny Torres: by doing whatever anyone in the movie business wanted/needed done. He reminded me of the “fixer” characters played by Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” or by Leiv Schreiber in “Ray Donovan.”

During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night television show, Calva shared some behind-the-scenes insights into the film and into his own background. Golden Globe nominated for “Babylon,” Diego learned to speak English specifically for “Babylon.” He said he learned English from playing “Pokemon” video games in Mexico. He confirmed that the chicken in the orgy scene was a great actor.  He also confirmed that they used a chicken puppet for some takes. Diego admitted he was most excited to meet Tobey Maguire, since he had been a “Spiderman” fan from a young age.

Among other comments the young actor made was this one about the opening orgy scene:  “It was so crazy. I’ve never been surrounded by so many naked people before.” Of his co-star and love interest in the film, Margot Robbie, Diego said:  “She’s always going to do the unexpected. She’s a fearless actress, just full on energy.  When you’re so tired, she can play it 100 times more.”Diego studied at the Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica in Mexico. He is a talent to watch.

The thing that resonated with me—especially since it was quite similar to Sam Mendes’ musings on the movies—were the lines that pin down Chazelle’s feelings about film. It’s not unique amongst creative types, whether filmmakers, writers, song writers, or painters that the work we leave behind gives us a feelingof a little bit of immortality. Ideally, whatever we have created has been good. It will be around long after we are gone.Immortality.

Chazelle scripted one scene, in particular, between Jean Smart and Brad Pitt where she tells the fading screen star “Your time has run out. There is no why. Film is bigger than you. No one asks to be left behind.” Telling him how he will live forever on celluloid, the columnist says, “You’ve been given a gift. Be grateful.” And Pitt’s character, in an earlier scene, states, “What I do means something to millions of people. For real people, on the ground, it means something.” He tells Olivia Wilde’s character (Ina) to spare him the pretentious notes on his reading of a script, expressing some disgust at those who try to characterize film as “a low art” and, instead, enshrine Ibsen and Strindberg and the theater.

The general critical consensus has been bad for the film among both critics and audiences. I understand that, as so many of the scenes are well over-the-top and, I’m sure, offensive to many. The opening scene with the elephant and elephant dung is but one example. There is a later one involving Margot Robbie at a party rejecting the urgings to be “elegant” and become more like the group at the party with whom she is associating. She tries, but fails, to “act” respectable, since her original nickname was “the wild child.” Now, she is to eschew her Jersey roots and act well-behaved, but she rejects that advice in a way that goes beyond the norm. She literally smears food all over her face, insults everyone at the party, and, ultimately, projectile vomits both outside the house and inside on a newly-purchased expensiv rug. It’s a bit much. The orgy scenes and naked bodies may have been necessary (although the golden shower scene with a Fatty Arbuckle type was a bit much) and the descent into the depths of depravity in L.A. that Tobey Maguire insists Manny and companion take with him was overkill.

The film cost a lot ($80 million) and when you see the voluminous cast list, it isn’t surprising. Not only does it have two of the biggest current stars in Hollywood (Pitt and Robbie) but it seems to have everyone else who might have been hanging around. My favorite small part was the inclusion of Eric Roberts. Roberts undoubtedly holds the record for most American movie appearances ever.

A lot of the scenes screamed gross—like the vomiting one and dung-spewing elephant. You  get the feeling that the creative license to try new things led to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall.

Another thing that swelled the film’s length from a normal hour and a half to over three hours was the emphasis on the music. Chazelle has highlighted the music of his collaborator, Justin Hurwitz. Although trumpet player character Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) admitted  that he did not really play the trumpet, the film focuses on the band and its performances. I don’t have an exact count of how many minutes this occupies, but it was substantial.

Another source pointed out that the film’s release in competition against “Avatar” was not great marketing.

Outside the door of the Alama Drafthouse Theater the day I saw it was a warning that the final scenes, paying tribute to many other movies that have gone before, might cause viewers to have seizures, if they were vulnerable.

I salute the effort to capture Hollywood magic of the 1920-1930 in a bottle, but it just didn’t work.

“One Way,” “American Assassin,” and “The Nanny:” Films at Christmas (Streaming)

We are currently watching “One Way.” Drea De Matteo, from “The Sopranos,” has a roleas Vic, as do Kevin Bacon and Colson Baker, otherwise known as Machine Gun Kelly. Travis Fimmel is another in the cast, and it is rated “R” on Amazon Prime for $4.99.

It will be interesting to see if Machine Gun Kelly is much of an actor, so the $4.99 price tag seems worth it. The film, by Andrew Baird, is an indie thriller and, so far, Colson (i.e., Machine Gun) is on a bus and attempting to escape. He portrays Freddy, who has stolen some coke and is on the lam. Freddy may not have thought out this heist too completely, as he seems to have sustained a gunshot to his abdomen.

The background music is pretty hard core and the person being tortured, Mac, is a Machine Gun Kelly knock-off, pink hair and all. Some commenters on ratings pages have mentioned that they had difficulty hearing all the dialogue because of the volume of the background music, but it is compelling and carries and sustains the suspense and momentum.

Two nights ago I watched “The Nanny,” another indie film, which had some good acting within it. The young nanny from Senegal, Aisha, (Anna Diopp) was good in her part, but the ending was rather abrupt. She was hired as the nanny for a couple, portrayed by Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector.  They don’t pay her what she is owed, and the boss even makes a pass at her. However, the film, which seems to be heading toward a tragic ending, has a rather sudden happy ending, so there’s that. Anna Diopp was impressive in her role.

I followed that up with a film called “American Assassin” which caught my eye as something being streamed live by YouTube. Every few minutes a message would appear on the screen saying, “We’ll be back in 1 minute and 58 seconds.” The film would buffer. Michael Keaton would be training assassins of the Navy Seal variety and acting all tough. I like Michael Keaton very much, but I prefer films in which he has witty dialogue, which he never fails to deliver well. [I’m still stuck on “Night Shift,” one of his very first films, with Henry Winkler as his boss.]

I had been eagerly awaiting Damian Chazelle’s “Babylon” film, but the advance word from those who have seen it is not positive. I met Chazelle at the premiere of “La La Land” at the Chicago International Film Festival” and he was very, very nice. I look forward to all of his films, and I’ll see this one, regardless of the bad reviews I’ve encountered.

Drea is playing a bad girl known as Vic. She and her minions have just murdered the Machine Gun Kelly look-alike (Mac), after torturing him to try to find out where the real Machine Gun Kelly had gone with their illegal product.

Time to start concentrating on the plot. So far, it is holding my attention better than either of the two mentioned above.

“The Menu” Is Interesting, Well-Paced, Well-Executed Film

Now playing at our local cinema is Director Mark Mylod’s paen to over-priced food and uber pretentious foodies, “The Menu.”

The film stars Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, who once slung burgers as the Employee of the Month at Howie’s Hamburgers, but has now become an elitest snob even more superficial than his wealthy customers.

The film opens with the truly elitest group boarding a boat to sail to a private island for a dinner priced at $1,250 per person. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is a foodie of the first class who has been following Chef Slowik’s career for years and has been( corresponding with him for 8 months, (as we later learn,)

First question:  if someone who was going to cook for you told you that  by accepting the invitation to come to the island to eat, you were signing your ow death warrant, would you still accept the invitation? No. I didn’t think so. It is those lapses between reality and the deux machina that makes this movie work that are the negatives, but there are many positives, including Anya Taylor-Joy as the female lead accompanying young Tyler to dinner.

As it turns out, Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Qheen’s Gambit,” 2020; “Split,” 2016) is a substitute for Tyler’s original date. As you get to know Tyler, thanks to the witty script from Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, it is easy to see why none of the cool girls ever wanted to go to Prom with him, and why he hired Anya Taylor-Joy’s hooker, Margo, to accompany him to the island, after his original date broke it off. [Tyler is the kind of date whose obsession with the topic and annoying devotion to the entire concept of Chef Slowik dserves breaking off.]

The clip from the film shows the apparently Mad As A Hatter Chef Slowik telling the guests at his fabled restaurant, that the men will be given 45 seconds to run for their lives. Ergo, we know fro the start that this is no ordinary dinner party with high-priced food that may be close to inedible to the average palate. After all, these palates are not “average” or ordinary. These are exceptionally rich people who feel that they are just slightly better than others who cannot afford this kind of food.

My feeling about Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, like the chef himself, is that she is a working class stiff—a service industry caterer like Ralph Fiennes. He recognizes her as “different” from the others because of that, but also accuses her of ruining his entire presentation by being present on this finale night. Margo is a no bullshit kind of gal. She does the most to attempt to save herself. She basically calls out the phoney baloney food (or lack of food) and demands a cheeseburger, at one point in time. And she gets it.

The set decoration (Gretchen Gathuso), art direction (Lindsey Moran) and production design (Ethan Tobman), as well as the cinematography by Peter Deming were all exquisite. The restaurant’s interior reminded me of a hotel I stayed in once, in a town I shall not name, which was so sterile and uncozy that I was tempted to check out in the middle of the night. The costuming is also fantastic and the entire film is so well-done that I can recommend it when it streams as well-paced (John Leguizamo is a joy, always) and fun to watch, even as we recognize that it is really all style and no substance. It works for “The Glass Onion,” why not this film?

 

“Poker Face:” The Russell Crowe Movie (Not the Lady Gaga Song)

We rented “Poker Face,” Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, on the advice of someone who identified herself as a Russell Crowe fan.

The synopsis for the film read as follows:  “A tech billionaire hosts a high-stakes poker game between friends, but the evening takes a turn when long-held secrets are revealed, an elaborate revenge plot unfolds, and thieves break in.”

I was glad I had read that Russell Crowe, portraying Jake Foley (the billionaire), had a terminal disease (pancreatic cancer). It took quite a while for this plot point to make its way to the screen. In that interim, the plot moved very slowly and there were far too many characters to try to follow the misdeeds or betrayals of each and every one of them.

Who were these boyhood friends that Russell summons to his expensive lair high above Sydney to play poker (and, as it turn out, to poison them)?

Mikey (Michael Nankervis), played by Liam Hemsworth, a fellow Australian actor.

Drew – (Andrew Johnson), played by RZA.

Paul – Steve Bastoni as Paul Muccino.

Alex – Aden Young as Alex Harris.

Sam (McIntyre) played by Daniel MacPherson.

That is way too many “leads” to follow in such the necessary amount of depth to find out who has done what to Russell to justify his inviting them all to his luxury penthouse to play high stakes poker.

The female lead is the wife of Liam Hemsworth’s older brother Chris: Elsa Patacky as Penelope.

Other main female characters were Brooke Satchwell as Nicole Foley and Molly Grace as Rebecca Foley.

The leader of a group that breaks into the billionaire’s house to rob him was Paul Tassone as Victor.

For me, there were too many characters to keep track of and some of the important plot points (like Jake Foley’s terminal illness) were not clear immediately. It also seemed as though there were two plots competing for attention. Wouldn’t the poker game and Russell Crowe’s vengeance against his old friends have been enough? Did we really need the additional gang of thugs planning to rob the tech billionaire at the very moment they are assembled in the luxurious penthouse to play poker?

The film had many musings on one’s mortality, including these scripted lines:

“All living things die.”

“Answers don’t always have the structure we expect. Sometimes the insistence of the question can drown out the response. Let’s go and untie some knots.”

“You will know when it’s time.”

“Opening up to others is one thing. Opening up to yourself may be hard.”

“Some people take comfort in knowing that they have some means of control.”

“They might not be the best decisions I’ve ever made, but at least I won’t live to regret them.”

Russell’s advice to his daughter:  “Friendship and love start when you forgive imperfections. Listen to Drew the most.” (from the reading of the will).

If you want a more thrilling recent Russell Crowe film to stream try “Unhinged,” instead. It was the first film we saw after movie theaters opened up again post pandemic. It is best compared to “Duel.”

Two Amazon Sci-Fi Films That Are Out There

I’m watching the Channel 5 news from Chicago here in Austin and beginning a week of supervision of our twin granddaughters. (age 13). We won’t starve, but I am definitely going to have to learn how to turn the thermostat up from 70. [I can take 70 if I’m in bed sleeping, but I’m going to have to have it warmer when I’m just sitting around, and I have on 3 layers of clothing right now!]

There is talk of watching a movie tonight, although the Crawdads movie is in competition with the “Everything Everywhere” film. We watched two movies last night that were among the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time.

One was called “The Wave” and starred Justin Long. Very weird.

The other one was even weirder, “Vivarium.” Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are a couple seeking a new house. They tour a new development with a realtor. All the houses are green and identical. The only problem is that they are not able to leave. They also are saddled with an annoying automoton/robot child that grows throughout the time they are imprisoned in this not-that-ideal community.

The film was directed (and co-written) by Lorcan Finnegan, and it is easy to infer that the “trapped-in-daily-life” vibe from Vivarium is meant to emulate the dull, boring and hum-drum lives that most of us live. Nevertheless, point taken, it was a strange and weird movie. I could relate to the housing development’s completely uniform appearance and the ways in which the couple try to escape are interesting, but the character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg begins digging in the front yard for reasons that are not very clear. It reminded me of the old saw about how you might dig your way through the Earth and wind up in China if you dug deep enough, and  it certainly might have occurred to Eisenberg’s character, since he and Imogen had tried about everything else including climbing up on the roof and writing “Fuk You” in large letters in attempts to escape. A very weird commentary on how life just tends to go on in a routine that you can’t escape, no matter how hard you true.

On other news fronts, I am learning to play Mah Jong (m joined Newcomers Club and this is how desperate I a to try to make friends in a community when we (a) don’t have jobs (b) don’t have kids in school and (c) aren’t particularly “church-y.” I resumed my playing of “Hand-and-foot-canasta” that I learned pre-pandemic. I like the latter, but the vote is out on the former.

In watching the evening news from Chicago we are seeing projected temperatures of 11 degrees It was 84 here 2 days ago, although it has dropped off into the fifties since that record-setting day.

The two films I mention (above) are both Amazon films and free, so that earns them a Gold Star, but be prepared for a couple of weird sci-fi flicks if you try out either of them.

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